The pursuit of linksy-ness: Royal Links Golf Club delivers an alternative to the Las Vegas desert
LAS VEGAS -- The climates of the Mojave Desert and British Isles aren't exactly close cousins. But that isn't to say you can't get an isles-type golf experience in the desert.
Royal Links Golf Club delivers one of the most unique, high-end Las Vegas golf experiences.
It starts with the design -- 18 holes handpicked from the British Open Championship rota of holes (including original host Prestwick Golf Club) -- and carries over to course maintenance.
Desert courses have been encouraged to remove rough in favor of desert vegetation in the past decade. The result at many courses is "fairway or bust" -- as in "fairway or bust-the-bottom-of-your-6-iron." Royal Links, meanwhile, has managed to keep its turf and employ a maintenance strategy that not only helps it stay eco-conscious, but also deliver a truer links golf experience and better conditions all year round.
Revisiting the need to overseed on Las Vegas golf courses
Bermuda grass courses throughout the U.S. have revisited their overseeding policies the past few years as water costs rise while green fees have flat-lined.
So the question for any operator in the Southwest is: Why spend more than 100,000 in seed, all the while compromising the golf product for more than a month each fall? Temperatures are more comfortable in September and October, while the grass has enjoyed a summertime of warmth to grow in.
The decision to stop overseeding the fairways was a no-brainer at Royal Links. The move would not only save money and foster healthier grass, but also lead to a more authentic, isles-inspired playing experience.
Bart Howard, the course superintendent, said the course's first off-season without overseeding the fairways (only tees, greens and green surrounds) was a success.
"Ninety-percent of the players loved it," he said. "You had some people who had been to the course before and expected [overseeding], but as soon as we get over that expectation we're going to be great."
The overseeding process will become more rare at golf courses everywhere as water access tightens in the next decade. But it made perfect sense for Royal Links to be one of the first high-end courses to curtail it in Las Vegas. After all, a British Open experience should promote a firm, fast game, which is something that dormant bermuda grass can deliver far more effectively than spongier fairways overseeded with rye.
For example, during March Madness, when Vegas golf courses are at their peak season, Royal Links may not be green, but it's when the course plays most like British Open links courses. Not only is the bermuda turf firmer and runs out more, but also the temperatures, usually in the 60s or low 70s with a usual breeze, resembles the brisk air of the courses in Scotland that Royal Links is replicating.
"That time of year, the golf course plays great," said Howard. "It's the true British Open experience. The course is fast. If you hit the ball in the fairway, it's rolling."
The rolling ground game also means it's easier to find the course's many fairway bunkers (some of which are hidden off the tee, just like overseas). When the bermuda grass is at its most green and spongiest, those bunkers are easier to avoid. When the fairways are firmer, the bunkers become more fearsome from the tee.
Also, unlike courses that reseed their fairways, the day Royal Links reopens the fairways are still in perfect shape and carts are allowed everywhere they normally are on the course. But the best byproduct of not overseeding is that the bermuda grass is healthier year round. That means in the summertime, while other courses struggle to keep their grass alive, Royal Links is ideal shape.
Royal Links Golf Club: The verdict
Whether or not you're a fan of replica golf holes, any golfer will appreciate Royal Links' attention to detail on the course and in the clubhouse; it's a first-rate golf product from the time you valet park your car, to course conditions and finally the 19th-hole clubhouse, which has a old world-style pub and Guinness on tap.
As for playability, the wealth of grass and wide playing corridors are refreshing in the Vegas desert market. You'll actually hit out of rough here -- and be thankful for it.
For groups who would like to splurge on your round here even further, forecaddies are available for hire, as well as or gorgeous, flirty Parmates.
October 8, 2012