Las Vegas can equal group golf heaven

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - Josh Isadore and his golf buddies used to talk about going to other places besides Sin City for their regular group trips. Not anymore. Las Vegas is a given.

Primm Valley Lakes Course - Fazio course
The Primm Valley Lakes Course gives you a Tom Fazio track that's not too tough for large group play.
Primm Valley Lakes Course - Fazio courseRhodes Ranch golf course in Las Vegas - hole 18Angel Park Golf Club - Mountain - 17th hole

For Isadore has found that Vegas delivers the almost unheard of feeling for a group leader: quiet, peace of mind. Anyone who's ever planned a golf trip for a large bunch of friends understands how truly rare this is. It might be easier to tackle quantum physics than to make a group of 15-plus golfers all happy at the same time.

Someone's always complaining that the course is too hard. Someone else is griping it's too easy. Two guys think the service stinks. Three others can't stand the greens. On and on it goes, where it ends only the group leader's headache knows. Only on trips out here, Isadore's found ... not so much.

Yes, this may be the one guy in America who goes to Las Vegas, the land of clattering casinos, exploding fake volcanoes and celebrity magnet nightclubs with rock concert decibel levels, to lose the headache.

"I've been all over and I haven't found a place with better golf than Las Vegas," said Isadore, who works in the communications phone business in California. "I've played a few of the (Arnold) Palmer courses down in Los (Mexico) and they weren't anything better than we'd played in Las Vegas.

"We haven't played a bad golf course in Las Vegas yet."

This is one way to keep even finicky golfers happy of course. But it's no easy task in the faux, bright lights desert of grown men's dreams. Las Vegas is home to some of the most showy and expensive golf in the United States. There are great plays and a few ripoffs, and trying to determine which is which can often make a golfer feel like he's throwing darts blindfolded.

Add in the extra pressure of being the group leader, of deciding everyone in your circle's golfing fate, and it's easy to picture some sleepless nights even NyQuil couldn't cure.

There are some nearly surefire bets in Sin City for that large group play.

Just because it's Vegas, doesn't mean you have to leave your standards at the clubhouse curb either.

"We actually come for the golf," Isadore said. "It's a total package obviously with all Vegas has to offer, but we wouldn't go if the golf wasn't top notch. The golf is the main thing to us."

Safe bets for Group Zen

Bear's Best Golf Club: All right, it's somewhat gimmicky with its 18 of Jack Nicklaus' best holes from some of his other designs. And no doubt that Nicklaus earned that reputation of creating courses that could be brutal to the average hacker (a no-no for a group outing where handicaps usually widely vary). But if you take Bear's Best on its own merits, you're liable to conclude that replica holes can be a great thing and that Nicklaus the designer isn't such a task masker after all.

For at this 7,194-yard track about 20 minutes from The Strip, the Nicklaus design team stuck to recreating holes from other Jack desert designs, making them actually almost fit into the natural surroundings. (Aside from the black sand bunkers and that's just so cool, you don't mind). Plus, they made the fairways wide, giving your ordinary golfer a good chance to get through the day smiling. You won't post a career low score at Bear's Best, but you won't lose four sleeves of balls either.

Yet what really sets Bear's Best up as a great group play is the service. Every foursome gets its own forecaddie and the staff can make you feel like a VIP.

"Bear's Best is probably the greatest overall experience we've had on a course," Isadore said. "The guys are still talking about it."

Rhodes Ranch Golf Club: If you don't want to pay the higher green fees of Bear's Best, or if you're just looking for something a little easier, this could be the course for your group. The mounded fairways are liable to kick shots that go off line into decent position and really ugly numbers on any one hole are easily avoidable.

Rhodes Ranch believes in punishment about as much as a love child hippie. This place is all about making golfers comfortable from encouraging walking for those interested in it (not so common in Vegas) and offering great twilight rates.

If you're group plays slow, it might fit right in at Rhodes Ranch. Everything's relaxed here.

Angel Park Golf Club: Group play often means there are women, seniors or just a few distance challenged hitters in general who need to enjoy the course as well. Angel Park offers two courses of good quality that are very negotiable for the shorter hitter. Angel Park Golf Club's Mountain course is a Palmer design that tests without infuriating or calling for long drives over obstacles. There are still plenty of risk-reward choices, it is just up to you when you want to take them.

"Angel Park is terrific for those a little bit older or those ladies," said Joe Massanova, TPC at The Canyons' marketing director. "There's not a whole lot of forced carries. The greens are a little bit flatter. It's just an easier day for them out there. It's not a desert style course. They can pretty much hit the ball wherever they want."

Tuscany Golf Club: One of the newer courses in an area where water conservation concerns are preventing many new courses, this Ted Robinson design in its third year of operation is a favorite for tournaments because it's wide open while still being scenic. The white sand bunkers add some characters and the rates are very reasonable for Las Vegas. (EDITOR'S NOTE: In 2015, Tuscany G.C. was re-named Chimera Golf Club.)

Primm Valley Golf Club: The only issue with this two-course Tom Fazio complex out in the desert near the California border is distance. It's a good 40- to 45-minute drive from The Strip and transportation can be an issue with group play. But if you can swing the ride, this is an oasis away from the clatter and crowds of Sin City.

Primm Valley's Lakes Course is probably the better bet for large group because you're not as likely to lose golf balls and collect big numbers as you are on the rollickingly fun and tough Desert Course.

"You don't even feel like you're in the desert with all these pine trees," golfer Jeffery Allen said of the Primm Valley Lakes. "It's a fantasy land."

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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