A-List stars find Las Vegas a wonderland of golf excess

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- At the height of the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez craze, when the couple simply and mockingly became known as Bennifer, they frequently holed up in the Bellagio's luxurious Las Vegas high roller hotel suites. This created quite a stir in the lobby, the pool deck and the gaming room floor, where ordinary people anxiously waited for the slightest glimpse of the tabloid phenomenon.

American Century Championship - Michael Jordan
Celebs like NBA great Michael Jordan know that Vegas' high-end courses are where they WON'T draw a crowd.
American Century Championship - Michael JordanRio Secco golf course - Hole 15

Almost always to no avail.

Bennifer rarely moved into the casino's public areas and when they did it was a quick dash with bodyguards flanking all sides, blocking all views.

Meanwhile, out on the golf courses, Hollywood heavyweights like George Clooney and Matt Damon blissfully putted away in a virtual anonymity.

This restrained golf etiquette is a large part of the reason Las Vegas' golf courses are some of the best places to actually see an A-List celebrity in the adult fun capital of America. No one's chasing after Michael Jordan and screaming for his autograph, at least not on the courses he's playing, and not surprisingly that is the way he likes it. The uber high end courses where the real stars (no Stephen Baldwins or Trishella Cannatellas of MTV Real World fame here) play are insular enough that such antics are not even a worry.

In fact, the favorite of the favorite celebrity escapes operate so far out of the everyday world, you may think you've stumbled upon an alien planet.

Take Cascata, Caesar's high roller hangout. Brian Hawthorne, the course's director of golf, tells stories of special guest pampering that might make even a tycoon blush at the excess. When the Cascata staff found out that a couple of "important individuals," in Hawthorne's words, set to visit loved to munch on fried gator tail, bringing the dish to Las Vegas became a Cascata obsession.

"Gator tail is typical not something you're going to find readily available in the desert," Hawthorne said, laughing.

No matter. Cascata's chef had it flown in overnight from Louisiana. When the important individuals approached the 14th hole, they found a lush fried gator tail spread set up on tables right on the tee box with white jacketed waiters awaiting their beck and call.

Imagine the poor souls following that foursome. Just a minute. Got to polish off the rest of this five-course gator tail.

Which brings up another point. Just getting onto the courses the A-List celebs frequent is no easy matter. Cascata only accepts tee times from Caesars properties' guests (which means booking a room at Caesars Palace, Paris, Flamingo or Bally's) and then charges $350 weekdays or $500 weekends in green fees. That could buy an awful lot of fried gator tail back in the Bayou.

Shadow Creek, the Steve Wynn-commissioned Tom Fazio desert oasis, is even more exclusionary. Once open by invitation only, Shadow Creek now somewhat begrudgingly allows ordinary shlubs staying in the MGM Grand family to pay $500 to play on a limited Monday through Thursday schedule. Weekends are still strictly invite only.

This is the place where George Clooney and Matt Damon wiled away their free time during the Ocean's 11 shoot. Michael Jordan, he of the legendary high-stakes golf wagers, and Bill Clinton, he of the legendary Clintonian mulligan scoring system, also swoon for Shadow Creek and Cascata.

"Anyone you could name, it's probably a yes," Hawthorne said of Cascata's celebrity players.

Not that you are going to hear many stories about their rounds or habits. The staffs at these courses truly believe and practice that "Las Vegas: What happens here, stays here" marketing campaign slogan.

Las Vegas has long been a place for the supremely rich and the supremely famous to escape. From Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals to Elvis Presley and The Colonel, the neon lights and carefree extravagance gave an older star generation an early oasis. It does the same now for the Bennifers of the world, only ridiculously breathtaking golf is a much more expected part of the package.

"Las Vegas has come a long ways in the last 10 years," Hawthorne said. "The city's expanded its scope. The top chefs in the world have come in making our dining comparable to the extra curriculars that have always been second to none in Las Vegas. We now probably have the top shopping experiences in the world too.

"With the dining and shopping so high end, people expect the golf experience to be high end as well. That's the biggest difference."

It is the difference allowing regular hackers to share the same fairways with a Michael Douglas or a Bernie Mac (forget the rubbing elbows part, that isn't happening). Besides Cascata and Shadow Creek's high-roller shrines, there are several other tracks more in reach of the common man that draw star power. Or at least the well-off common man.

Rio Secco Golf Club, Bears Best, Reflection Bay and DragonRidge are also known for attracting celebrity golfers. These courses do not make you jump through as many hoops to secure a tee time, but they will still set you back around $300. And you thought the big names played at the local muni?

This is Vegas, baby. Everything is done to excess. Including the celebrity watching.

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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