"Old-school" no dirty word in Las Vegas golf: Traditional tracks are great finds

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - If it was built yesterday, there's a good chance it's out of date in Las Vegas. At least that's the way it sometimes seems in this land of glitz, games and bulldozers.

Painted Desert Golf Club - Brush
Prices are low and conditions pristine at Vegas' old-school Painted Desert Golf Club.
Painted Desert Golf Club - BrushLas Vegas National golf courseAngel Park Golf Club

Forget Sin City. Try Construction City.

With new casinos and high-priced condo buildings going up left and right (everyone from George Clooney to Ivana Trump has something in the works), it's easy to be considered old news before you've even opened.

This attitude carries over to the region's golf courses as well. Tracks that would be considered relatively new in many markets are all but cast aside as old and tired here. Sometimes the Las Vegas golf scene is amazingly like the Las Vegas club scene. The "hot" courses draw tee-sheet competition; others are largely played by locals, unless it's Super Bowl or March Madness time.

But going old-school in Las Vegas golf shouldn't be just a last resort when demand gets frenzied. Turning to some of Sin City's traditional tracks with steep history (which in this town means anything more than 12 years old) can result in memorable rounds under good conditions.

Who knows? You might never go trendy again.

Finding a golf course with interesting holes, no traffic jams at the tees and Vegas-reasonable green fees has a way of becoming more addictive than any passing fashion.

"We would rather play this course in under four hours for half the price of any of those new courses," visiting Canadian golfer Ron Rivit said, standing with his wife, Marlene, at Painted Desert Golf Club's cart return. Nearby, the driving range was filled with Vegas-area families getting in some late-afternoon practice. Kids hit golf balls next to their parents. Teenagers on local golf teams challenged each other to long-drive contests.

The Rivits appeared to be the only tourist golfers around. It's good to be in on the secret. They paid $109 each to play Painted Desert in high season, less than half the cost of a round at a course like Reflection Bay in Lake Las Vegas and about a fifth of the greens fee at the new Wynn Las Vegas Tom Fazio course.

Now, no one's claiming Painted Desert is the equal of Reflection Bay or the $500 Fazio, but in terms of relative value? Slam-dunk for old-school.

Yes, it may be time to expand your view of Las Vegas golf.

Las Vegas golf's forgotten-tradition kings

Las Vegas National Golf Club: If you want to go historic in Sin City golf, you have to start with Las Vegas National. It's been going strong for 45 years and counting (try finding buildings in Vegas that old), and it's anything but a tired track.

Las Vegas National is more like an old Palm Springs course than a new-age Vegas one. Built back in 1961, it shares the green look of most of that era's desert tracks. This is the kind of place Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope would love, with towering palm trees, green as far as the eye can see and lakes spread around. It's about as desert looking as San Diego.

And there's actual tradition here. Las Vegas National doesn't depend on Wendy's 3 Tour Challenge winners or other such silly-season stuff to tout a PGA Tour link. Arnold Palmer set the first course record. Jack Nicklaus won here. Tiger Woods won his first pro tournament in a course rotation that included Las Vegas National in 1996.

Add in the fact that Las Vegas National has some of the most reasonable green fees around and it's hard to understand how this course ever fell out of style. Plus it's only a short drive from The Strip.

Painted Desert Golf Club: Opened in 1987, this Jay Morrish design lives off its course conditions. You'll be hard pressed to find a better-maintained track at this price in any trendy West Coast golf destination, let alone Las Vegas.

Combine that with a down-to-earth staffers who will never remind you of nightclub bouncers and it's easy to see why locals hope Painted Desert stays secret.

Angel Park Golf Club's Palm Course: This 1989 Arnold Palmer design isn't going to invoke any images of roller-coaster, drama-filled golf. It's very traditional, a favorite with women and older players. With its affordable high-season green fees, it's a good buy for a low-stress round.

Badlands Golf Club: Only open since 1995, this Johnny Miller/Chi Chi Rodriguez 27-hole design sits right on the borderline of old school (remember, this is Vegas). Some conditioning issues in recent years pushed Badlands off the hot list, however.

Now the fairways are back as good as ever and Badlands is primed to become one of your favorite golf finds.

This is anything but a traditional look. You'll be firing at tight targets in desert areas, losing plenty of balls along the way.

Sunrise Vista Golf Course: Located on Nellis Air Force Base, this 44-year-old facility is one of the most unique golf options in Vegas. And one of the cheapest.

Which doesn't mean there aren't some pure Sin City theatrics. The driving range includes an old army tank as one of the targets. If the base commander is into golf, you can expect Sunrise's four nines to be in good shape.

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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