Laughlin, Nevada: 100 miles from Las Vegas, yet light-years away

By William K. Wolfrum, Contributor

It was 1964 when Don Laughlin flew over the small slice of land in the Colorado River Valley near the California, Nevada and Arizona borders. The area he saw was a tiny settlement on the Nevada side called South Pointe, and Laughlin's vision was much grander than the small hotel and bar in the area.

Laughlin bought the area, which eventually was given his surname, and in the 40-plus years since that purchase, the dusty mining town 100 miles south of Las Vegas has been transformed into a top tourist location for those looking for Vegas-style gaming and pampering, but with less glitz and more outdoors.

Mojave Resort golf course
Mojave Resort Golf Club is located 90 minutes southeast of Las Vegas.
Mojave Resort golf courseLaughlin golfLaughlin - Jet SkiColorado Belle

Fast forward to the present and Laughlin is a town that has created its own personality and has matured into a popular stop for those looking more for water skiing than electric waterfalls. Still, with nine hotel-casinos, Laughlin brings enough game to keep the high rollers entranced.

Closing in on the five million mark in annual visitors, Laughlin brings a powerful one-two punch to attract potential visitors. With a more low-key, relaxed feel at its casinos, Laughlin is an attractive destination to more mature travelers. While with the Colorado River on full-display and taken advantage of for entertainment, it also gets a younger, adventurous type of traveler.

Golf in Laughlin

As a golf travel spot, Laughlin has 10 available courses within short driving distance, though it is still seems to be missing a "signature" course for the area. Still, within a 30-minute drive of Laughlin there are some solid courses to play, with the green fees being a big draw. While it will often depend on when you stay, most courses can be gotten on to for $50, and often less, a far cry from the $500-course
mind-set in Vegas.

This leaves Mojave Resort Golf Club as the top dog when it comes to Laughlin golf. Located about 15 minutes from downtown Laughlin at the Avi Resort, Mojave Resort brings everything one would expect from a resort course: excellent conditioning, a panorama of views to show off the surrounding landscape, and a course that is playable for golfers of varied skills.

Designed by Pete Dye associates Brian Curley and Grant Haserot, Mojave is a strong play throughout at about 7,000 yards from the tips with a player-friendly slope rating of 126. The 18th hole will give you plenty to talk about, as you'll need two forced carries over water to negotiate it, hence the name "Doublecross."

Desert Lakes Golf Course will require a quick drive to Bullhead City, Ariz. Desert Lakes won't be the toughest course you'll ever step on at just over 6,500 yards with a 119-slope rating from the tips, but its consistently solid course conditions and palm tree-lined fairways make it a worthy play.

There are a few nine-holers nearby Laughlin, such as Bullhead City's Chapparal Country Club and Riverview Golf Course.

About 25 miles down the road from Laughlin to Needles, Calif., you'll find the Needles Municipal Golf Course, which comes in at almost identical playability as the aforementioned Desert Lakes and has a lighted practice range.

From there, if you're truly dedicated in finding the best golf around the area, make the hour drive to Kingman, Ariz. And tackle Cerbat Cliffs a nifty muni that carries some punch with a slope rating of 129 and can usually be played for a pittance.

Stay and playin Laughlin

With nine hotel-casinos and about 10,000 rooms available in Laughlin, you'll have options. Better yet, in keeping with the "it's-not-Vegas" feel, you'll consistently find lower room rates than in Sin City.

The riverboat that is the Colorado Belle Hotel Casino and Microbrewery is always a solid choice, and will leave you right in the middle of the "action" of Laughlin, gaming, golfing and river-wise.

Designed as a replica of an old Mississippi paddlewheel riverboat, the Colorado Belle also offers the most diverse selection of restaurants in Laughlin, including the Boiler Room microbrewery and restaurant; Mark Twain's Chicken, Ribs & Steaks; the Mississippi Lounge, a fresh seafood bar; and Orleans Room gourmet restaurant.

With perfect access to the popular river walk that trails the Colorado River and will take you to every casino on the street, the Colorado Belle will dazzle with its prices, as well, with most weekdays at $23 per room, and usually less than $50 on the weekends.

Of course, if you feel the need to go old school, the casino that started it all - Don Laughlin's Riverside Resort - has kept up with the times and remains a popular destination.

Laughlin off course

There are a ton of water activities based around the Colorado River, with boats, jet-skis, water skis and everything else you can imagine for rent at the many rental places lining the river walk. Fishermen are catered to, as well, for some excellent action on the river and nearby tributaries.

There are many events held in Laughlin, as well, including the United States Team Roping Championships, and the growing Laughlin River Run, an event that sees 60,000 motorcyclists ride into town, a sight that may even exceed what Don Laughlin was able to envision those 40-some years ago.

William K. WolfrumWilliam K. Wolfrum, Contributor

William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

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