Secret Golf Meccas: Value Lives in Laughlin

By Guy Torrey, Contributor

What images come to mind when you consider the term "golf mecca"? Often the mental picture includes gorgeous but jam-packed courses, exorbitant greens fees, and little to do for the non-golfing members of your group. In this ongoing series, we will examine golf-rich regions that reside under the radar screen of most golf travelers. These "Secret Golf Meccas" feature high-quality courses at reasonable rates, interesting non-golf diversions, and, best of all, an uncrowded feel.

Laughlin, NV

Location: 100 mi. south of Las Vegas, NV

The word "secret" can most advisedly be used to describe Laughlin, Nevada. Few outside the Southwestern desert valley that this unincorporated town of 8,000 occupies are even aware of its existence. Caught in the political crossfire of the powers-that-be who are chiefly interested in promoting the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, Laughlin has languished in relative obscurity.

In fact, those charged with promoting Laughlin to an unsuspecting public are often hamstrung by friends of their powerful neighbor to the north.

"We were going to run an ad campaign," a Chamber of Commerce member confided over lunch, "promoting Laughlin as what Las Vegas was say, thirty years ago --- less crime, less traffic, and more bang for the buck than what exists there today. We were told that casting Vegas in a negative light was a big no-no. For years now, we've been in a position where people almost have to discover Laughlin by accident."

Those who have stumbled upon this town perched along the banks of the Colorado River have discovered an oasis of inexpensive meals, thousands of cheap, available rooms, and Nevada's inimitable brand of excitement (though admittedly at 45 RPM versus Vegas' 78). To top it off, reasonable green fees are still very much in evidence here. Golfers who find themselves exasperated (or impoverished) by the high-roller friendly atmosphere of Glitter Gulch's top tracks, owe it to themselves to discover Laughlin.

Planning your Laughlin golf vacation

Getting to Laughlin has become easier than ever with the inauguration of inexpensive, non-stop air service to Laughlin/Bullhead International from four western cities via Air Laughlin, with fares running as little as $99. r/t.

There are eight lodging options available in Laughlin, and some of Nevada's celebrated casino names, such as Harrah's, Flamingo, and the Golden Nugget, are accounted for. Laughlin's first hotel/casino, the Riverside Resort, opened by Don Laughlin in 1966, anchors the "strip", known simply as Casino Drive. It's not unusual to snag a spacious room during the summer months for under twenty bucks, and golf packages are available year-round.

During the winter months, tourist traffic is at it's peak. Knowledgeable golfers will visit the area during the nascent summer and fall months, when both crowds and pricing are negligible. In the middle of summer, being out-of-doors in Laughlin can be akin to strolling around the inside of your oven, with high temperatures soaring into the 120's, so visit then at your own discretion. I spent a mid-June weekend here and braved heat that barely crested 100 F., easily bearable in a low-humidity venue.

Of course, evenings in Laughlin are rife with adult entertainment, including casino action and big-name entertainment booked year-round. Check out for event schedules while planning your trip.

Golf courses in Laughlin

For the perfect "ease-in" to a golf trip in Laughlin, cross the river (and state line) into Bullhead City, Arizona and visit Desert Lakes Golf Course. You'd swear that you had somehow been transported to Florida when you tee it up at this flat, palm-lined, bermuda grass course, if it wasn't for the incongruous sight of craggy peaks which line the eastern horizon. While fully accessible by the public, Desert Lakes has a strong membership which tend to dominate the early morning tee sheet. Never fear; you'll typically have the course to yourself in the late morning and early afternoon hours. The wide-open, forgiving layout will yield many birdies, but only if you can master the tiny, smooth rolling greens.

Should your schedule allow for an extra day of golf, make the hour-long drive east to Kingman and play Cerbat Cliffs golf course. You won't regret it.

If your confidence has been raised by a lower-than-usual score at Desert Lakes, the surest way to test your ego is to play your next round at Emerald River.

If the slope and rating (73.6/144 from the tips) don't clue you in as to the course's challenge, ask a local. "We get ninety percent of our play from the casinos (tourists)," says General Manager John Duckett. "The locals would rather play someplace easier."

Those who accept the challenge of Emerald River, however, are in for a real treat. The lush fairways and greens writhe like a bucking bronco; the layout is akin to a desert version of Hawaii's Ko'olau (the highest sloped course in North America). Although Emerald River can undoubtedly be described as a target golf course, it is not as ungodly penal as its reputation would allow. Hit it crooked here, though, and you will be dumping some serious sand out of your shoes by round's end.
Desert wildlife thrives on the property, and is easy to spot.

As is often the case, the truest sense one gathers of an area's natural splendor is obtained by making one's way around a golf course. The stark, rugged beauty of the mountainous desert landscape that surrounds Laughlin is evocative of California's Coachella Valley (Palm Springs). There is no better spot to soak it all in than during a round at the area's best track, Mojave Resort Golf Club.

Located on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, Mojave Resort is tops not only because of its marvelous setting, but also due to its commitment to conditioning and playability. During the winter, when play is at its peak, the course maintenance staff will widen the fairways and enlarge the greens to ensure an enjoyable round for players of all abilities.

The layout pleases from start to finish. Golfers will find some excellent driving holes on the course, and will experience unpredictable wind patterns which can alter the playing experience from round to round. The front nine's final four holes are the course's best, and the beauty and danger found at the 18th (called "Double Cross" for the dual carries over water one must execute in order to survive) allow Mojave to finish on a high note. Those who have played some of the top golf courses in Las Vegas will no doubt recognize similarities between this course and one of Vegas' finest, the Paiute Resort. This is no accident. The design team of Schmidt/Haserot, who helped build the first two courses at Paiute (as associates of Pete Dye), also crafted the course at Mojave Resort.

Non-Golf Diversions

As with most aspects of life in Laughlin, recreation activities center around the Colorado River. Visitors can easily arrange to reserve all types of personal watercraft by calling one of the area's many rental companies.

Be alert and cautious when spending time around the fast-flowing river. Even though outside temperatures can soar above 120 F. in the summer, the river stays a shockingly frigid 58 F. year-round (not as refreshing as it sounds).

Fishing, both in the Colorado or in nearby Lake Mohave, is typically excellent. Whether you are a bass, striper, catfish or trout fishing enthusiast, you'll want to be sure to make time to drop a line in when you visit Laughlin.

For those that desire a leisurely tour of the mighty Colorado, a replica Mississippi paddlewheeler is docked right outside the Edgewater Hotel/Casino and offers daily tours (water levels permitting). The "Edgewater Belle" has air conditioned lower decks, open air upper decks, and also offers bar service.

Need that golfing dollar to stretch a little farther in these tough economic times? Check out Laughlin. Never was it so easy to come out ahead in Nevada.

Travel Recommendations

Closest Intl Airport: Laughlin/Bullhead Int'l (IFP)
approx. 40 commercial flights per month (year 2001 data)

Air Service: Air Laughlin
Air Laughlin offers nonstop flights three times a week from San Jose, Phoenix, Burbank, and Ontario.

Guy TorreyGuy Torrey, Contributor

Guy Torrey is the author of "The Straight Ball Guide: Nevada Golf."

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