Mesquite stays true to its reasonable roots in trying to break from Vegas' golf shadow

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

MESQUITE, Nev. - Golfer Dave Shadrick has vacationed in Nevada four times in the last few years, and he's never set foot on The Strip. He's barely been in Las Vegas period.

Wolf Creek Golf Club
Wolf Creek's showy shots from sky-high tees raised the profile of Mesquite golf.
Wolf Creek Golf ClubEureka Casino HotelWolf Creek Golf Club - MesquiteOasis Golf Club

Oh, Shadrick's flown into McCarran Airport. He just never felt the need to stick around. He throws his golf clubs in his rental car and goes. He's out of the Clark County and into the open desert road so fast, you'd think he was being chased.

He's got nothing against gambling; he likes the odd hand of blackjack himself. But Dave Shadrick's a golfer first, and he's certain he's found the perfect spot about 85 miles and another world away in Mesquite.

There's still neon out here - Mesquite wouldn't exist if it wasn't for gambling - but it's neon Shadrick feels comfortable with. For one thing, it isn't going to cast a shadow on his golf.

"Las Vegas has so many people everywhere," he said. "Here there are no crowds and the golf is just as good, and a lot cheaper. Mesquite's more for the serious golfer. If you want to do a lot of fancy things off the golf course, you go to Vegas. If you want to play a bunch of courses for a good dollar, you come here.

"Plus, I think it's beautiful here. I'd rather look out at a mountain than some high-rise condo building."

Shadrick took a sip of his drink and looked out the window - at the mountains. He and his son, Dan, had just finished a mid-morning round at Wolf Creek Golf Club. Now, they were sitting in Wolf Creek's bar with panoramic window views of the peaks, reliving their sky- high shots from tees that can seem as tall as skyscrapers.

The clattering commotion of Las Vegas seemed a long way off indeed. And for these Wyoming residents, that's just fine.

"This is the fourth time I've been to Mesquite and this is the first time I've been in one of the casinos," Dave Shadrick said. "I'm just usually worn out after 36 holes of golf during the day. That's why I'm here."

"Yeah, I made him go to the casino for about an hour last night," Dan chimes in, laughing.

First-time visitors to Mesquite are usually struck by how different it is from Vegas. You're not on 1-15 North that long before the sprawl of The Strip gives way to real stark desert. Civilization seems to vanish in a blink of the speedometer.

Then, after a drive shorter than some New Yorkers' one-way commute, the neon appears straight out of the desert. Mesquite's casinos are more like the old-school joints on the way in and out of Sin City. They're not gleaming goliaths competing for the pages of Architectural Digest. They're squat places, more functional than flashy.

The mistake is equating Mesquite's casinos with its golf courses. Wolf Creek is as showstopping and original a course as you'll find anywhere. There is also an Arnold Palmer course (at Oasis Golf Club), a course that takes advantage of the Virgin River to give it some bite (Casablanca Golf Club) and a track that's has you weaving through canyons on a lower lying level than Wolf Creek (Falcon Ridge Golf Club).

This town of 17,000 has more golf courses (seven) than it does casinos (four). Add the nine courses in St. George, about 35 minutes away in Utah (where gambling and neon are both frowned upon) and Mesquite is no small town, golf-wise.

There are Vegas regulars who drive up for a day-or-two change of golf pace (and price). Then there are guys like Shadrick who believe Mesquite stands out on its own. Those guys tend to love the game, appreciate a dollar (Shadrick says he paid $257 for three nights and golf in a package deal) and not mind that they're at a hotel that's more like a good Comfort Inn (the Eureka Casino Hotel, in his case) than the Bellagio.

"The courses are just as good or better than a lot of the Las Vegas courses," visitor Paul Cooper said. "Who cares about the hotel room? You can still get a good steak dinner. It might not be a fancy steak dinner, but it's good enough for me."

Actually, you can get all the fanciness you want certain nights of the week. Wolf Creek's Terrace Restaurant has tuxedo-clad waiters serving dinner on silver trays every Friday and Saturday evening.

Which doesn't mean anyone's putting on airs. That would never fly in Mesquite. Not even in the name of turning itself into a golf destination.

"Most people still think of us as a side trip from Las Vegas," Wolf Creek Sales Manager John Paul said. "We're maturing into a golf destination in our own right."

Back at the bar, looking out at those mountains, Dan Shadrick doesn't see that as such a stretch.

"Guys love to go to middle of nowhere in Oregon to golf," Shadrick said, referring to Bandon Dunes. "This is a whole lot closer to major cities than that."

Mesquite's unique blend of high-end golf and low-end, community vibe - like a group of golfers eating Burger King in their cars in the Oasis Golf Club parking lot, waiting for their tee time - is part of its charm.

"I can get champagne at home," Cooper said. "I'm here to golf. And I can't play courses this good at home."

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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