Escape from Las Vegas: Golf courses that go beyond the desert

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Everyone knows Las Vegas plays by a different set of rules, and so do its golf courses. But when you think of Las Vegas golf, what usually comes to mind?

Royal Links Golf Club - hole 10
Royal Links offers Las Vegas golfers a taste of British Open-style golf.
Royal Links Golf Club - hole 10Bali Hai Golf Club - hole 18Wynn Golf Club - hole 6Desert Pines Golf Club - hole 18Angel Park Golf Club - Cloud Nine - hole 10Bear's Best Las Vegas - 8th

For most, it's some sort of desert golf, overseeded in the fall, winter and spring.

But not all Las Vegas golf courses are created the same, and some of them are very unique. Just because you're playing golf in Las Vegas doesn't mean you have to stay in Las Vegas -- in a manner of speaking.

Courses like Royal Links, Desert Pines, Bali Hai and Wynn Golf Club all have holes you might see in other parts of the country -- or the world, for that matter.

Here's a look ...

Royal Links Golf Club

The first thing you notice about Royal Links Golf Club is the castle-style clubhouse. There are Scottish kilts and ales and whisky and bagpipes. And when the temperature is down in the winter, you really feel like you're across the pond. Better yet, this Dye Design has 18 holes inspired by the British Open courses, so you get to hit the kinds of shots you'd hit on links courses in Great Britain, especially when the wind is blowing.

Golfers at Royal Links can experience the Road Hole of St. Andrews, the Postage Stamp of Royal Troon and holes from Carnoustie, Turnberry, Royal Liverpool, Prestwick, Royal Lytham, Muirfield and Royal Birkdale. Take a caddie, or better yet, a gorgeous female Parmate, and you've really got a unique experience.

Bali Hai Golf Club

In one respect, Bali Hai Golf Club couldn't be more Las Vegas, especially when you consider its location right on the Strip.

But the course itself is anything but. This tropical-themed course designed by Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt features impeccable conditions, thousands of palm trees, tropical plants, water features and beautiful crystal white bunkers. Mandalay Bay looms in the background, but inside the fences, Bali Hai is nothing but lush, tropical conditions. Add a caddie, and you've really got a unique experience.

Bear's Best Las Vegas

If you're a fan of Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses, then Bear's Best Las Vegas is a can't-miss experience. Nicklaus chose holes from courses like Desert Mountain in Arizona, Castle Pines in Colorado, Palmilla Golf Club in Los Cabos, Mexico, and PGA West in Palm Springs, Calif., to name a few.

Even more compelling, however, is the impeccable conditioning and backdrop of the Red Rock Mountains, offering one great view after another. One of the more unique aspects of the course is that a different kind of sand -- black sand -- is used in the bunkers the two holes from Old Works Golf Club in Montana for accuracy.

Wynn Golf Club

Like Bali Hai, Wynn Golf Club is located right on the Strip, but it's more secluded. Located behind Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas, it's a pampered golf experience like none other. It comes with a premium price, of course, but what follows is an almost Augusta-like experience in terms of conditioning and solitude. Perfect bentgrass greens, white sand bunkers and a network of pristine streams, ponds and flora create one memorable view after another.

The golf course was designed by Las Vegas business magnate Steve Wynn and Tom Fazio, (they also created Las Vegas' Shadow Creek Golf Club, which Wynn eventually sold), and it sits on the old site of the Desert Inn, which played host to 50 years of PGA and LPGA Tour events. The course also includes 7,200 trees and 100,000 bushes and waterfalls, including one that's 37 feet tall behind the 18th green.

Desert Pines Golf Club

With thousands of imported Carolina Pines, wall to wall grass, plenty of water and slick bentgrass greens, Desert Pines Golf Club is hardly a typical Las Vegas golf course. The idea was to create a feeling of playing in the Carolina Sandhills. And while that might be tough to accomplish, it certainly doesn't feel like desert golf.

The course is tight, somewhat demanding, but also presents several opportunities with drivable par 4s. Best of all, Desert Pines is a great place to hang out, either to watch a game in the clubhouse or get a little practice at the lighted double-decker range that's open after hours.

Angel Park's Cloud Nine

There are two championship courses at Angel Park, but the most unique layout is the par-3 course that's not only lighted, but also pays tribute to many of the great par 3s around the world. Cloud Nine actually has 12 holes, but nine of them are lighted. That means you can play 12 during the day and nine at night. There's an island green, ala TPC Sawgrass, a Postage Stamp hole reminiscent of Royal Troon in Scotland, and a green with a bunker in the middle of it, similar to Riviera Country Club. As a bonus, there's also a terrific nine-hole putting course, which is also lighted.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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