Finding risk-reward golf in Vegas

By Matt Paulson, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - The word gambling is as synonymous with Vegas as golf is with Tiger Woods. Just as the Tiger has become a brand name for our game, Vegas has long been a brand name for lettin' it ride. One can gamble anything in Vegas in addition to the traditional games. And small bets with friends can become an addiction. How many hours can I stay awake before I start referring to myself in the third person? How many Pringles do I have to eat before I get my hand stuck in the can while retrieving additional Pringles? To the nearest hundred, how many times will that goober in the bar that refers to himself in the third person get turned down by women - or men - in an hour? The list goes on indefinitely. Well, the golf course sees just as much betting as the rest of Vegas. It has become another of the gamble-aholic's playgrounds. And risk-reward holes are the perfect way to win or lose big. So here are a few to check out in Vegas in the perpetual search to feed that insatiable hunger to gamble.

When mentioning risk-reward golf in Vegas, the Badlands Golf Club of Las Vegas is the first breath out of the mouths of many. Target-style golf drives this course to infamy and ample opportunities of risk-reward play sits shotgun. Of the three nines at Badlands, the first nine is the most difficult, and this is where the pinnacle of gambling fun sits. The 7th hole of this Johnny Milller and Chi Chi Rodriguez-design (Johnny Miller and Chi Chi?) is a short par 4 with a green that is blind from the tee box. In addition to a simple canyon carry to the fairway, a more demanding canyon carry is needed to make it onto the green. At about 340 yards from the back, a long hitter with a right to left shot shape has the ability to make it onto the green here. However, more canyon trouble surrounds this small green, waiting to ingest anything small, white, round and dimpled that comes its way. An eagle-2 is possible, but so is an "other."

The Badlands boasts yet another trouble-laden reachable par 4 on its front nine. With water down both sides, the third hole demands a straight tee shot if one wishes to find the fairway. But on this 350-yard par 4, a select few players with real cajones and a debt to settle may have no interest in finding the fairway. They want to take about a 350-yard walk with a putter. This green, though, is protected in front by the water on the right, demanding a huge carry to make it onto the dance floor in one. Again, eagle is possible for long-hitters or those with a gambling-induced adrenaline rush, but so is something a lot higher.

The Falls Golf Club, a nearly 7,300-yard, par-72 Tom Weiskopf design, boasts dramatic elevation changes on the back nine. On which, another risk-reward delight is tucked. The 14th hole at the Falls is a downhill par 4 that measures about 380 from the back tees. But because of the 150 to 200-foot drop from tee to green, this hole is definitely reachable with driver and possibly 3 wood. However, desert lays basically everywhere that isn't short and green (i.e. left, right and long). As is the case for any greenable par 4, an eagle 2 is fathomable, but high numbers are only a miss-hit away.

These risk-reward gems sprinkled throughout their respective scorecards on the middle of the front and back nine are nice, but there's just something about finishing holes. The PGA Tour can accredit most of its ratings-inducing drama to fantastic finishing holes. For the gamblers of the world, $10 to 10,000 bones may ride on that final chance. A bad shot may result in a wallet-breaking loss or someone's loved one wearing concrete blocks for footwear. Capiche? So what better way to end a round than with a delightfully stressful, heart-rate-increasing, risk-reward home hole?

On the first Nevada course designed by the great Golden Bear lies a treacherous finishing par 5 with the overwhelming ability to settle just about any on-course bets. At about 570 from the tips, it is far from an easy two-shot par 5. In fact, even for most longer hitters, a solid 570 yards would demand a plastered driver off the tee and a solid 3 wood or driver off the deck. But on the 18th at Reflection Bay, the hole becomes much more reachable if one takes the risk of hitting down the right. In the middle of the short grass is a series of pot bunkers. To the right of those is about 20-30 yards of fairway before it drops rapidly into the water hazard. If one mauls a successful drive down the right, a long approach still awaits, as does water right and long up at the green, in addition to a bunker on the left side. Trouble lurks everywhere here, but the feasible chance of an eagle may have the better-playing gamblers - or soused wannabes - salivating with greed-enthused delight.

At Las Vegas Country Club, the 18th hole not only provides for an interesting finish for the members and their guests, Paul Azinger has a little something to say about it as well. Zinger drained a 30-foot eagle putt here to win the 1987 Panasonic Las Vegas Invitational for his second victory of three that year, a season that carried him atop the PGA and Golf World Player of the Year podiums. A good drive on this finishing par 5 slight dogleg left leaves one with about 240 yards left to the green. Water circling the front of this narrow green will swallow up any delusions of bumping and running. However, the course is closed this summer until August 1 to renovate the greens. And even when it opens, no reciprocal play is allowed, so the only way to play is to become a member or befriend a member. Or how about this? Try finding a member in a casino, and bet him for his membership. But if his last name is Moneymaker, just walk away, man.

Matt PaulsonMatt Paulson, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Lost

    Scotty wrote on: Aug 10, 2004

    Lost at sea I was, then there, in the distance, a lighthouse of words drawing me in. Safely guiding me from the treacherous golf courses. Matt is my life preserver, his words keep me afloat in a vast ocean of nouns.