Draw aces in Las Vegas with rounds at Royal Links Golf Club and Bali Hai

By Judd Spicer, Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- Contrary to popular opinion, the house doesn't always win.

Royal Links Golf Club - 10th hole
Royal Links Golf Club pays tribute to 18 great holes from the British Open rota.
Royal Links Golf Club - 10th holeRoyal Links golf course - 6th greenBali Hai golf course in Las VegasBali Hai Golf Club - 18th

Feeling the Blackjack Blues, the Video Poker Vex or the Pai Gow Pain? Take salve from the din of the Strip with a pair of rounds at these diverse sister plays offered by Walters Golf.

Royal Links Golf Club

Just 15 minutes from the gaming nexus, a unique and tranquil tribute to the game's beginnings can be found at Royal Links Golf Club, a 1998 creation from Dye Designs which pays recreated tribute to 18 great holes from the 11 courses played across the British Open rota.

From the styling of the U.K.-inspired castle clubhouse to an authentic Scottish bar, the grounds pay homage throughout to golf's roots, as viewed on course with 110 bunkers and ample acreage of fescue.

"It's consistently the most inconsistent course you'll ever play, because, from both a design and topography standpoint, Dye Designs replicated these holes as best they could, each hole, from tee-to-green," said Charles Bombard, general manager at Royal Links. "So you get the mounding and the bounces similar to the experience of playing the originals."

And, yeah, those testy, British pot bunkers dot the routing and define the required strategy of the shot-making, links-style grounds throughout.

"Sometimes, you'll get into one of the pot bunkers, and the ball stays right near the edge as opposed to American-style, bowl-shaped bunkers that roll toward the middle," Bombard said. "So you may either have to hit it out backwards, make a swing in some form or just take a penalty with an unplayable. But many people do find the best bet is to hit backwards."

As for playing forward, be sure to grab a yardage book to navigate the oft-hidden sandy hazards (and to pick up some great Open Championship yarns along the way). And while taking on tests inspired by the famed "Road Hole," "Postage Stamp" or "Hell Bunker," be mindful of lesser known but still potent challenges along the way.

"The fourth is my own nemesis on the front, just a really tough hole," Bombard said of the par-5 inspired by the eighth at Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake. "There's some forced carry, and then the fairway is mounded. And if you get over those hurdles, the second shot requires carry to more mounding and get to one of the few, flat landing areas. It's a tough par 5 to hit in two, and I don't think many people can from the tips at over 620 yards."

If mailing in that Postage Stamp eighth inspired by Royal Troon's famed par 3, don't expect birdies in bunches.

"It's the highest elevation on the course, and you can probably see a half-dozen holes from that tee," Bombard said. "The hole looks harmless, but with the bunkering and the green's steep slope, if you can get away with a par, that's pretty good."

A back side tribute to Carnoustie Golf Links proves a humbling highlight for the host.

"No. 16 is a very difficult par 4, and I don't think I've figured it out yet," Bombard said. "A tough tee shot, and you think you might have some room to the right, but there's the bunkering to that side, which seems to be like magnets. And you try to play hard left or hook it over there, then you're dealing with severe gorse. The second shot is also demanding, and you're usually hitting into a crosswind."

Bali Hai Golf Club

Bali Hai Golf Club, a lush, South Pacific-styled play located right on the Strip, offers some pleasing, Polynesian vibes playing in contrast to the Vegas din.

"It was constructed really well," Fran Roach, general manager at Bali Hai, said of the 2000 design from Schmidt/Curley. "You do have some great mountain views and some views of the Strip, but you do feel like you're 'away' from all the activity. But at the same, you have that balance of being near the Strip, being on the Strip and being away from the Strip."

In close proximity to the ever-present hotel views, Bali Hai is lined with literally tens of thousands of palms and plants, coupled with seven acres of water features, popping (though generally ornamental) Augusta white sand and black volcanic rock outlinings.

"Being on the Strip, this is more of a resort-style property, but it's definitely a good test of golf," Roach said. "The scorecard might make it seem that it's a little easier than it plays, but it's a good test out there with large greens that have some movement. We accommodate a variety of level of golfers on this property, and the fairways do slope down for the golfer who might not play avidly."

A host of well drawn holes require taking the player's strategy from craps table to course. A front-side run on nos. 3-5 is evidence of the tee-to-green demands.

"With the creek on the right-hand side, you really need to place your ball off the tee and find a position," Roach said of the 468-yard, par-4 third. "That creek is small, but it does come into play more than you might think. And then there's the big bunker on the left side, so with the wind prevailing from left-to-right, you need to be smart off the tee. And on the second, you've got to play up the left side to avoid bouncing right into the creek. It's one of my favorite holes on the course."

A diminutive fourth ensues before a handsome fifth hole keeps water in play.

"The creek sneaks in there to the right, so laying-up left before the bunkering is better," Roach said of the club-down, 324-yard fourth. "You don't need to grab driver here, but instead have a little longer shot in to an elevated green and a great chance at birdie."

The fifth is a beautiful hole with the bunker on the left and another on the right that really doesn't come into play that much. "But you need to keep it down the right-hand side," Roach said. "The sand on the left may not look like it comes into play that much, but it's hard to hit over the bunker."

On Bali's home hole, the track's ongoing approach requirements find a serious bet-setter. It's a great but very challenging final hole where a lot of matches are won and lost.

"It's not easy with the lake water and the big bunkering; the wind is usually in the face, and you need to hit a solid shot with an extra club to find the green," Roach said. "And you really have to play left there, because the farther right you go the less green you have to work with and more trouble to take on."

Judd SpicerJudd Spicer, Contributor

Judd Spicer is an award-winning, veteran freelance writer hailing from St. Paul, Minn. After 12 years of covering MLB, NBA, NCAA and the active golf landscape of the Twin Cities, he relocated to the Palm Spring, Calif. region to further pursue his golf work and Champions Tour dream. Sporting measured distance off the tee, Spicer refers to his pitching wedge as his "magic wand." Follow Judd on Twitter at @juddspicer.

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