It wasn't easy, but here's our top 20 Las Vegas golf courses

By Leigh Hallenberg, Contributor

From the three Pete Dye designs at Vegas Paiute Golf Resort to tropic Bali Hai Golf Club right on The Strip, and Sin City's own taste of British Open golf, Royal Links, Leigh Hallenberg breaks down the best golf courses in Las Vegas and the surrounding area. Are all your favorites here?

Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort - Wolf Course - hole 7
At 7,600 yards, Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort's Wolf Course isn't for the faint of heart.
Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort - Wolf Course - hole 7Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort - Snow Mountain - ninth holeBali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas - No. 2Royal Links GC in Las Vegas - clubhouseTuscany Golf Club - 12th hole

Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort's Wolf Course -- The most difficult of the three Pete Dye-designed courses at Paiute, the Wolf Course is currently the longest course in Nevada. At 7,600 yards, this layout isn't for the faint of heart.

The greens at the Wolf Course hold shots about as well as a buttered tabletop. Bring an arsenal of wedges with your clubs, because it will be difficult to stick anything with more than an 8-iron. Unless you crush it off the tee, some of the par-4s might as well be par-5s.

The course's finishing hole illustrates this point. At 476 yards, any wind will put your shot down much sooner than you'd like. Any hint of a slice could send your ball into the lake that borders the hole's entire right side.

The Falls Golf Club at Lake Las Vegas -- Combining large elevation changes with waterfalls and lush scenery, Tom Weiskopf designed an alternately challenging and attractive course at Lake Las Vegas. The Resort at Lake Las Vegas is already a top destination for those planning a Las Vegas golf vacation. The addition of this breathtaking course should only increase its popularity.

Located in Henderson, The Falls is one of two resort courses situated on the beautiful but steep topography surrounding the lake. Reflection Bay, the resort's highly touted Jack Nicklaus designed course, is contained mainly to the lower portion of the land. The Falls, however, roams through desert floor and up and down the mountains. The course's name is derived from the streams, gullies and waterfalls that flow throughout the course.

The course's back nine may be its trump card. The par-5 12th hole curves through a narrow pass that leads to breathtaking view of the Valley floor. Over the next two holes Weiskopf throws down the gauntlet with over 100 feet of elevation changes. This stretch of holes is regarded as one of the most gorgeous and treacherous in Nevada.

Reflection Bay at Lake Las Vegas -- Jack Nicklaus had a chance to let his imagination run wild in Sin City and it took him to Florida. Seemingly straight out of Palm Beach, Reflection Bay merges desert golf surroundings with a beach golf look and feel. It plays over the natural contours of the Lake Las Vegas property. The arroyos, waterfalls and palm trees make for an interesting blend of Southwest meets Southeast.

Not to be dismissed as eye candy, Reflection Bay uses slight elevation changes and tactical bunkering to add to the overall experience and challenge. Nicklaus' design includes some split fairways and peninsular greens, but much of the course's beauty and challenge can be attributed to the lake itself. This is where Reflection Bay separates itself from other Nevada courses. Nicklaus knows how to use water. On most of the lake holes, Reflection Bay has sand along the fairway as if the chance of going into the lake wasn't enough. So even when you think your safe from the water, you aren't safe from the beach.

Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort's Snow Mountain Course -- Snow Mountain calls itself a kinder, gentler Pete Dye design. There are still all the pot bunkers you can throw a club at, but this course does have wide fairways and larger greens. The resort, owned by the Paiute Indians and built on the reservation, is among the most complete Las Vegas golf vacation destinations.

The massive purplish-gray mountains that provide the backdrop for a course designed with the resort player in mind. More scenic and less menacing than the resort's Wolf Course, Snow Mountain has a secluded feeling that can't be found at many other Las Vegas golf courses.

A 552-yard, par-5, No. 3 requires a solid tee shot or you might have to lay up in front of the water-guarded green. The 342-yard 13th is a short par-4 that offers a chance to shoot over a waste area and cut down the hole's distance. Hit it solid and you should find a small landing area 50 feet in front of the green. Snow Mountain offers this type of risk-reward golf that won't leave the bruises of other Dye courses.

Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort's Sun Mountain Course -- No Las Vegas golf vacation would be complete without a stop at Paiute Resort. One of three Pete Dye designs here, Sun Mountain is a lush, rolling course that will make you take out every golf club in your bag. Sun Mountain is also named Tav-ai Kaiv by the Paiute Indians who own the resort and the reservation its built on.

The greens here are softer and more undulating than at the Snow Mountain tract. Four lakes come into play on four holes. On most holes there are generous landing areas, but only if you can get over the water or fairway bunkering. Dye uses water and sod-faced bunkers almost interchangeably to test golfers approach shots. You'll see some of Dye's trademark railroad ties on the par-4 sixth. They line the bunkers to create thin, sand-filled lanes waiting to funnel any ball into the sand.

The scenery at Sun Mountain matches its desert style and location. Yucca and Joshua Trees and native flowers run alongside most holes. This unembellished beauty is capped off by the views of the Sheep Mountains you get from many tee boxes.

Bali Hai Golf Club -- Bali Hai is owned by Walters Golf. Known for their lavish, uniquely themed layouts, Bali Hai is no different. It proves that you can go anywhere in the world in Vegas. In this case, Bali Hai transports golfers to the South Pacific. One of few courses located on the Strip, you can catch a glimpse of Bali Hai by plane as you land at McCarren Airport.

This Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley-designed course features over seven acres of water features. Golfers will also find an island green, more than 2,500 palm trees and 100,000 tropical plants and flowers. Every par 3 at Bali Hai G.C. looks like an oasis, but all are equally difficult. On No. 11, a 190-yard hole named "Lagoon," sapphire pools guard the green to the right and large beach bunkers protect its front.

All the bunkers at Bali Hai are filled with Augusta white sand, but this isn 't the only place you'll find the stuff. It also lines every hole in the place of rough. Offset with black volcanic rock, these transition zones make Bali Hai what one of the most unique and majestic courses in the country. If you'll be in Las Vegas for a little while, Walters Golf offers packages to all of its area courses.

Royal Links Golf Club -- A Walters Golf facility, Royal Links pays homage to some of the finest holes in British Open history. Royal Links gives golfers the chance to experience holes from Turnberry, Royal Troon, and St. Andrews in the same round. The clubhouse is even fashioned after an English castle.

The holes are created with such accuracy, it's said Tiger Woods could name each hole as he played his round. He obviously remembered how to play each hole as he captured the course record with a 67. Royal Links true Scottish design means there are more than a few deep, hidden bunkers around the greens. Even "Hell Bunker" from the Old Course at St. Andrews is represented at Royal Links. If you get caught in one of these you might hope you packed a step ladder with your golf clubs.

Royal Links lets golfers play "Road Hole" from the Old Course at St. Andrews and the "Postage Stamp" from Royal Troon without thousands of dollars in airfare. It also offers a primer on British Open history. Placards can be found all over the course describing key Open moments that took place on these famed holes.

DragonRidge Country Club -- DragonRidge, in Henderson, is built into the McCullough Mountains and gets its name from a rocky ridge running atop along one of the mountains. The natural hills and valleys of the property give the course some challenging holes and rough topography. Some of these valleys have been turned into enormous desert washes and deep fairway bunkers.

DragonRidge was designed by David Druzisky and Jay Morrish and opened in 2000. The water elements come into play early during the front nine. Most of the more difficult holes are found on the back nine where the terrain gets a little more craggy. On No. 12 you'll get a chance to witness all of the Vegas Valley as you walk 562 yards uphill on one of the course's toughest par-5s. A wash that runs through the center of the hole eats up drives and bunkers surrounding the green do the same with second shots that don't lay up.

Druzisky has likened the course's feel to a storyline. Continually building up and developing character until its climax. DragonRidge's finishing hole is an epic conclusion to this course's story. At 607 yards from the Dragon tees, this par-5 starts golfers off with a forced carry of more than 230 yards. Golfers have to chose which landing area suits them best and we wary of a wash that runs the length of the hole before fronting the green.

Siena Golf Club -- Like the newly opened Tuscany Golf Club, Siena Golf Club offers an Italian renaissance experience complete with a quarter-mile-long lake and cascading waterfalls. Both wine-themed courses were built around the same time, but Siena has nearly three years of experience as Tuscany opened this summer. Siena's rates are a little higher than Tuscany's, but still very palatable.

Sumptuous scenery and spacious fairways make Siena an entertaining and locally popular round of golf. Every hole has an Italian name and most feature natural rock outcroppings, palm trees and an unparalleled view. Siena's ninth, or Della Pantera, is one of the most beautiful holes in Nevada. From an elevated tee box you can see the Spring Mountains reflected in Lake Siena. The water progresses down the left side of the hole to the green. Enormous palm trees frame the entire hole in attempt to keep golfers from staring at the desert for hours.

Once you remember you're playing golf, you'll realize you need an accurate tee shot or you'll be in trouble. An approach on this 420-yard par-4 has to be straight with water to the left and gaping bunkers to the right of the green.

Revere Golf Club, Concord Course -- One of two Bill Casper and Greg Nash-designed courses, the Concord plays like a desert course, but is lush and emerald green. The Concord Course opened in 2002, three years after its cohort, the Lexington Course. Both courses are American Revolution themed. Holes like "One if by Land" and "Two if by Sea" set the tone of the Golf Club.

On the Concord Course, the Red Rock Canyon provides splendid views while Nash and Casper's design presents several tests. High mounding messes with golfers' length off the tee. Some of the course's natural beauty presents it most difficult challenges. This is most evident on the course's signature finishing hole.

This 551-yard, par-5, named "Independence," doesn't try to mask its desert surroundings. The hole's rough shifts into desert bushes around the green. A rocky desert wash fronts a 25-foot rock wall protecting the front of the hole. And any shot that comes in too hard will be deposited in one of seven bunkers behind the green. This alternately beautiful and rugged hole makes a trip to Revere Golf Club a popular addition to any Las Vegas golf package.

Revere Golf Club, Lexington Course - The Lexington is one of two Billy Casper and Greg Nash-designed courses at Revere Golf Club, formerly The Revere at Anthem. The Lexington has a classic target golf layout. At 7,143 yards, The Lexington puts a premium on shot-making and not distance.

A combination of tricky elements create the difficulty at The Lexington. Most holes force quick decisions by the golfer. The course's second hole quickly establishes this theme. This 591 yard par-5's downhill fairway will add distance to any drive to the right. However, this creates a blind second shot. Many of the Lexington's holes force plays like this.

Both courses at Revere feature winding split fairways and large undulating greens. The country club feel of the clubhouse is reinforced by the play of the Lexington. Fairways are spotted with desert bunkers but leave ample room for drives. The Lexington is a unique experience unlike that at any other Las Vegas golf course.

Boulder Creek Golf Club -- Boulder Creek is one of the premier municipal courses in the country. Opened this year, Mark Rathert designed 27 holes for this unique course and used a wide range of design techniques that keep golfers on their toes. Oasis, arroyo and desert style holes make precision a must throughout the course. By tipping out at 7,400 yards, Boulder Creek can present a test to rival Paiute Resort's Wolf Course.

Features like white sand bunkers, palm trees and split fairways do everything they can to make this course both a challenge and a pleasure to play. You have to be able to move the ball to succeed at Boulder Creek.

Unlike the Wolf Course and other newer championship courses in Las Vegas, Boulder Creek won't break the bank. It's appearance may intimidate some visiting golfers, but Boulder Creek is a true example of Las Vegas discount golf.

Rio Secco Golf Club -- One of Vegas' most dynamic desert layouts, Rio Secco is owned and operated by the Rio Hotel and Casino. This Rees Jones-designed course stretches to 7,332 yards and takes advantage of desert plateaus, washes and steep canyons. Most holes are built around one of these features, so choosing golf clubs for a trip to Rio Secco may be hard.

Rio Secco's four par-5s separate it from the rest of Vegas' desert courses. On Nos. 8 and 9, even long hitters may have a bit of trouble. The two holes are a combined 1,150 yards. On No. 8, the shorter of the two, golfers might be able to get on in two if they avoid Jones' tactically placed bunkers. On No. 9, the fun begins. At 634 yards, it is nearly impossible to end up on the green after two shots. Jones doesn't relent, spotting the fairway with bunkers.

Worried that you won't survive because you can't hit the ball like Tiger Woods? The Butch Harmon School of Golf which is located on site. Harmon can teach you a thing or two, having tutored the likes of Woods and Davis Love III.

Tuscany Golf Club -- Located a few miles west of Lake Las Vegas, Tuscany Golf Club is down the road from some very famous neighbors. But this Ted Robinson designed course should quickly begin tempting people to plan an extra stop during their golf vacations. Tuscany is different from many of Robinson's well-known Palm Springs courses. While those courses are often designed around waterworks and exotic plant life, Tuscany has a vintage feel and plays like a desert course. The clubhouse will have the air of a Tuscany wine village and wine barrels are scattered throughout the course.

The course plays to 6,906 yards and has relatively forgiving fairways. But sparkling white sand bunkers and water can cause trouble, especially on the back nine. The course's finishing hole should quickly become one of the area 's most talked about holes. A 440-yard par-4, No. 18 has a fairway that drops off about 250 yards from the tee box. Any ball that rolls too far will set up a thorny second shot. Golfers will need any advantage they can get on the approach. Water runs in front of the green and bunkers catch anything that rolls off the back. With the wind nearly always blowing into your face, this hole should turn a few heads as Tuscany becomes a Nevada favorite.

Primm Valley Golf Club, Lakes Course -- Primm, Nev., might be a bit of a drive from the Strip, but Las Vegas golf vacations aren't complete until you've played Primm Valley's two championship courses designed by Tom Fazio. The Lakes Course, opened in 1997, was named the eighth best new course in 1997 by Golf Digest and has received numerous awards for its service and conditioning. All the holes at the Lakes Course are lined with lush desert foliage and Fazio keeps the cart paths hidden from the tee boxes, giving the course a more natural feel.

There are several lakes and a system of rivers meandering through the Lakes Course. Much of the course's difficulty stems from this water. Easily tempted golfers might find more than a couple of their balls rolling into one of these lakes. The 347-yard 10th will have some golfers licking their chops. The hole actually plays about 280 yards to the green, so it isn't named "Temptation" by chance. Any ball left short will roll back down the steep slope in front of the green, but any slice will be deposited into a series of bunkers. There is a landing area to the left of the green about 240 yards from the tee boxes, but if you won't be back to Vegas for a while, you might as well have some fun on one of Las Vegas' finest golf courses.

TPC at the Canyons -- If you want to truly experience a desert golf course, add a round at TPC at the Canyons to your Las Vegas golf package. As one of the hosts of the Las Vegas Invitational, The Canyons is tough enough for the pros and a great test for any golfer.

Perhaps the most authentic desert course in Las Vegas, designers Ray Floyd and Bobby Weed were hesitant to disturb the course's natural setting. They incorporated the property's natural barrancas, arroyos, trees and desert ravines into the Canyons. A lake adds a touch of water to the otherwise dry course.

The Canyons plays straight and long from most holes, which may explain why John Daly holds a portion of the course record 62. But several holes will have you using half the clubs in you bag. The back nine is home to the "Death Valley" arroyo. This cavernous gorge is 30-feet deep in some places. On No. 13, a 381-yard par-4, the fairway doglegs right around the chasm and lets each golfer decide how much they wants to risk. You'll have to deal with the gorge on most of the rest of the holes. For a true test and taste of the desert, TPC at the Canyons is hard to beat. [Editor's Note: Since publication of this story, TPC at the Canyons has been re-named TPC Las Vegas.]

Bear's Best Golf Club -- For diehard Jack Nicklaus fans looking through lists of Las Vegas golf courses, look no further than Bear's Best. This greatest hits course is all Jack, all the time. Comprised of 18 of the most famous holes from Nicklaus' courses around the world, Bear's Best is as unique as the Las Vegas experience.

Golfers shouldn't get too accustomed to the style of play or surroundings at Bear's Best because they change quickly and drastically. Holes No. 2, from Nicklaus' Cabo del Sol course, and No. 5, from Eldorado Resort, give golfers a taste of how Jack works south of the border. Both holes feature deep waste bunkers and quick elevation changes. The eighth hole is a 600-yard par-5 that switches things up and transports golfers to the evergreen forests of Rockies. Taken from The Bear's Castle Pines course in Colorado, this hole nicely juxtaposes the earlier desert holes and showcases the course's variety.

Both nines start with a taste of something most vacationing golfers won't get elsewhere: a taste of Nicklaus' Private Course at PGA West in Palm Springs, Calif. The palm trees on the opening hole will try to steal your attention from the water lining the left side of the hole. A bunker splits the fairway on the tenth, messing with drives and setting up a downhill approach.

Wolf Creek at Paradise Canyon -- Wolf Creek is nestled in stunning Mesquite, Nev., an hour northeast of Vegas. If you're courageous enough to play, you'll every golf club you own. Wolf Creek isn't just one of the most difficult courses in Nevada, but in the world. A slope of 154 made it the third most difficult course in the US when it opened in 2001. Yamaha even provided four-wheel drive golf carts to prevent any golfers from screaming down one of Wolf Creek's steep elevation changes.

Impeccable conditions and a natural layout make this course worth every penny. Designer Dennis Rider makes the course look like it grew up out of rugged ground in Paradise Canyon. This can makes holes look less complicated than they are. Merely glancing at the scorecard in no way prepares you for some of the holes at Wolf Creek. An 11-story high tee box greets you on the second hole. At 248 yards, No. 8 might seem like a normal par 3. However, this hole also boasts a 100 foot elevation change, a creek that circles the green and a canyon behind the hole.

Holes like these define Wolf Creek. While only opened for a few years, Wolf Creek has quickly established itself as one of the premier golf courses in an already premier golf vacation destination.

Primm Valley Golf Club, Desert Course -- The newer of two Fazio designed courses at Primm Valley, the Desert Course seamlessly intertwines its desert setting with manicured, deep green fairways and sparkling water features. Like the older Lakes Course, the Desert Course was recently named to Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses You Can Play. Fazio didn't misstep when Primm Valley called on him to create the Desert Course next to its popular predecessor.

The Desert Course offers narrower fairways and craggier surroundings than the Lakes Course. Fazio also relies less on water in order to focus on the stark desert vistas seen from most tee boxes. Shadows can cause havoc during the afternoons, but if you play late enough you can catch a cherry sunset between the purple-gray mountains.

The course is desert in name only. There is little target golf at Primm Valley. Fazio designed the Desert Course with the understanding that golfers vacationing at Primm Valley didn't want to be hacking out of thorny bushes all day. There are a few tricks, though. The fairway of the par 4, 473-yard tenth slopes downward. The green, however, is severely sloped uphill with sand protecting it to the right.

Desert Pines Golf Club -- Desert Pines is one of three Walters Golf-owned golf courses in Las Vegas. Like its fellow public courses, Bali Hai and Royal Links, Desert Pines is a themed course that left to detail overlooked. Desert Pines is called the "Pinehurst of Las Vegas," and more than 4,000 pine trees make you fell like you're in North Carolina. Unlike Royal Links and Bali Hai, Desert Pines doesn't carry a hefty price tag.

Not the most difficult course, Desert Pines wants golfers to enjoy their round instead of beating themselves up over it. A par 71, the course is 6,810 yards from the back tees. Location is a big drawing point for Desert Pines. Located on the Strip in Vegas, it's only a cab fare away for most tourists.

Water comes into play on half the course's holes and the rather narrow, tree-lined fairways command accuracy. The white sand bunkers look gorgeous and usually allow golfers to get pretty good spin if they end up in one. The course's shorter par-4s will have golfers thinking about the green, but be wary because Desert Pines' green are usually guarded by bunkers or water.

Leigh Hallenberg, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Golf Reviews

    Mike Harmon wrote on: Sep 24, 2010

    I am very dissapointed in what I thought would be an objective review of the top toughest courses in Las Vegas. It is apparent that you have a financial interest in your ratings. I won't get into specifics but your reviews are nothing but marketing pieces. Have you actually played some of these courses. I entertain executive from all over the US when they come to Vegas and was hoping to get some expert advice but your review is worthless.