Vegas' golf for show hides great women and senior options

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - This is a town built for show, the bigger, the grander, the bolder the better, all brought out by the competitive, money-vacuuming minds of visionaries like Steve Wynn. When they build a new casino here, the worst thing it can do is blend in. It is all about sticking out in Vegas, all about blowing the minds of that middle-aged couple from Peoria or Prague.

This sense of grandeur one-upmanship often extends to the golf courses. Sometimes it seems like there is an obstacles' arms race being waged out in the Nevada desert. If one course forces you to carry a gorge, the next forces you to carry a canyon and the next an entire valley. While making for picturesque, sometimes even awe-inspiring golf, this progression to architect brinksmanship often leaves large segments of the golfing population curbside.

If you are a woman, a senior or even just a slightly-nervous, weak-swinging man, Las Vegas golf can take on an intimidating, inaccessible aura. It is not always easy to be below average in driving distance in this town, no matter your gender, age or stomach strength.

But fear not, there are more places to turn than you think. Vegas actually has a nice selection of courses for those not looking to prove anything except that golf is supposed to be fun.

"There are a number of courses that are excellent and friendly for women in the area," said Eileen Crawford, a sales manager at the Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas Resort who meets with a group of professional business women golfers at courses they deem pro women every month. "It's such a great game, and such a valuable tool in the business world, there's no reason for women not to play.

"It's not too hard to find a course that will appreciate your business."

Finding that course that also delivers a golf product to match is the trick. Nobody -- man, woman, child or grandpa -- wants a course that insults their golf intelligence, plays down to them with an inferior product propped up by a "women and senior friendly" marketing slogan. This is about discovering the courses that are enjoyable tests without pandering.

Angel Park offers two courses of high quality that are very negotiable for the shorter hitter. One is an Arnold Palmer design that tests without infuriating or calling for long drives over obstacles. There are still plenty of risk-and-reward choices, it is just up to you when you want to take them.

"Angel Park is terrific for those a little bit older or those ladies," said Joe Massanova, TPC at The Canyons' marketing director. "There's not a whole lot of forced carries. The greens are a little bit flatter. It's just an easier day for them out there. It's not a desert style course. They can pretty much hit the ball wherever they want."

Siena Golf Club places a premium on accuracy rather than booming drives, making it a favorite of the adult living community that it is linked with. There are 97 pot bunkers on the course, just waiting to snare the ball of that obnoxious John Daly wannabe. This high-end design gives the golfer every opportunity to reach its large greens. Then it really tests with its slopes once you are on, making the putter -- the most age-defiant club of all -- the most important one in your bag on this day.

This isn't the course where you show off your driver. It's the course where you show off your golf mind.

Desert Rose is one of the oldest, most reasonably-priced and playable courses in Las Vegas. It can be more forgiving than a priest in a confessional, providing plenty of escape routes for even the most wayward of drives. Even the 607-yard, par-5 fourth is a manageable task that need not turn into a large number for the distance challenged.

Yet, Desert Rose has enough bite to keep drawing competitors back for the annual Clark County Amateur.

Craig Ranch is even cheaper than Desert Rose and equally distance, age and gender defiant. This is one of the best courses in town for a beginner to work on his or her game and a continued good bet for those looking for low-stress golf. There is nothing pretentious about this track and that extends to its approach to testing the golfer. These are wide, wide, wide open fairways.

Throw in some unexpected Vegas scenery (over 7,000 trees on the course, most far out of play) and you have a good recipe for an alternative option. It reportedly sometimes gets a little rowdy with a jean-shorts-wearing, Budweiser-guzzling crowd, so Craig Ranch might not be the most comfortable place for a woman to play alone.

Arroyo Golf Club is about as far from Craig Ranch as you can get in atmosphere. Set among the exclusive Red Rock master money-planned community, this 6,900-yard course cuts through desert and mountain terrain without trying to kill you on every hole. This is a scenic, measured round that doesn't zap a golfer with sudden shot-testing shocks. What you see is pretty much what you get, allowing for some well-thought-out shots at out-in-the-open targets.

Still, Arroyo is not a course you can walk all over without some sweat and smarts.

"I wish more people would recommend courses like these to seniors and women who ask," Massanova said.

The courses are out there, even in big-show-obsessed Las Vegas. Sometimes even here, it is not always about the next hottest thing. Sometimes, it is just about playing the game to play the game. Nothing less, plenty more.

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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