Best of Las Vegas 2003 filled with great courses

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- For years, Las Vegas has proved to be an outstanding destination spot for golfers as the area rolled out one new course after another. The golfing boom has led to predictions that Vegas soon could top other golfing meccas like Scottsdale or Palm Springs in quantity and quality. Here's a roundup of some of the top venues in the area.

Best New Courses You Can Play

1. The Falls Golf Club in Henderson. 2. Tuscany Golf Club in Henderson. 3. Arroyo at Red Rock Country Club in Summerlin. 4. New nine at Black Mountain Golf Club in Las Vegas. 5. Boulder Creek Golf Club in Boulder City.

Building of new courses has slowed in the West, but in Las Vegas this year they had a smashing crop of new places to play. The Falls at Lake Las Vegas, which actually opened in late 2002, has a dramatic mountain and desert layout by Tom Weiskopf. Tuscany finally opened after many delays. Red Rock Country Club has won applause for opening up its new 18 at Arroyo to public play as well as play by club members. The new nine at Black Mountain Golf Club is a valiant effort to add a little desert golf to a club that needed an update. Boulder Creek, an outstanding muni with 27 holes, has had a few financial problems since opening but has won praise for its layout by Mark Rathert.

Must-Play Courses

1. Shadow Creek in North Las Vegas. 2. Wolf Creek Golf Club in Mesquite. 3. Reflection Bay Golf Club at Lake Las Vegas in Henderson. 4. The Falls Golf Club at Lake Las Vegas in Henderson. 5. Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson. 6. Cascata Golf Club in Boulder City.

In the shadow of rugged Nevada mountains, Shadow Creek is a startling oasis of rolling turf surrounded by sparkling lakes and ponds, huge pine trees and lush gardens. This Tom Fazio course has a $500 green fee and is restricted to guests at MGM Mirage properties.

Wolf Creek runs through beautiful desert canyons in a growing resort area 80 miles north of Las Vegas. It has been making every magazine's "best of" list since it opened in 2000. It was also ranked as the third most difficult course in America by the USGA.

Reflection Bay, a Jack Nicklaus course at Lake Las Vegas, is part of an upscale community built around an artificial lake in Henderson. Now the brand-new Falls course by Tom Weiskopf provides another dazzling alternative.

Rio Secco in the foothills of the Black Mountains has great views of the Vegas skyline. It's also the home of the Butch Harmon School of Golf. Most tee times here go to Harrah's and Rio Suites guests, but everyone is welcome.

Cascata, a Rees Jones course in the Red River Mountains of Boulder City, is another one of those places that strives to restrict its clientele. When it opened, it took a $100,000 credit line at the tables in certain hotels to get to play there. Now you can tee off for a $500 green fee and no gaming minimum if you're staying at Bally's, Caesar's Palace, the Las Vegas Hilton and a couple of other spots.

Best Resorts With Golf

1. Hyatt Regency at Lake Las Vegas in Henderson. 2. Rio All-Suite Hotel in Las Vegas. 3. Las Vegas Paiute Resort, northwest of downtown Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas area comes up short when it comes to the number of resorts that are built around golf courses and that offer a host of recreational amenities. But then, after all, gaming is supposed to be No. 1 in this town.

The Hyatt Regency at Lake Las Vegas, however, fits the bill. On the shores of Lake Las Vegas, 17 miles from the Strip, this outstanding resort has a spa and casino and offers water activities including access to two great courses - The Falls Golf Club and Reflection Bay.

The Rio All-Suite Hotel is an outstanding property in the middle of Vegas casino action, but also owns Rio Secco Golf Club, 15 minutes away, a Rees Jones design that has won many honors.

The Las Vegas Paiute Resort, with three great Pete Dye courses, is located on the Paiute tribal lands; there are plans to open a resort hotel here in the future.

Best theme courses

1. Bear's Best in Las Vegas. 2. Bali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas. 3. Royal Links Golf Club in Las Vegas.

Leave it to Las Vegas to create eye-popping theme and replica courses. Bear's Best is one of two clubs where Jack Nicklaus has featured 18 spectacular holes from his 200 courses worldwide; the other place he's done it is Bear's Best Atlanta. Bali Hai is a sumptuous Polynesian jungle course that designers Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley filled with 100,000 plants and 2,500 palm trees as well as fairways and greens. Royal Links lets you test yourself on the most famous holes in the British Isles without crossing the Atlantic.

Gems That Should Get More Attention

1. The Revere Golf Club in Henderson. 2. TPC Canyons in Summerlin. 3. Siena Golf Club in Summerlin. 4. The Legacy Golf Club in Henderson.

What's remarkable about these courses is that most are practically new. The Revere Golf Club, built amid a Del Webb development in the Las Vegas foothills, offers great views of the mountains and the Las Vegas skyline on two 18-hole courses -- the Lexington and the Concord. The TPC Canyons offers a true taste of the desert with barrancas, arroyos and ravines skillfully blended into its design.

Sumptuous scenery helps 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. The Legacy has recently returned to its former glories after a change in management.

Best values in Las Vegas

1. Boulder Creek Golf Club in Boulder City. 2. SilverStone Golf Club in Las Vegas. 3. Tuscany Golf Club in Henderson. 4. Legacy Golf Club in Henderson.

Many golfers think nothing of paying $200 for green fees in Vegas; everyone is doing it in the high-season. But the above clubs offer great golf at moderate prices all year long.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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