When it comes to green, Nicklaus knows his stuff

By Matt Paulson, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - In Las Vegas, green used to mean money. But these days it can also conjure up that bittersweet place where strokes are gained and - much more frequently - lost.

Bear's Best golf course - Las Vegas
Jack Nicklaus took 18 of his more than 200 course designs and paid homage to them at Bear's Best in Las Vegas.
Bear's Best golf course - Las VegasReflection Bay Golf Club - 18th hole

Greens can make or break a course. A positive experience can easily be soured by sub-par dance floors, especially with the high price of most golf in Vegas. So here are a few to try that won't taint the enjoyment. If your putter finds its way into your trunk in at least two pieces after a round at these places, it's your own fault.

Bali Hai Golf Club, a touch of the South Pacific located in the shadow of Mandalay Bay right on the Strip, was one of the top recommendations for some of the finest dance floors around. When Bill Walters dreamed this emerald desert paradise, he spared no expense. Not only do 3,500 palm trees, 100,000 flowers and crushed lava rock make it seem like players are in the South Pacific, but the lush green fairways give way to crushed marble - a cost of $300,000 - in place of rough, reminiscent of the pine at Augusta National. It is truly a five-star experience.

Jack Nicklaus undoubtedly remains the best post-WWII golfer to date, arguably the best ever. The Golden Bear undoubtedly understands the importance of putting to the game and of top-notch dance floors to a course, which is why two of his Vegas designs - Bear's Best and Reflection Bay - came in with some of the best greens around.

Bear's Best is rather self explanatory. Nicklaus took 18 of his more than 200 course designs and paid homage to them in this Westside Vegas track. The opening and closing par 4s bring back remembrances of PGA West at La Quinta, Calif., while Nicklaus also transplanted some of his best holes from the Old Works Golf Club in Anaconda, Mont., Castle Pines Golf Club in Castle Pines, Colo. and Las Campanas outside of Santa Fe, N.M.

He also used original blueprints and Global Positioning System to pinpoint the placement of his hazards. As is one of the major themes in Vegas, Nicklaus will take his players around the world without ever having to leave their cart.

Despite the fact that Vegas boasts some of the country's finest tracks, a desert climate can present unique year-round challenges for the course superintendent in maintaining the greens. The greens are currently in their worst condition right now, said Jonathan Dodds, course superintendent at Bear's Best. The summer months, particularly late June through July, the desert climate is "extremely hot and dry," which is not exactly conducive to lush, rolling dance floors, Dodds said.

The greens display their peak condition January through May and September through November, although high winds during those months risk the chance of drying.

Nicklaus' first public resort design also came in as one of the top recommendations for the best greens in Vegas. The 7,200-plus, par-72 track hosts the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge. As always, if it's good enough for the pros, it's got to be good enough for the rest. It has a 320-acre, man-made Lake Las Vegas that brushes five holes for a mile and a half of shoreline on Reflection Bay. In addition, the Reflection Bay golf course boasts various other landscapes, including rugged arroyos, deep valleys and rolling hillsides.

Five sets of tees, ranging from the tips at about 7,200 down to 5,100 yards, make it playable for just about any Vegas vacationer. The finishing hole, a daunting 570-yard par 5, doglegs to the right and is reachable for those that can cut the corner. But water flanks the entire right side up to and behind the green. Two solid, nearly perfect shots must be hit to reap the benefits on 18 at Reflection Bay.

The Tournament Players Club at the Canyons is also good -- so good it co-hosts the Las Vegas Invitational (the other co-hosts are Bear's Best and TPC at Summerlin). The Canyons is built into the rugged landscape, demanding forced carries over desert rock and vegetation. And the soft greens came up as some of the most highly recommended around. Although the Canyons seems to be more of a desert-style course than links, the spots of lush green in native vegetation and windswept fairways do allude to some of best across the pond. The wind at the Canyons provides the track its main defense, as is the case with pretty much every links-esque course.

With the breadth of golf available in Las Vegas, many courses boast high quality dance floors. Here's a few more to check out: Dragonridge Golf Club in Henderson, Primm Valley Golf Club about 45 minutes from the Strip, Royal Links Golf Club, which is a throwback to the best links courses to host the Open Championship, and Painted Desert Golf Club, one of the first desert-style golf courses in Las Vegas.

Matt PaulsonMatt Paulson, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Literay Art (cont.)

    Jason...aka MattLover wrote on: Jan 15, 2005

    Mr. Paulson is, in my mind, the best thing to hit the fine world of article writting today! His articles are like a fine peice of art waiting to be discovered. I really hope to continue the fine saga of this young man's work soon. Ernest Hemingway has nothing on Matt.


  • Literary Art

    Scotty wrote on: Jul 27, 2004

    Mr. Paulson speaks it how it is. The words glisten on my display, beckoning my response and all I can muster is a gentle sigh of despair. Ernest Hemingway is admiring this beautiful literary work of art. I can hardley wait to read the next chapter of Matt's ongoing golf saga.