Best playable courses in Las Vegas

By Matt Paulson, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - Vegas, baby, Vegas. The words of Vince Vaughan and Jon Favreau have become a creed for an entire generation of pseudo-swinging sojourners to Sin City. It is that magical place where inhibitions and circadian rhythms are locked away in a tiny black box not to be opened until the weekend is over. Sleep is not an option. And hedonism runs as rampant and as freely as Johnny Depp's drug-induced hallucinations in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Where drive-thru marriages thrive. Where booze is located at the top of budget while food takes a back seat to just about everything else. Where commerce is King and partying is God.

Located in this expanse of iniquitous commercialism are actually some spots of green. No, not the green with dead presidents - although there is a colossal surplus of that. This is the green of perfectly-manicured fairways painting the dry desert landscape. Since the middle of the 20th century, golf courses have tapped into this entrepreneurial phenomenon and have evolved into a key element to the experience.

Obviously, not every visitor of Vegas is a golfer. And some courses in Vegas would swallow these non-players without hesitation or remorse. However, there are some places in Vegas that are not only playable but also enjoyable for all players.

Opened in 1945, Las Vegas Golf Club is also the oldest course in Sin City. With a rating of 70.0 and a slope of 112 from the tips, this open, flat, short track (6,600 yards) is playable for just about anyone. Staying safe and dry is nearly inevitable. The only water hazard on the course decorates the 95-yard par-3 third hole. Although the pin is generally tucked somewhere near the hazard on this short jaunt of a three-par, the other 17 are pretty benign. According to the pro shop, the most challenging part to Las Vegas Golf Club are the dance floors, which entertain more contour than the rest of the course. In addition, $4 million has gone into renovation within the past couple of years. This Muni boast its share of rounds as the third busiest course in the United States. But getting on for non-residents is not all that difficult. Tee times can be arranged up to 30 days in advance. Weekday rates go for $69 before 2 p.m. while reduced to $49 after. On the weekend, they increase slightly to $89 before 2 p.m. and $69 after. All rates include cart and a $5 range card. The legendary Monte Money shot a 58 out here.

The next course decorating the list of playable courses for everyone in Vegas is the Las Vegas National Golf Course. A touch more difficult than Las Vegas Golf Club, this Bert Stamp-ed Muni entertains a rating of 72.1 and a slope of 130 from the back tees, which play to just more than 6,800 yards and a par of 71. The five par 3s all measure more than 180 yards from the back tees and will challenge everyone. The medium-length par 5s give the opportunity to regain those lost strokes suffered at not only the treacherous hands of the long par 3s but also the six par 4s that measure more than 400 yards. Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance and rates range anywhere from $75 to $185. Vacation packages are available at (877) 255-7277. The phenomenon that is the Tiger began his reign here in 1996, winning his first PGA tournament.

Designed by Arnold Palmer and opened in 1989, the Palms Course at Angel Park Golf Club is a mere 15 minutes from the Strip. This short course (6,500 from the tips) plays to a par of 70, a rating of 70.9 and a slope of 129. If you left your distance with your inhibitions in that little black box, check out the Championship tees at just 5,800 yards and a 67.6 rating with a slope of 114. Like Las Vegas National, the five par 3s will prove most difficult. The 12th is a 220-yard knee-knocker over desert, a sprawling front-right bunker and a front-left grass bunker. The three par 5s provide forgiveness, all measuring less than 550 yards with the most difficult hole on the course the 525-yard 6th. Rates vary with season, but for the summer, a round at the Palms will cost $95 Monday through Thursday and $125 Friday through Sunday and holidays for non-Clark County residents. Angel Park also includes a lighted 12-hole par-3 course, and a full 18-hole real-grass putting course for those that also left their entire swing in that little black box.

Located a few miles out of town in Henderson, Black Mountain Golf & Country Club provides a short, relatively danger-free haven for the hacker. On the 27-hole facility, the original 18 holes play to just more than 6,500 yards and a par of 72. Little challenge is offered except for smallish greens and possibly entangling Bermuda around the aprons. Only two water hazards and two fairway bunkers come into play throughout the track. The course's 10 par 4s measure between 300 to 430 yards and the longest par 3 is the 188-yard 12th, which is consequently the hardest hole out there. The home hole is a 480-yard par five, and by today's standards, that's easy for just about anyone. Overall, there are many places to gain strokes at Black Mountain and not all that many to lose them. Reservations are accepted up to 60 days in advance and rates range from $40 to $100 depending on the season.

The final full-length course on the list is the Ted Robinson-designed Rhodes Ranch that opened in 1997. Accented by short, playable rough that weaves around the more than 3,000 palm trees, this course is playable from just about anywhere off the tee. Narrow fairways may intimidate, but the short rough allows for lies that are nearly as good as in the short grass. Not only is the rough forgiving, but the occasional friendly fairway-flanking mounds also provide helpful bounces. Greens are generously proportioned, which can lead to more greens in regulation but also more three-putts. Reservations are taken up to 60 days in advance and greens fees range from $55 to $125.

Now, if you only have a few minutes before stage shows and you're yearning to get in a little golf before the drunken stupidity begins - or continues - check it out the Cloud Nine Course at Angel Park Golf Course. This Bob Cupp design is a blast. The 12 par 3s are built as more forgiving replicas of the most famous par 3s from around the golfing world, from the 17th at Sawgrass to the "Valley of Sin" at St. Andrews. Nine of the 12 holes are playable under the lights after dark.

You could also look into Desert Willow Golf Club, which has six par 4s and 12 par 3s, as does Eagle Crest Golf Club, both playing to pars of 60 and yardages of about 4,000.

Enjoy yourself out there. Hit 'em well, and with any luck, you'll be up 5 hundy by midnight.

Matt PaulsonMatt Paulson, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Fire!!!

    Scotty wrote on: Aug 10, 2004

    The smoke has finaly cleared from my computer moniter. Mr. Paulson's words were the gas in the engine. Like a dragster, so much power and spead. Matt writes with such reckless abandon you can't help but sit back in awe and wonder how he does it without exploding.