Low rolling: Local rates plummet at Las Vegas area courses

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Golfing in Sin City just became down right affordable; for locals that is. A strong sampling of Clark County's priciest courses are raising the white flag on triple-digit rounds for residents in an attempt to stimulate business and bolster local loyalty.

Exactly what level of discounts can locals expect? The proverbial blackjack term "double down" comes to mind. Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson fleeced residents with a $300 greens fee upon opening in 1997. Now locals can play the nationally ranked course for between $75 and $125, depending on the time of day and day of week.

Primm Valley's two highly regarded Tom Fazio designed layouts are now available for local consumption for an eye-popping $50. And it's not just the area's high-end, semi-private and daily fee courses that are dropping local rates. DragonRidge Country Club, a snazzy private facility in Henderson, is open to the public until it sells all its memberships. For a limited time, locals can play the exquisite Jay Morrish designed track for $40.

"On average, we are 30 percent cheaper than Scottsdale," Bill Walters, chief executive officer of Walters Golf, told LasVegasGolf.com last October. "We did a study that factored in airfare, lodging and the price of golf and we (Las Vegas) are more affordable."

Walters Golf owns and operates six local courses, and Bill Walters has been one of the primary forces in promoting Las Vegas as a golf destination over the past decade. Walters has lowered rates for locals at its Royal Links ($95, conditions apply), Stallion Mountain (private club, no resident rate) and Desert Pines ($58) courses.

Still, encouraging more local play and cementing Las Vegas' status as a true golf destination are two different animals. According to Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority figures, only 2 percent of the area's 35.8 million annual visitors come to Glitter Gulch to tee it up. By contrast, the Myrtle Beach, S.C. area receives approximately 13.6 million visitors annually, 4.3 million of which are golfers (31 percent).

Adding insult to injury, a recent Golf Digest ranking of America's best and worst metropolitan areas for golf rated Las Vegas 141 out of 314. Vegas also rated as one of the least affordable cities for golf in the U.S., ranking 249 out of 314 with an average greens fee of $144.43.

In Las Vegas' defense, the astronomical price for a round of golf is not the result of some conspiracy among developers and casino owners. The cost of building and maintaining an 18-hole golf course in Clark County is among the highest in the country.

Water costs are off the charts (Walters said the water budget alone at his Bali Hai Golf Club is over $900,000 annually). And courses often have to bring in truckloads of costly topsoil to support the growth of turf grass. Walters said it takes at least $2 million just to maintain an 18-hole layout in Clark County, a figure that deters mid-level golf course developers from getting into the fray.

If that figure is accurate, a new golf course would need to generate 40,000 rounds and charge $50 per round just to cover maintenance costs. Factor in salaries, insurance, and profit margin and it is no accident that the majority of courses to open in and around Vegas over the past 10 years have been of the $200- to $300-a-round variety.

Whether or not Las Vegas emerges as a golf destination with the same drawing power as Myrtle Beach, Scottsdale/Phoenix or even Palm Springs/Palm Desert remains to be seen. The quality courses are in place, but marketing efforts aimed at promoting the area as a golf destination are few and far between. Walters' aforementioned study indicated a latent demand of nearly two million golfers, and he believes every effort should be made to get those potential golf bag-toting visitors to town. Until he does, though, the locals have the run of the castle.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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