Las Vegas' untapped winter golf wonderland: Fewer tee time jams, higher temps than expected

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

HENDERSON, Nev. - Their round complete, Ty Tvedten and Randy Shuck settled into seats in the outdoor courtyard of The Falls Golf Club. Four plus hours in the December Vegas area air was not enough. These Tampans wanted to soak up the sun.

So they sat there in their short sleeve polo shirts and discussed their round, loving every minute of it.

"It's warmer here than it is back home in Florida," Tvedten said, grinning. "Vegas man. Vegas."

Frequent Las Vegas visitors -- three to four times a year every year for golf and gambling -- Tvedten and Shuck know Sin City's little secret. It's not quite as cold in the desert during the winter months as you may have been led to believe. It can feel outright balmy for anyone used to a Northern climate. Sometimes it's even warmer than Florida the last week before Christmas.

That's the case this year as Vegas enjoyed a good 10-day string of mid 60 degree days as the Florida Panhandle dipped below freezing. Sure that is a rare combination (rare enough to prompt news stories). But it just underscores the relatively unknown bonanza that Vegas golfing in December and January can be.

If you think your clubs have to head only South for the winter you're about as current as Don Rickles' act. Going West to Vegas is definitely an option, one that can leave you with plenty of elbow room on even the most popular courses.

Tee times were wide open at Tom Weiskopf's The Falls and Jack Nicklaus' Reflection Bay during this last week. In fact, on most days during the week the courses that are almost always crowded and sold out months in advance for the high-traffic times like March Madness looked like virtual ghost towns. Even on a gorgeous Friday afternoon, Tom Fazio's sister Primm Valley courses would let you name your own tee time.

All because most people are scared off by the calendar.

"It's a great time to visit," Falls head pro Greg Brockelman said. "The rates for airfares and hotels all come down right around Thanksgiving and you've still got a lot of 65 degree days in the next few months. It feels like 75 out here today."

The average daytime temperature in Las Vegas during December is actually 56 degrees, but for anyone who's lived anywhere with even regular frost warnings that is hardly bone chilling. For many, it almost qualifies as a winter paradise.

Mel Crowson and Michelle Shirkey went around Fazio's Primm Valley Desert Course practically pursuing a suntan between swings on a recent December day that hovered near 70 degrees. Of course, they are from Calgary.

"We put our clubs away three months ago in Calgary," Crowson said. "This warm weather...What's better than getting out of the cold and playing some golf in Vegas?"

This is one rhetorical question that many people still haven't caught on to. For the weeks before Christmas have long traditionally been the casino hotels' slowest period of the year. This is the time even a few low rollers get comped. And Nov. 15 to Jan. 15 is a yearly golf slowdown.

"The Strip used to be practically empty around now," said Joe Massanova, the marketing director for the TPC at The Canyons. "And the golf courses would all be hurting."

Slowly but surely that's starting to change. On this recent Saturday, the TPC at the Canyons had a nice, steady stream of golfers on the tees. Still plenty of space to secure a last-minute spot, but a decent business volume nevertheless.

It appears that word of mouth about the relatively idyllic golf conditions in Vegas' worst winter months is spreading.

"You have more people coming to Vegas around the holidays in general," said Eileen Crawford, the senior sales manager at the Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas. "Now people decide to have the whole family meet in Vegas rather than all traveling to some cold weather location to get together. You've got the golf, the spas, the gambling and some decent weather, the secret's getting out."

The Tampans enjoying a winter escape to Las Vegas hope it just doesn't get out too quickly. Those chairs in the outdoor courtyard are fine and the sun on the bare arms is awfully comfortable. Tvedten and Shuck consider calling their family back in chilly Florida to let them know the conditions and then decide against it.

Why risk a sudden crowd?

"Las Vegas has to be slow sometime, doesn't it?" Shuck said, grinning.

Where's that sunscreen?

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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