The Dye is cast: Paiute is too real for Vegas

By Brendan McEvoy, Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- During the climax of the movie Jerry McGuire, Renee Zellweger cuts off Tom Cruise during his speech to win her over and says the famous line: "You had me at hello."

The Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort has you at "hello."

Forget Arizona's Camelback or White Tank Mountains. Forget whatever it is you've seen in Reno or the Rockies. The views of the surrounding mountains on any one of Paiute's three courses will blow you away. Gazing from their base to their peak, the rocks slowly change color from red to grey. They feel like they're close enough to touch, but they're actually more than 40 miles away. It's a surreal scene, one that looks like a Hollywood backdrop when staring down an emerald green 150 yards out.

This once untouched land is the Paiute Indian Reservation, which means there will never be a real estate development impeding the views.

Playing the part of the mountain lion is Pete Dye. This cat, known for his ferocious designs, mellowed during his time at Paiute. It must have been the soothing views.

His latest effort here, the Wolf Course (opened in 2001), is a splendid design that starts simple and gradually becomes tougher. He sprinkled in enough short par 4s and playable par 5s before casting the signature Dye hero holes. They're not nearly as penal as TPC Sawgrass -- the fairways are much wider. But the average golfer will be required to make exceptional tee shots from holes 14 to the finish, or suffer approach shots that are halfway between difficult and impossible.

The Wolf has at least seven holes that first-timers will remember, five of which encompass the theme of giant waste bunkers. They range from 100 to 530 yards long. Dye uses them every which way.

The longest bunker runs the length of the 537-yard, par-5 sixth hole. Like a snake, it slithers down the left side to lure in tee balls that take the slope of the fairway. Then, it dissects the fairway 80 yards from the green. The same bunker curls up to the right side of the putting surface, ensuring it will come into play on every shot.

On the 486-yard, par-4 17th hole, Dye uses two long bunkers to slice the hole into even thirds. The bunkers run perpendicular to the path from tee to green. Carry the first and the second shouldn't come into play. Play short off the tee -- a risky play with the hard turf -- and it becomes a par 5 with a tough layup shot. Land in either bunker, both of which are in four to six foot ditches, and it'll cost at least one shot, and maybe two.

Some of these bunkers were redesigned after Dye visited the course three months into its construction. According to Dick Hough, Paiute's general manager, Dye wanted to make sure the traps stood up to the high-tech equipment players will be armed with in the future. In fact, the course plays 7,604 yards from the back tees, making it the longest 18 holes in Nevada.

While the bunkers were used for strategic design, the elaborate mounding on the Wolf Course is more for framing and aesthetics. Hough said Dye wanted to blend the edges of the golf course with the bumps and moguls in the rocky background.

Aside from the golf courses, the resort is in its infancy. As of 2004, the property consists of three courses and a posh clubhouse with a quality restaurant, bar and locker rooms. Hough said the resort has plans for a hotel and spa, and further down the road, a casino. Paiute is performing a feasability study that could allow them to break ground on its hotel and spa by the end of the year.

With all three courses totaling 98,000 rounds last year, a hotel would certainly boost those numbers. Hough said Paiute already gets its fair share of out-of-towners on outings and tournaments. But the course is located 40 minutes from The Strip, which is reason enough for visitors to consider other courses.

"People don't know just how good these courses are," said Alan Bluhm, a Las Vegas resident. "For people staying on The Strip, it's tough to get them out here. But that's why we play here 15 times a year. Come out after noon in the summer time and there's no one out here."

While other courses are suffering through the drought in Las Vegas, Paiute's three tracks remain in good shape. Since they're located on a reservation, they aren't held to the same water restrictions. Hough said they're not wasteful with the water -- "We're a good neighbor," he said -- but they aren't forced to rip up acres of turf.

With the quality conditions and the dynamic layout, it's hard to compete with the golf experience at the Wolf Course, which is one of a few Las Vegas courses on its level to charge under $200 per round.

The Verdict

If I were banished to one golf course in Las Vegas for the rest of my life, I'd want it to be Paiute's Wolf Course. If you put stock into what celebrities think of a golf courses, Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady, Dennis Quaid, Tom Tolbert and Steve Kerr have all played multiple rounds at Paiute. The unique scenery and challenging layout are the perfect mix for golf that feels foreign, but is fun at the same time. The wind has a tendency to howl, requiring creative shot-making. The greens are hard and fast, demanding soft touch.

The holes Dye created are like a family, each one has a different personality but they have consistent cosmetic features. And the way the course gradually gets tougher allows the recreational golfer to have a chance. In Vegas, everyone has a chance, and the odds are good that Paiute's Wolf Course won't disappoint you.

Stay and Play

If you're looking for the full Las Vegas experience, check into the Aladdin Casino and Resort. The 35-acre property has more than 2,500 guest rooms and a 100,000-square-foot casino. The resort and casino are attached to Desert Passage, an indoor mall with 140 retail stores and restaurants.

The rooms are five-star quality accommodations with Spanish tile floors in the bathroom, a two-person soaking tub, a separate shower and large double sinks. The window is the perfect place to take in the sunset as it crawls behind the mountains.

With resorts these days there's always a spa. Aladdin's spa, Elemis, features massage rituals and treatments, but it also has a fitness room. And if you're looking for nightlife, Aladdin has one of the hottest clubs on The Strip called, "Curve."

The only problem with Aladdin is the valet. While they are hard working individuals who are always cordial and friendly, getting your car in the morning could take up to a half hour, especially if a big convention is checking out. Keep this in mind if you have a morning tee time. The best way around it is to park your car in the self-parking area. It might mean a bit of a stroll, but it will save you time and aggravation.

Fast Fact

Three months into the construction of the Wolf Course, Pete Dye moved a number of the bunkers further down the fairway to guard against the distance players will be armed with in the future courtesy of high-tech golf equipment.

Dining out

In this neck of the woods, your best bet is to eat at the resort. The food is outstanding and the views are riveting. The restaurant can cater to large outings and events.

If you're staying on The Strip, try McCormick and Schmicks, a solid surf and turf chain which is only a few blocks from Las Vegas Boulevard. If you want some pasta to prepare for another round of golf, try Tremezzo at the Aladdin Casino and Resort. Chef Mario Capone's Northern Italian cuisine was honored by Zagat's Survey as a "Top 10 restaurant in Vegas."

Brendan McEvoy, Contributor

Brendan McEvoy spent five years with Times Community Newspapers, a Reston, Va.-based chain of 18 weekly newspapers covering the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

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