Las Vegas is a regular destination for me. My work has taken me there at least fifteen times. With the exception of one trip that I took to get a lesson from Butch Harmon, golf has not been a part of my Las Vegas experience. That changed this week when I decided to see what the area had to offer.
After consulting Jon Cavalier and researching Matt Ginella’s recommendations, I settled on Sand Hollow, the Wolf Course at Paiute Resort and Wolf Creek. What an adventure I had.
A few main thoughts emerged for me as I made my way through the week, with plenty of photo taking and driving time for reflection:
- All three courses had beautiful and dramatic settings. When the setting is so stimulating, I question the necessity for an architect to also make the holes and features dramatic. Doing so strikes me as unnecessary overkill that lacks in a certain amount humility. Whether it is seaside cliffs, or mountain ridges, it seems better that at certain times the architecture takes a back seat to nature.
- These courses highlighted the distinction between adventure golf and everyday golf. Sand Hollow came the closest for me to everyday golf, but all three fall into the adventure golf category. I enjoy adventure golf, and Sand Hollow, Paiute Wolf and Wolf Creek are all courses that I am grateful to have experienced. They were visually stunning, fun to play, and full of thrill and challenge. But they are not the kinds of courses that I could happily play every day for the rest of my life.
- Before I die, I would love to play a bunkerless course. This thought came to me as I made my way around Pete Dye’s Paiute Wolf. As I examined the tee-to-green terrain and green surrounds, the grass bumps, slopes, and hollows that Pete builds are much more interesting to me than his bunkers. The Wolf Course also had large waste areas that were really cool looking. Between the ground features and the waste areas I would have been plenty stimulated, and I make the argument that the bunkering was a visual detractor for me. So, to bring the thought full circle, my dream is for Pete Dye to build a bunkerless course. His creativity would produce a wild result that would be a blast to play.
On to the photos, and a little course specific commentary…
Having previously visited Zion National Park with my family, I knew that I was in for a scenic treat as I drove to St. George, UT. The entire area is magnificent. Sand Hollow managed to exceed my already high expectations though. It is a MUST play golf course.
A frost delay was in effect when I arrived, but the starter soon made an exception for me because I was a walking single. Although the back nine is an elevation changing hike, I highly recommend walking the course if possible. The amazing terrain is much better experienced on foot.
I was happy to see that Sand Hollow had not been overseeded. It would have looked goofy. It was also a unique joy to play the course over semi-frozen ground. The ball bounced and rolled, and it took all of the creative shot-making in my bag to get the ball on the greens.
The front nine meanders through the valley and eases the player into the round. Although the holes are understated, the red clay bunkers and rock formations are striking, and they give a hint of what’s to come on the back nine.
(click on images to enlarge)
Walking to the 10th tee, it becomes clear that the adventure has taken a new and exciting turn. The par-3 11th, playing as a reverse redan, takes the player to the edge of the dramatic ridge along which the following holes wind. The views are breathtaking and the golf couldn’t be more thrilling.
I ran into a ranger on the back who lives near the course. He shared that before the course was built, he used to ride around the site on his ATV. The ledges on which the 12th – 15th holes are built were existing, allowing the course to be routed beautifully without much earth-moving.
The pulse quickens on the 12th tee, and doesn’t slow down until heading back toward the clubhouse 4 glorious holes later.
I was content and happy by the time I made it to the final stretch. As mentioned above, for me Sand Hollow’s brilliance comes from the architecture being an appropriate complement to the land. At no time did I feel like I was experiencing sensory overload, nor did I feel like the course was in competition for my attention with the setting. Everything fit together beautifully, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
The Wolf Course at Las Vegas Paiute Resort plays entirely in the valley. Unlike Sand Hollow, which interacted with the mountains and featured significant elevation changes, Paiute Wolf plays over mostly flat ground. That is not to say that the Wolf is uninteresting though, because Pete Dye added his creative flair to provide plenty of variety, visual intimidation and confusion.
The morning I played was another cold one and the ground remained frozen until well into the back nine. Paiute Wolf was not quite as fun to play in the extremely firm conditions. Many of the greens were designed to be approached from the air, and the required shots simply would not hold because of the conditions. The day I played, the wind was up, but not as much as it normally is in the exposed valley. I would love to get another crack at the Wolf under normal conditions to get the full experience, wind included.
Paiute Wolf features a wide and wonderful variety of greens – elevations, sizes, shapes, orientations. They are interesting and cool. One thing that they are not is severe, either in their internal contouring or canting, and so they are also very puttable. I can imagine that after a few plays, it would be possible to make a lot of putts.
I played with an older gentleman who didn’t hit it far, but did hit it consistently straight. He knew the course and was able to plot his way around effectively. This speaks to the thoughtfulness that the Dyes infused into the course. There is strategy in the design, but that strategy is inclusive of all strength levels. Execution is still required, but if a player can pick a line and hit it on that line, they can navigate the hazards and score.
Paiute Wolf is great fun off the tee, specifically because of the angles created by the size and placement of hazards. Risk-taking is tempted, and the choice is left in the player’s hands to bite off as much of each hole as they can chew.
As was the case at Sand Hollow, I was thoroughly content as I finished up at the Wolf. The course provided challenge, but only as much as I wanted to take on. The features were quirky and cool, and the setting was gorgeous. It wasn’t necessarily about “wow”, but it was a wonderful morning of golf.
Insane. That is the word that best describes Wolf Creek for me. It is one of those courses that it is hard to believe someone had the compulsion to build. For that reason alone – the sheer crazy coolness of it – it is a must play for every golf geek.
I took quite a few photos, and I will let them mostly speak for themselves. From the first tee, the course is a visual concert of color and texture cranked to 11. A visit to Wolf Creek is as much about seeing it as playing it.
A few words about the architecture of Wolf Creek though. It is not strategic. It is penal. Hit the shots where you are supposed to, and there are chances to score. Miss those spots, and you are dead. There is very little in between. The conditions were wet and lush the morning I played. I made good (and a few lucky) choices on line and distance off the tee, executed, and I was rewarded with relatively easy approaches. Once safely off the tee, the rest of my round was pleasant and not terribly demanding. It is easy to see though, for those who cannot carry the ball 200+ yards in the air, or who are hitting it crooked, a day at Wolf Creek could be torture.
As I headed home from Las Vegas, I was struck by the variety I encountered on my golf adventure. I’m not sure that the same variety exists within the city and suburbs. My willingness to drive a bit was rewarded with an amazing array of color, terrain, architecture and the tired satisfaction of having broadened my golf geek horizons.
What’s my recommendation? Grab a flight and then hit the road. There is golf adventure to be had outside of Las Vegas that is well worth the effort, and not to be missed.
Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf