Three Big Slices of Paiute

I had a great weekend in Vegas with plenty of good golf. The trip centered around Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort. This is a place I’ve always wanted to play. I’ve never heard a bad thing about any of the three courses here, so I was excited to finally check them all out during one memorable visit.

The courses sit on a secluded property in the middle of the desert just northwest of the city. As part of the Las Vegas Paiute Indian reservation, it’s a unique secluded property with no houses around for miles. Just a massive beautiful clubhouse and three very nice courses, surrounded by a never-ending expanse of rugged desert and framed by mountain ranges in the distance.

Sun Mountain Course

I started on the Sun Mountain course, joining up with a few Greenskeeper.org members for 36 holes on Friday. We enjoyed a tasty breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the stunning 18th hole of the Snow Mountain course (more on that later obviously) and then teed it up on Sun Mountain around 8:00 on a gorgeous morning in the desert.

All three Paiute courses were designed by Pete Dye and his team. Sun Mountain seems to be the tamest of the three. I’d call it “Pete Dye light,” so it worked out well as our warm-up morning round. Granted, we chose to play the forward white tees (6,074 yards as opposed to the golds at 6,631 or the blacks at 7,112). This definitely took some of the sting out of the course, but beyond length it still seemed relatively forgiving from tee to green.

Around the greens is where Dye will generally make things toughest and all three courses at Paiute live up to that reputation. With his mounding, run-off collection areas, bunkers and the occasional water hazard that will usually butt up right against one of the edges of the green it protects, things aren’t so forgiving if you miss a green here. The greens themselves are relatively small and don’t feature too much crazy undulation, so the biggest key to success is usually getting on the putting surface itself.

There are definitely a few holes on the Sun Mountain course that are a bit intimidating and visually impressive. They come around just often enough to remind you Pete Dye was there and to recapture your interest (and potentially wreak havoc on your score if you’re not ready for them). As we were enjoying lunch in the restaurant (also tasty), a member of the staff remarked this was actually the most difficult course of the three to score on. He was speaking from the perspective of low-handicap players and scratch golfers playing from the tips. I found that claim interesting.

Though I probably found Sun Mountain the least interesting of the three courses at Paiute, that’s a relative statement. This is still a top-notch course with an enjoyable overall design, a beautiful setting and exceptional year-round conditioning. Paiute is one of the handful of facilities that does not overseed and keeps its lush rye grass all year long, making it a great option in the summertime when other courses start to burn out a little.

Conditions on all three courses were excellent, especially considering we’re in the middle of August with average temperatures over 100 degrees on any given day. Paiute also gets a lot of wind in the afternoons, which can also make it difficult to maintain at such a high level.

When it comes to conditioning here, I have absolutely no complaints. Everything looked and played great on every level. I wouldn’t call it “pristine,” but very, very, very nice overall with ideal playability.

Some pictures from the Sun Mountain course (8/16/13):

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A couple of the cool railroad tie “sun ray” bunkers that can be found occasionally on the Sun Mountain and Snow Mountain courses:

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Wolf Course

Of the three Paiute courses, Wolf generally gets the most attention. It is known as the longest course in Nevada, topping out at a whopping 7,604 yards from the Tournament tees. There’s a black set that’s 7,009 yards and that would be intimidating enough for most. We chose to play the yellow tees, which were more reasonable at 6,483.

Because of the distance, Wolf is billed as a very challenging course. It gets a lot of hype. Because of its reputation and the extensive advertising they do showing some of the more dramatic holes at their most flattering angles and lighting, I had really built this course up in my own head. I was expecting it to blow me away both visually and in terms of challenge, but I regret to say it didn’t quite live up to the hype on either level.

Don’t get me wrong because Wolf is a great course. It’s just not the “magical” golf experience I had created in my own imagination.

Now that I’ve said that, let me focus on the positives, of which there are plenty. The conditioning is great and the layout is interesting with a good mix of holes. Though there are no major elevation changes, a lot of earth was clearly moved to craft this course in the desert. There’s a wide variety of hole designs that force you to hit every club in your bag over the course of your round. There are times when you can be aggressive with risk/reward scenarios and others where you just have to take your medicine and play it safe to avoid a really big number.

Though maybe not as challenging as anticipated from the yellow tees, Wolf still makes you work a lot to post a decent score—especially if the wind is blowing really hard. Surely, the challenge will ramp up the further back you tee it up. So if you really want to experience the full teeth of the Wolf, you better play at least the black tees.

The signature hole on the Wolf course (and the signature hole of the whole resort) is the 15th hole. Pete Dye is no stranger to island greens (the most notable of course being at TPC Sawgrass and another prominent one being on the PGA West TPC Stadium course in La Quinta). The 15th hole of Wolf is kind of a combination of both. It is surrounded by rocks like the La Quinta version, to complement the desert landscape. The green itself is kind of a larger version of the Sawgrass island green with a small bunker in front and a similar overall shape. It is much deeper and wider and doesn’t feature as much undulation, but it does play a little longer than its more famous cousin.

By the time we reached that hole, the afternoon wind was whipping pretty good. It was blowing straight into our faces, forcing us to use an extra club or two to ensure reaching the putting surface. I wasn’t successful, though. I had enough club, but pulled my shot just a bit and missed the island by a few feet!

I think the back nine on Wolf is more interesting than the front and there’s more trouble in play in the form of water hazards.

My experience at Wolf may not have been as amazing as I wanted it to be, but I cannot really complain. There’s no doubt it’s a very nice course that long hitters will enjoy challenging from the back tees and average players will still have plenty of fun playing.

Some pictures from the Wolf course (8/16/13):

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Snow Mountain Course

Last but certainly not least, I played Snow Mountain. After a morning round elsewhere on Saturday, I came back to round out my Paiute experience. If I had my druthers, I would have wanted to try and play all three courses in one day, but the plans just didn’t work out for this trip. Ultimately, I think it helped me enjoy this course even more. Though all three courses have their own individual characteristics, the scenery and overall styling tend to blend together. By coming back a day later and playing Snow Mountain, I was able to come in with a fresher perspective.

No matter which days or which order I played the course, though, I’m quite sure I would have enjoyed the Snow Mountain course the most anyway. I liked it best by far. I think it’s the most interesting design. I think it’s the most challenging. And, I think it’s the most aesthetically pleasing. Conditions are equal to the other two (excellent as noted earlier), but on all other levels I consider it a clear winner.

Snow Mountain is the original course at Paiute. It sits closest to the clubhouse, which overlooks the 18th green and the big lake that also borders the daunting 10th hole. In terms of the desert scenery around the course, this one feels the most “mature” with plenty of joshua trees, yucca plants and desert bushes. It provides a better visual contrast and framing for the course that feels nicer than the other two.

Beyond the aesthetic touches, I also found Snow Mountain to be the most dynamic and challenging layout. I am speaking for the “average” golfer who has no intention of playing the back tees on any of the courses. Most of us will choose to play the yellows or even the whites. On Snow Mountain, the yellow tees play from 6,645 and offer plenty of challenge. There is also a black set at 7,146 for the big boys.

On Snow Mountain, the landing areas feel a little tighter than either of the other two courses when standing on the tee. The angles are trickier and accuracy is vital for a good score. Still, it’s a relatively long course (though your ball does carry a bit more here with some elevation and the dry desert air), so it requires a skillful combination of length and precision to do well.

This course features some of the more memorable holes on the property, as well. The 3rd is a very nice par-5 followed up by the great par-3 4th—both with a large pond protecting their greens. The wind was blowing stronger Saturday afternoon than the day before and the 4th was facing directly into the wind. The hole plays 154 yards from the yellow tees, but I hit a full 3-wood (normally my 190-200 yard club) and it proved to be the right choice!

The 9th is a nice way to finish the front and the 10th is a brutal way to start the back with a pretty narrow fairway circling around the water that runs all the way along the left. In my mind, the 16th hole is the best looking one at Paiute with a slightly elevated tee, a ton of water guarding the green and the mountains behind providing a picturesque (yet intimidating) view.

After all this, you finish with the long par-4 18th with water along the left and an uncomfortable second shot to a green complex that doesn’t provide a lot of room for error. Short and right is an okay miss, but anywhere else is likely trouble.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed Snow Mountain the most and it offered everything I originally wanted out of Paiute.

Some pictures from the Snow Mountain course (8/17/13):

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