November in Vegas, Day 2: Pining for More

After a great first day in Henderson, the rest of the weekend went well with three more rounds played. In retrospect, I’m very happy with the five courses I ended up playing. There was a lot of diversity in terms of layout, challenge and scenery—an unexpected treat in an area where many courses tend to blend together a bit.

Desert Pines Golf Club • Las Vegas, NV • 11/9/13

While others slept in and saved energy for the main afternoon round down in Primm, one of the other hardcore “dawn patrol” GKers (and a fellow Golf Nomad) and I decided to get up early and squeeze a morning round in at Desert Pines.

We needed to get out early, so this was the best available time and most appealing course to choose from. The rate wasn’t cheap at $99, but when compared to this course’s rates the rest of the day ($199), this early bird online discount rate seemed like a reasonable deal.

Our time was 6:20, but it was closer to 6:45 by the time we teed off because of a minor frost delay. We were first off as a twosome and done by 9:30, so the timing worked out perfectly.

This is one of the Vegas area courses that I’ve been really interested in playing. For starters, it’s a Dye design, apparently spearheaded by Pete and also worked on by one of his sons (not sure which one, Perry or P.B.). I almost always enjoy Dye layouts. Desert Pines is advertised as a tribute to Carolina golf set in the desert. As the name would suggest, there are plenty of pine trees on the property and it’s meant to evoke a similar style.

I’m not sure it lived up to the Carolina thing because it still felt like a desert course. In my mind, it felt like a cross between ASU Karsten (Dye design) and The Raven-Phoenix (lots of pine trees in the desert), which I played earlier this year in Arizona. Either way, it was still a very enjoyable layout on all levels.

For the price, I would expect a bit more of a high-end presentation around the clubhouse. It felt more like a local muni in the parking lot and around the pro shop—very casual. They do have a big double-decker driving range, which was nice but also reminded me of similar range set-ups here on several of Southern California’s muni tracks.

I’m all about the golf, so I don’t put a ton of stock into those kind of amenities. Still, I think it’s worth mention because people are shelling out a lot of cash to play here and might come in with certain expectations.

Part of the issue is that the overall property itself is small as the whole course is shoehorned into the area where it sits. It’s right next to the freeway and the surrounding neighborhood is less than inspiring. All these factors add up to a less-impressive presentation around the course, though we did have some cool morning views of downtown Vegas as the sun lit up the buildings.

As for the course itself, it was one of the highlights of the weekend. This is a really enjoyable layout that offers all the hallmarks and design traits you’d expect from the Dye family. It’s tricky, but fair, blending some very tough/long holes that require some big shots with funky little risk/reward holes where accuracy is much more important than distance.

There’s a lot of mounding here as you’ll typically find on Dye courses. A lot of greens are protected by big mounds and bunkers in front, so it’s not always easy to see where you need to land the ball in relation to the pin. This makes for some uncomfortable approach shots. We hit many shots during the rounds that we figured were solid (safe in the middle of the green), only to get up there and find the ball had ended up on the wrong shelf or ran off the green into one of Dye’s patented collection areas.

The greens here are where local knowledge would be a major benefit. As first-time players here, we were definitely at a disadvantage. Otherwise, from tee to green, the course lays out pretty well in front of you. There’s lots of water in play along with waste bunkers and desert areas, but for the most part you can see where you need to aim for the best approach in.

There are a number of memorable holes at Desert Pines. Both 9 and 18 come to mind as somewhat mirror-image designs. They are both lengthy and a big lake separates the two—again similar to ASU Karsten. My favorite hole here, though, was the par-4 12th appropriately named “Tunnel Vision.”

This hole features the longest tee box I’ve ever seen. I think it must be around 150 yards and is all one cut. It’s very narrow as you make your way back to the black tees we played and the further back you go, the more narrow your tee shot is coming out of this chute. The fairway then features the most distinctive bunkers on the course. They are massive and have the railroad ties in the faces like you’ll find on some other Dye courses. Just short and right of the green sits the biggest of them all (I’d say about 20 feet tall). And if you didn’t think that was enough, on the back side of that bunker sits a tiny little volcano-looking pot bunker. I’m not sure it comes into play much, but it definitely stands out.

Desert Pines was in by far the best shape of any course I played this weekend, so kudos to the management there. The tee boxes and fairways were absolutely outstanding. The fairways roll out more than they look like they will and every lie was perched up perfectly. If I could play fairways like this every day, I’d be a very happy golfer!

The rough is shaved down semi-dormant bermuda. It’s nice to hit from and not penal at all. Unfortunately, it takes away a little from the overall aesthetic “framing” of the fairways because the color is a splotchy mix of browns and greens. It will look way nicer later in the winter when it’s completely dormant tan/gold. The greens were very nice. They were a tad firm, but would hold well-struck shots. It was very hard to read these greens for some reason, and neither of us made any significant putts.

The bunkers had great sand and were easily the best I experienced all weekend. My only minor nit-picky complaint is that the fairways bunkers were probably too soft and fluffy. I’d rather those have firmer surfaces.

One last thing to note is the yardage here. We decided to play the back tees, which are listed at over 6,800 yards on the scorecard, but were playing closer to 6,600. A few of the tees were moved up a bit and there were two holes that confused us thoroughly. The first was the par-4 5th, which is listed as 489 yards from the back tees. It was playing up where the white tees normally are (424 yards) and we couldn’t see where any other tee box would even be located behind that. The same was true on the par-3 16th, which is listed at an extra-beefy 252 yards on the card. It was playing up at 189 and again we had no conceivable notion where a further-back tee box could even be located. Personally, I was relieved to get a break on these holes and a few others, but it was a bit weird.

In terms of conditions and layout, Desert Pines was a winner. The price is a bit too steep and the rest of the facility doesn’t feel as high-end as you might expect, but no complaints when it comes to the golf portion of my experience here.

Some pictures from Desert Pines Golf Club (11/9/13):

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Some views of the 12th hole – “Tunnel Vision”:

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The volcano pot bunker, which is on the back side of the tallest bunker in the middle shown above.

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Saturday afternoon featured the second half of the planned get-together for us Greenskeeper.org members…

Primm Valley Golf Club (Lakes) • Nipton, CA • 11/9/13

It was a little weird driving down to the state line and then coming back to Vegas on Saturday night, but this course was well worth the journey. It’s one I’ve been wanting to play for a long, long time. And even though it’s associated more with Nevada, Primm Valley is technically located in Southern California (San Bernardino County), so both courses are high on my personal checklist.

This day, we played the Lakes, which is generally regarded as the flagship course at Primm Valley. We got a nice group rate of $40 a player and it was worth every penny. The other course is named Desert and I’ll definitely get back to play it eventually.

Both Primm courses were designed by renowned architect, Tom Fazio, and are supposed to be two very different layouts. From what I could see of the Desert course while playing Lakes, I don’t doubt that at all.

I felt like the Lakes course offered more of the feeling that Desert Pines wishes to exude. This course also features many pine trees framing the holes, but the more isolated setting and slightly hillier terrain made for a better visual presentation. There aren’t any major elevation changes here, but you can tell they moved a lot of earth and planted a lot of trees to create such contour and make each hole feel relatively separate from one another as you wind your way around the course.

The rugged mountains provide a beautiful backdrop for the course and a few non-pine trees that were glowing with autumn colors during the late afternoon provided a nice visual appeal.

The course itself is very enjoyable. There’s a great mix of hole designs and distances that will force you to use just about every club in your bag. Most of the holes are laid out right in front of you, so it’s never hard to know where to aim. Big hitters can take aggressive angles with risk/reward consequences while shorter hitters like me can play their way safely around the course and still post a good score. I say that because I turned in the best round of my life (5-over 76) here!

There are plenty of memorable holes here, but none stand out more than the par-5 2nd hole. Our group started on the back nine, so this was our 11th hole and we had time to warm up for it. However, if this were your second hole, then you’d really be thrown right into the fire with a hole that makes you think on every shot.

The hole is in a big crescent moon shape and doglegs to the left around a lake. Each shot tempts you with a decision of how much you want to bite off. I played it as a simple three-shot hole and posted an easy par (almost a birdie). However, after a decent drive, I was only about 210 yards from the pin. It would have been all carry over the water and not really one I would be able to play properly, but others could go for it. This is definitely a two-shot hole for most longer hitters, but it gets extremely narrow up by the green, so the second shot really has to be good to make it worthwhile. It didn’t help that the pin on Saturday was tucked in the very front where it was narrowest. It was a bit of a sucker pin for us. I think if it were in the back of this large green, the options become even more plentiful from tee to green.

Primm Valley was far from immaculate, but the conditions were good overall. The fairways were mostly nice, but I did have a number of lies that were on very firm/patchy sections of turf. The rough was a bit ugly in areas, too, but fine. The greens were still showing signs of recent aeration, but they are recovering nicely. We had some bumpy putts, yet ultimately I think they played slightly better than they looked. Of course, I had 26 putts on the day to contribute to my good score, so I might be a little biased on the greens. I was in a couple bunkers. They were not great, but playable enough with a relatively thin layer of coarse sand to work with.

Perhaps aided by my score, I really loved the Primm Valley Lakes course. It was my favorite overall layout of the trip. The conditions fell somewhere in the middle of the pack and were a little disappointing compared to our expectations, and the service aspects here were definitely on the minimal side during this part of the season. They are only open for a limited amount of play through late fall and winter months. They build in a frost delay and generally don’t start teeing off until 10:00 with groups going off of both nines.

I really look forward to revisiting Primm Valley, not only to play the Desert course, but also to hopefully experience the Lakes course when it’s in pristine condition. I can only imagine how it will look and play then!

Some pictures from Primm Valley Golf Club (Lakes) (11/9/13):

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A couple views of the par-5 2nd hole:

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