Celebrating Number 500 in Style

Sunday marked a very special achievement for me. I got the opportunity to play my 500th different course (and #501 for good measure).

As I’ve done with previous milestones, I wanted to make the course selection something pretty special. In other words, a Top 100 kind of course. At the same time, I wanted to keep things as close to home as possible so I wouldn’t have to fly anywhere or take a really long road trip.  That didn’t leave too many options, but Las Vegas made the most sense. I considered Shadow Creek, but I just didn’t want to spend quite that much money after all the traveling I’ve already done this summer.

Ultimately, my sights were set on one of Vegas’ other premier resort courses…

Cascata • Boulder City, NV • 8/24/14

I had a fantasy football draft Saturday afternoon, so I hit the road immediately after for a quick, but memorable, visit to Sin City. I stayed at Luxor for only the $22.50 resort fee thanks to MyVegas and then had a very profitable night in the casino that ended up paying for the whole trip. I’m not always so lucky, but it sure set a great tone for this special trip.

One of my best friends and good golf buddies also happened to be in Vegas this weekend with his family, so I was glad he was able to join me for this memorable round at Cascata. Another of my good friends had some connections here and helped us get a fantastic summer rate of $100. That is compared to upwards of $500 to play here during the peak season. Their summer rates are a bit more “reasonable” (relatively speaking). The normal rate on Sunday morning was $250. That’s still pretty expensive, but there are reasons this place can charge what they do.

It starts as you drive well outside of Vegas toward Boulder City. You can’t actually see the course from the highway, though it’s right off the 93 at the 95 junction. You make a quick left turn that feels like a secret passage to catch the Hogwart’s Express, and then you are right at the understated entry gate. You call up to the clubhouse to open the gate, so that by the time you pull up, they are ready for you.

From there, you feel like a “king for a day” with the friendly staff welcoming you and ushering you about. The attendant takes your golf bag and valets your car, then another greeter walks you into the clubhouse to show you around. Though you don’t actually get any glimpses of the course itself, there’s a massive picture window overlooking the gorgeous driving range that looks nicer than most courses we’ve played.

In the hills behind the driving range is a beautiful waterfall that runs down the hill and ultimately leads into the clubhouse, where there’s an indoor waterfall and pond on the lower level. You’re then led to the guest locker rooms. There you find your name engraved on a metal plate and affixed to your locker for the day, so you get that feeling of belonging to an exclusive private club. That’s a cool souvenir you get to take home with you.

Of course, everything in the clubhouse is top-notch with all the amenities you could want. Some muffins, fruit and coffee are out by the pro shop for a pre-round snack or you can head over to the restaurant inside that I’m sure serves some fancy food at high prices. We didn’t end up eating there.

After checking in with the pro shop, we are then greeted by our caddie, who takes care of us from there. Forecaddies are required at Cascata. The mandatory fee is $25 a player and then the recommended tip is at least $25 per player, though I’m sure most people tend to kick in a little extra after such great service. I know we did for our guy, Brian, who was an excellent caddie for us.

So beyond the lofty green fees, you can expect to shell out plenty of cash while at the course. I would recommend packing your wallet with a wad of small bills for various tips throughout the day. I don’t know if I’ll ever be truly comfortable being waited on hand and foot, but it is kind of fun to feel like a big shot for a day and it’s not the time to get stingy.

We had a 7:42 tee time, so we got loaded up in our cart (where nice Cascata/Caesar’s Palace bag tags were already waiting on the seat as another souvenir). The cart staging area is indoors on the lower level next to that water feature. It feels like a ride at Disneyland, especially when you roll through the big, automatic doors that open up to reveal the green grass and sunshine outside.

We hit some practice balls and rolled a few putts before heading off to the first tee. This time of year especially, they aren’t too booked up with players, so it was a pretty casual vibe. We ended up going off after a threesome and a foursome, but our caddies conspired and arranged for us to play through along the way. That removed any awkwardness for us as players, though the only bummer was having to play through on the spectacular par-3 7th. We felt a little rushed there on one of the most gorgeous holes, but then again it was really nice having the course to ourselves after that.

We finished our round in a little over three hours, which was great but also a little disappointing. This is one of those rare experiences where you don’t mind taking a little extra time to relax and enjoy things. The weather was perfect with a nice breeze and the temperatures never got super hot in the morning up in the hills. It was a very pleasant surprise to get this kind of weather at the end of August.

The conditions were equally impressive. I wasn’t too certain what to expect with the course set to close in a couple weeks for its overseeding, but wow were things gorgeous. If this is the “offseason,” I can’t imagine what this place looks like in the peak season. It was picture perfect and just about immaculate the whole way through. Conditions were truly spectacular on every level and there’s no real need to elaborate.

You might think all the exceptional service, facilities and conditioning would overshadow the course itself, but I’m glad to say this would be a really awesome course no matter what. Cascata was designed by Rees Jones and I found the layout to be quite enjoyable.

It’s definitely a roller coaster ride through the rugged desert hills, with many holes carved right out of the rocks. In fact, just about every hole here either plays straight uphill or downhill. The only level holes are a couple of the par-3s and 18. Otherwise it’s severely up or down.

Our caddie let us know that because of the elevation and heat, the ball tends to fly about 10 yards further. Really, figuring out your distances here is a constant adjustment, so it pays to listen to your caddie who will break it down for you. Then you just have to trust your club selection. The uphill holes will still require an extra club or two. The downhill holes are the opposite. And if there is any wind, you have to factor that in, as well.

Another component of challenge is a Rees Jones staple, which is the fact that most greens require you to carry your ball all the way to the green surface. This is especially true on the uphill holes at Cascata as they are perched up there and well protected by bunkers and false fronts. Several of the downhill holes do have a run-up area to give you that option. A vast majority of the pins were in the front yesterday, too, so that got in our heads because being above the hole is not usually very fun on these slick greens.

Personally, I get caught in “information overload” when I play with caddies. I don’t like to think that much before I swing, so I try and focus on what I need to focus on. However, they are so knowledgeable and there to help, so if you prefer to have a ton of information, they’ll gladly give you all the insight you need.

The uphill/downhill pattern does result in a few holes that are pretty similar in look and feel. That said, there’s no shortage of memorable holes at Cascata. I loved 7 and 12, which are both great par-3s. 14 and 17 are excellent par-4s and the 3rd is a cool par-5 with a fantastic view from the tee.

Speaking of views, there are many great vistas at Cascata. This is where the up/down layout pays off because you are treated to an incredible perspective on every single hole. On the uphill holes, you get on the green and look back at the fairway and valley below. On the downhill ones, you see the expansive desert framing the hole in front of you.

It is nice when a course lives up to the hype. Would I pay $500 to play here again? Probably not, but I am not the normal target clientele. The reason high rollers will shell out the big bucks to play here, Shadow Creek and Wynn is because they want to feel special and like they are at a private club while living it up in Vegas. The services cater to this segment of the market and they don’t disappoint. Getting to play the course (while still experiencing every ounce of the luxurious service) at a good summer rate was a fantastic treat.

I picked a good one for number 500!

Some pictures from Cascata (8/24/14):

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Of course, I was all the way out in Vegas for the day, so I still had some golf left in me before hitting the road back home. Though my friend went back to spend the rest of the day with his family, I drove right down the street for another round…

Boulder Creek Golf Club • Boulder City, NV • 8/24/14

I felt compelled to play another round while in town, but I’ll admit my heart and mind weren’t completely into this one. After Cascata, just about any course will pale in comparison. That said, I don’t want to short change Boulder Creek because it was a very positive experience in its own way.

I booked a 12:40 “hot deal” through GolfNow for just $30, which was an excellent deal. I got out there early, though, and the place wasn’t too busy. So I was able to tee off around 11:40 on my own.

There are three nines at Boulder Creek. My tee time had me playing Desert Hawk and Coyote Run. Both of those nines went relatively quickly and I could see the Eldorado nine looked pretty open, so I asked and they let me play it. It hadn’t technically re-opened yet from overseeding and the greens were aerated, but they were nice enough to let me check it out. The holes were cut and flags were out, so it seemed ready to go.

The three courses are in varying stages of maintenance, so each was a little different in terms of conditions. Desert Hawk will be the last one to close in a few weeks, so it is still in good summer condition. A little dry and burnt out in a few sections, but mostly still in solid shape.

Coyote Run is set to close this week for overseeding, so the tee boxes and fairways are completely dormant and brown. They produce a lot of extra roll-out on drives, but weren’t too bad to hit from. The areas on and around the greens were still pretty well-kept, so that also helped with playability.

Eldorado’s greens were aerated, but they weren’t too bad. The were not too bumpy and rolled at speeds pretty consistent with the other two nines. Hardly a nuisance at all. However, coming out of the overseed, the rest of the course from tee to green is in excellent shape. The fairways are by far the best of the three and game me a nice glimpse of how great the entire course will be looking like in a month or two once all the maintenance is complete.

Boulder Creek features a good overall layout. It won’t blow you away, but there’s plenty to keep you challenged and interested throughout each course. Unlike Cascata, the terrain here (down in the valley) is much more flat. So there aren’t any significant changes in elevation. You do get some nice, unobstructed panoramic views of all the surrounding mountains, though. It’s a pretty setting without any houses around the course.

In a few ways, Boulder Creek reminded me of a “poor man’s” Paiute, which I mean in a good way.

It is not completely remote like Paiute and it is worth noting there is a small airport next door that is also home to a big skydiving facility. It’s kind of fun, but also a bit distracting, watching the small planes and helicopters take off and land right there. And every so often a group of skydivers will come down, which is cool.

Probably the most memorable hole at Boulder Creek is the par-4 9th on the Desert Hawk course. On that nine, I ended up joining with a few local guys and they mentioned this was regarded as one of the toughest holes in all of the Vegas area. I don’t doubt that because this one is a beast. The fairway wraps around a big pond to the right, forcing you to hit your tee shot up the left. Then you have a long second shot in over another creek. If your tee shot isn’t that good, then you may be left with a lay-up on the second shot. That was the case for me as I just barely missed finding the water hazard with my drive.

People I’ve talked to seem to have their preferred combination of nines to play, but I thought all three were solid and offered similar levels of challenge. The carts do have a nice GPS system that is often helpful. Most holes are right out in front of you, but there are a handful where you need to know where you are hitting or what trouble is to be avoided. Several holes have a little desert/sand wash cutting across the fairway, so you have to make sure and avoid those.

For the price I paid and the fact I was able to play all three nines in under four hours, my visit to Boulder Creek worked out beautifully. This is a good course with reasonable rates, and I can tell the conditioning is generally quite good. I just happened to catch it right in the midst of maintenance season, so I won’t hold that against them.

Some pictures from Boulder Creek Golf Club (8/24/14):

Desert Hawk

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Coyote Run

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Eldorado

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