Vegas (Well, Technically Henderson), Baby!

It’s November, and that usually means a quick trip out to Las Vegas for a few rounds with one of my buddies. We had our bags packed and our courses picked out, so we hit the road Sunday morning and made our way to Henderson, which was actually the home of all three courses we played on the trip.

As we experienced last year with Coyote Springs, our first course ended up being the best in my opinion…

DragonRidge Country Club • Henderson, NV • 11/15/15

We had a noon tee time that my friend was able to arrange with the club. They do allow some special guest play here it seems, so we pitched our case and they were great enough to have us out at an excellent rate. Being a private club on a windy afternoon, it wasn’t too busy out there. So, we teed off a little early. We played through a foursome at the turn and let a couple singles pass us along the way, leaving us with a nice relaxed pace overall as a twosome.

It was rather windy on Sunday afternoon, and that was definitely the theme for this trip. However, what we got at DragonRidge turned out to be relatively tame compared to the wind we had on Monday. Ultimately, the weather wasn’t great either day, but it was far better Sunday and I definitely got the best pictures at this course.

That wasn’t hard because DragonRidge is a beautiful layout in a dramatic desert setting. It also offers many excellent views of The Strip in the distance. The community is also nice, with some really spectacular homes around the outer edges of the course. None really come into play, as they are mostly perched up along the hillsides surrounding the holes. There is a lot more land that’s obviously been graded for new construction and a number of massive new homes currently being built, so this community is definitely on the rise again.

What also added to the appeal of DragonRidge was the conditioning of the course. It was nearly immaculate out there from tee to green with lush rye grass throughout. The fairways looked like Astroturf at times and every lie was fantastic. The bunkers were pretty good and the greens were tricky. They were rather firm and hard to hold, but putted very smoothly at fairly quick speeds. We did notice quite a few unrepaired ball marks, which made us wonder. We wondered if the maintenance goes around and fixes them in the night or early morning. Perhaps they tell the members not to fix them or the members just don’t bother doing it because they know it’ll be taken care of later. It just seemed a bit odd on such a nice course to see so many unrepaired marks on the greens. After all, they were really the only minor blemishes here!

The layout is also fun and diverse. Most holes are fairly forgiving off the tee. The greens can be somewhat tricky and are mostly well protected by the bunkers and mounds around them. Many greens have false fronts to contend with, as well.

DragonRidge winds through the community and through the canyons and hills to provide some good changes in elevation. There are a lot of rugged desert areas in play, with many rocks and boulders that almost looked like old lava flow in some areas because of the reddish color and jagged nature of the rocks. When you pair these desert surroundings with the lush green grass that’s perfectly manicured and contoured, it offers a really stunning course setting.

Most holes at DragonRidge are fairly straightforward, but there are a few that stand out as rather tricky. Of course, the wind didn’t help either. The 10th is a very unusual hole with a split fairway and very little room for error on your tee shot or approach. Neither landing area off the tee is easy to see and both are quite narrow. It’s a short hole, so getting out there safe is the priority. Then you are still left with a short, but intimidating approach.

The 13th was probably my favorite hole, though I would like another crack at it without a 25-30 MPH wind directly in my face. It is pretty open off the tee, but then the green is more or less an island up and to the left, surrounded by desert all around. It’s a short hole, that’s all about positioning off the tee and hitting a good approach. It’s one of those holes that probably nets a lot of birdies, but just as many doubles and triples.

The 18th is also an interesting hole to finish on as a par-5 with another split fairway design. The aggressive play is to go left, while the more conservative option is going to the right. Again, neither angle is very comfortable while standing on the tee box.

Overall, it was an excellent experience at DragonRidge. The staff was nice and made us feel like members for the day, while the course conditioning, layout and scenery were all incredible. I would highly recommend it if you get a chance to play!

Some pictures from DragonRidge Country Club (11/15/15):

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We stayed the night at Luxor, which was a bit of a hassle considering a big marathon was happening that evening and they had all of Las Vegas Boulevard shut down. We made it in on the back roads, but it wasn’t ideal. We just didn’t know about the event until just a few days before we went, so it was too late to alter any plans. Ultimately, it worked out fine enough.

We were up super early on Monday in order to squeeze in two rounds before heading back home. The first stop in the morning was at the course we were pegging as the marquee round for this trip…

Reflection Bay Golf & Beach Club • Henderson, NV • 11/16/15

In a time when a lot of courses are closing due to the economy (and the drought here in California), a brave few have reopened. Rams Hill did it in spectacular fashion, and that’s been the word on Reflection Bay, as well. Everything I had heard about it was very positive.

Reflection Bay closed in 2009, but reopened in late 2014. Jack Nicklaus was the original designer and he was brought back in while the course was being renovated. Apparently, he only made a few minor adjustments in the layout because the original routing still held up well.

I had never played the course before, so I was excited to play it now. So much of their marketing plays around the lakefront setting of the course around Lake Las Vegas, but it ended up being a little different than I expected. In fact, only four holes here play right along the waterfront (8, 9, 17 and 18), with the 7th green also being backed by the water’s edge and offering a nice elevated view from tee to green.

I guess I was expecting more of the course to be near the water. However, most of the layout runs up into the hills and throughout a more rugged canyon area. It’s still very nice and maybe even more fun overall with some great changes in elevation that I didn’t anticipate. It’s an interesting combination, but know the lakefront holes definitely stick out as something special and different from the rest of the course.

I particularly liked both of the lakefront par-3s, which are holes 8 and 17. They are kind of opposite as the 8th comes in from the east and the 17th comes in from the west. With the water on the left, the 8th favors a draw, while the 17th favors a fade with the water on the right. Both are beautiful and fun holes.

For the rest of the course, the 10th and 15th will always stand out in mind, largely because of how poorly I played them, but also because they are also interesting holes. The 10th has you hitting over water off the tee and again on your approach. The 15th is a real cool downhill par-5 with a big ravine running along and ultimately across the fairway.

I mentioned the weather earlier and that was a major factor in our round at Reflection Bay. We were the first off at 6:40 in the morning along with another single. It was extremely cold and the wind was howling. This made the course so much tougher. A lot of holes were directly into the wind or with it, so judging distances was really difficult. And, the wind just beats you down over the course of the round, amplifying any mistakes and adding to the frustration.

With the cloudy skies and relentless cold wind, it was unfortunate the weather kind of sucked some of the enjoyment out of our experience at Reflection Bay. However, that is not a “reflection” (pun intended) on the course itself, because this is a really good golf course that mostly lives up to the hype it’s gotten since reopening. Undoubtedly, if we had gotten it on a better weather day, I think I would have been even more impressed.

The course is in good overall condition and consistent throughout. It wasn’t as nice as I was hoping for and DragonRidge really set the bar high the day before. Still, conditions were solid and the playability was very good. The tee boxes were nice. The fairways were pretty good and I generally had nice lies. The rough was well-kept, but cut low and not too penal. The bunkers were very good. The greens were the best part of the course, rolling very quick and smooth. They were firm, but would accept well-struck shots. Anything coming in hot would generally not hold, though, and the complexes are all built with numerous runoff/collection areas as you would expect with a Nicklaus design.

Reflection Bay is a course I would like a rematch with, especially when I can catch it on a sunny day without so much wind. I think that will bring out much more in this course that I wasn’t able to fully enjoy on this visit.

Some pictures from Reflection Bay Golf & Beach Club (11/16/15):

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It was a nice quick round at Reflection Bay, so we headed over to our next course a bit early to enjoy a relaxed lunch in the bar. I had a turkey pesto panini that was pretty solid, in case you were wondering. Anyway, on to the course…

Chimera Golf Club at Tuscany • Henderson, NV • 11/16/15

We had a noon tee time, but were teeing off closer to 11:30. We passed a foursome at the turn and otherwise enjoyed our own relaxed pace. The wind was very crazy at Reflection Bay in the morning, but that was nothing compared to the afternoon at Chimera. I think these were the windiest conditions I have ever played golf in. It was insane, and it will be what I remember most about my experience at this course.

Our golf balls looked like wiffle balls at times because of the ways they were reacting in the steady gusts of wind. It really took a lot out of us and, like Reflection Bay, made it hard to fully enjoy the course. The difference is that Reflection Bay is obviously a more distinctive design with a more dramatic setting. Chimera doesn’t quite offer the same “wow” factor as some of the other courses around here, but I suppose it’s a solid mid-range option. It’s not bad in any way, but it just won’t jump out to you as anything amazing.

This course used to be Tuscany Golf Club as it’s part of the gated Tuscany community, but they changed the name to Chimera at some point recently. A Chimera is a mythical creature that blends a lion, a goat and a serpent together for some reason. There were some pretty cool Pegasus and Chimera sculptures by the driving range and first tee, though.

The layout at Chimera is pretty straightforward for the most part with minimal changes in elevation and most everything out in front of you on the majority of holes. It was designed by Ted Robinson, Jr.

Undoubtedly, the holes that are the best in my opinion are the finishing holes on each side of the course. The 9th is a strong par-4 that doglegs left with an intimidating approach over water. The 18th is probably the most distinctive hole here with an uphill tee shot and then a downhill approach over another pond.

The conditions were pretty good throughout. There were some yellow spots in the fairways and rough where the overseed didn’t quite come in. It hurts the visual appeal of the course a little bit, but doesn’t affect play at all as the playability is quite good throughout. The tee boxes were excellent, and the fairways provided a lot of roll-out (unless into the wind) and very nice lies. The rough was cut down and not too much of a factor. The bunkers had good sand. The greens held shots nicely and rolled pretty well at medium speeds.

Chimera was certainly the weakest of the three courses we played on this trip, but that was to be expected. Reflection Bay and DragonRidge are both major steps above. Chimera is in that middle tier along with other courses like The Legacy and Aliante. In other words, it’s not the course you plan your whole Vegas trip around, but it’s a decent place to tee it up while here if you can get a reasonable rate.

Some pictures from Chimera Golf Club at Tuscany (11/16/15):

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