August in Vegas, Day 1

August isn’t necessarily the best time to visit Las Vegas. Obviously, it can be dreadfully hot in the late summer. The weather can also be a bit unpredictable with occasional thunderstorms in the forecast. Flooding can even happen when a freak rain deluge comes through unexpectedly.

The other concern this time of year is the course conditions. Most Vegas courses will do their overseeding in late August or early September, so the courses will start to deteriorate some as they prepare for that process.

Whatever the concerns, that didn’t stop me from signing up for a killer deal offered by Greenskeeper.org as part of their new GK Review Guru program. For those of us who contribute a lot to the site, they are offering really great tee time deals. An amazing Vegas combo was the best offer yet, with rounds at Rio Secco and Cascata, as well as a night at Bally’s for an incredible price. Those were both courses I had already played, but I was happy to play them again and use it as a great excuse to check off some more courses while in town.

Wednesday was our first day out there, though it was quite an adventure driving up. That’s because the I-15 freeway was completely shut down through the Cajon Pass after a brush fire erupted Tuesday afternoon. I left extra early and took one of the various detours. My route took me up through the mountain pass along Highway 18 through Crestline. It was a sketchy drive in the darkness of the early morning, but it was still ultimately the quickest option for me and worked out fine. Thankfully, the I-15 was open again by the time I came home on Friday.

Anyway, on to the golf…

Rio Secco Golf Club • Henderson, NV • 8/17/16

Rio Secco was actually the very first Vegas golf club I had played several years ago. I remember splurging around Christmas time. The weather was terrible that day and the course was just in so/so winter shape, but I still had fond memories of it. It was something new for me then, so it was special.

Since, I’ve been able to play many other Vegas courses, so I was interested to come back and revisit Rio Secco. I still enjoyed the course, but was probably not as impressed with it as I was the first time around. I remember it being a little more interesting in terms of the layout. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic holes here. The collection of par-3s is very nice and there are other very memorable holes. The terrain and scenery are very similar to that of the two Revere courses nearby, so naturally I was drawing comparisons to Concord and Lexington throughout this round. Ultimately, I’d probably rank both of those higher than Rio Secco.

They started us off on the back nine Wednesday. The back nine here has a great canyon setting with hillier terrain than the front. However, I actually liked the front nine hole designs better. My favorite hole at Rio Secco is the one I remembered most from my first visit. It is the par-3 3rd. It plays over a big canyon and has a cool look to it.

The signature hole at Rio Secco is also their big marketing gimmick. “The Million Dollar Hole” is the par-3 7th. Normally, they have someone posted out there to verify if anyone gets an ace, but there wasn’t anyone on the post Wednesday. We are not sure if there are cameras or someone watching from the clubhouse. Either way, nobody in our group made a hole-in-one, so I guess it was a moot point. 

The 7th is a nice par-3 over water and there’s a clever sign next to the tee box that mimics the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign at the south end of Las Vegas Blvd. Basically, the deal is if anyone hits a hole-in-one, they are invited back at the end of the year. Then, all qualifying participants get to take another shot (or 2-3, depending on the year or who you ask). If they hit a second ace, then they win the million dollars. I don’t know if it’s ever been given out, but it’s a fun concept that brings good Vegas-style notoriety to this course.

Conditions at Rio Secco were pretty good overall. The tee boxes were fine and the fairways were mostly quite nice. The rough had some patchiness. There were some brown spots scattered throughout the fairways and rough, though nothing affected play much. The greens were very soft, but also very slow and somewhat bumpy in places. I was kind of let down by the greens. The bunkers were fairly crusty.

Rio Secco is definitely one of the more well-known Las Vegas area courses, partly because of the Million Dollar Hole, so they do a good job tying themselves into the city and drawing out-of-town golfers. It’s an enjoyable course and I would recommend it with the right price (it can be expensive in peak season), but there are quite a few other local courses I would rank above it.

Some pictures from Rio Secco Golf Club (8/17/16):

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After finishing at Rio Secco, a number of people broke off from the groups for their own second rounds. Myself and a couple buddies headed up toward the aforementioned Las Vegas Blvd. In fact, we were right next to that famous Vegas sign as we played our next round…

Bali Hai Golf Club • Las Vegas, NV • 8/17/16

Bali Hai is another one of the Vegas area’s most prominent courses because of its location. It is, like I said, right near the Welcome to Las Vegas sign and it is located right on Las Vegas Blvd. (aka “The Strip”). It is just south of Mandalay Bay. It is also right next to the airport, so it’s the course you see when flying in or out of town. 

Really, the location of Bali Hai is a pro and a con. On one hand, it’s very convenient. It’s also cool to be so close to the excitement of The Strip, having several of the hotels in the background of many shots. 

On the other hand, it’s not the most peaceful setting for a golf course. It’s kind of crammed in there. You have the airport on one side and departing planes are constantly flying overhead. You have the I-15 freeway directly on the other, and that brings with it plenty of noise. The holes facing The Strip have a cool Vegas backdrop, but then the ones on the other end of the property have a lovely Chevron station, Jack in the Box and trailer storage lot view. Those are actually some of the best holes on the course, too, so the backgrounds kind of kill the mood. Of course, you have lots of garish billboards all around, as well.

As for the course itself, I actually enjoyed Bali Hai’s design much more than I expected to. I typically really like Schmidt-Curley courses. Still, I wasn’t sure how interesting Bali Hai would be because it’s such a flat area. They really did a good job building up some hills and mounds throughout the course. It never really feels flat at all when you are playing. 

There are a ton of palm trees and bright white sand fills the bunkers and waste areas. There are some cool boulder edges along the water hazards. Some spots have black lava rock brought in to contrast with the green grass and white sand. I actually wish there were more spots with this aesthetic because it looked nice and added to the tropical Southeast Asian islands (Bali) theme that they are going for.

Again, with Bali Hai I felt the front nine was in general more interesting than the back nine. The back nine gets a little repetitive here with several similar holes going toward and away from Mandalay Bay. It’s the ones further away from the hotels that have the cool water hazards and more distinctive designs. This said, the signature hole here is the island green of the par-3 16th. It is right next to the clubhouse and is a great short hole.

Though Bali Hai didn’t look as green or lush as Rio Secco, I actually thought the conditions played nicer. Things were a little tight and starting to brown out, but the turf was very consistent. Fairways provided a lot of roll-out and still had a nice pad of turf underneath, so they were nice to hit from. The rough was cut down and not much of a factor. The greens had a light top-dusting of sand, which allowed us to get a ton of bite on approach/chip shots. They rolled smooth and at medium speeds. The sand here was also a bit crusty, but playable enough.

I’ve always wanted to play this course, but the prices here are generally way too high. It never seemed worth what they charge. This time, though, I found a $55 rate after 3:00 that seemed like it was worth taking advantage of. That’s the cheapest I’ve ever seen here, so it was time to check it off the list. 

The other factor that led me to play it now is that there are multiple rumors that this course will close at some point. Not only are there questions about the future of Walters Golf, there are various plans in discussion to use this land for something else. The latest is if the Oakland Raiders decided to move the team to Las Vegas. The proposal listed this site as the location for a new stadium. Nothing is certain or clear, but it sure seems like Bali Hai will ultimately close and now seemed like a good time to play it.

For $55, I was reasonably satisfied. However, I would not pay much more for Bali Hai right now with the conditions not being that lush. Even if it was in immaculate shape, I would have a hard time paying the peak season rack rates they charge here. With that, you’re paying for The Strip location and a little bit of cool factor, but the course just isn’t worth paying hundreds of dollars to play. I’d only recommend it if you get a decent rate, but good luck with that any time but late summer when the course isn’t at its best.

Some pictures from Bali Hai Golf Club (8/17/16):

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