Birthday in Vegas, Part 2: Highs and Lows

Last week, I spent a few days in Vegas centered around another visit to Cascata. However, another supposedly high-end course was on the itinerary for this trip. Brace yourself…

Wynn Golf Club • Las Vegas, NV • 8/8/17

Note: This course is now closed.

It took a perfect storm of situations for me to finally break down and play Wynn. I’ve been avoiding it for years, primarily because of the exorbitantly high prices and its reputation for not being quite worth what they charge.

Here are the reasons why I played it on this trip:

First, there have been rumors swirling that the golf course was going to be closing down in order to begin work on the big fancy lagoon thing they want to build there. Some reports said it might close last year. It obviously didn’t, but all signs pointed to it finally shutting the doors this year. Still, the information online was all over the place and anyone you talk to at the resort will dance around the answer. Either way, the days are numbered and I wanted to at least play it once before it went away.

Second, this trip coincided with my birthday. If ever I was going to splurge for a round at Wynn, it would be around my birthday when I felt like spoiling myself a bit.

Third, it just so happens my birthday is in August and Wynn does offer “discounted” summer rates of $350 compared to the usual $500 in season. Still ridiculously expensive and maybe not peak conditions, but better than paying full price.

Fourth, I am running out of public courses to play in the Vegas area. After this trip, I actually only have one left around the city and it’s the most high-end of the bunch. I am going to need another perfect storm of events to splurge for Shadow Creek. I will get there someday, though. Beyond that, I have a few courses left in Mesquite and the executive course in Pahrump as the only other public options in Southern Nevada. There is still a good list of private clubs that I hope to access someday, as well, along with the course at Nellis AFB.

Add it all up, and I was finally ready to commit to a Wynn tee time. I booked it through their resort concierge for Tuesday morning at 7:00 (first group off). They make you sign a waiver and email it back just to lock in a tee time, and then you get a confirmation letter. Unfortunately the letter doesn’t provide much help in terms of arrival/check-in instructions. I looked at Google Maps to figure out where to park in relation to the golf course, and there didn’t seem to be a dedicated lot.

No big deal, right? I pulled up to the main hotel/casino valet first. They said I could valet if I wanted or I could self-park. They didn’t really seem like they wanted to help much, so I opted for self-parking in the garage. There isn’t much signage once you get inside, so I eventually had to ask someone and they pointed me toward the pro shop. It’s a big of a walk from the parking garage to where the pro shop is attached to the casino/forum shops. I felt like a tool lugging my golf bag through the place with nobody offering to help. Remember this is supposed to be a high-end resort where you might expect good service from the moment you walk through the door.

Also, I should mention that they just started charging for parking at Wynn ($12 for my time there) like most casinos on The Strip now. There is no parking validation or credit for playing the golf course. They squeeze every nickel and dime out of you they can.

I finally arrive at the pro shop. I did express my displeasure about the lack of directions or help with finding the place, but the girl behind the counter just kind of shrugged and asked how I wanted to pay my $350. I’d like to think I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was pretty blunt and off-putting after I was already a little agitated. I normally don’t like being doted upon at a course, but when I pay this much I do expect some pleasantries.

Eventually, they point me in the direction of the locker room and then I go outside to meet up with my forecaddie, Charlie. I did have a brief encounter with the manager who was there, but he was also very dismissive of my concerns/complaints about the check-in process.

They didn’t have anyone booked to play with me and I guess the tee sheet was rather empty that morning. So, Charlie was essentially my personal caddie for the day. He was one of the few positive aspects of the Wynn experience. We got along well and he figured out quickly what help/information I did and didn’t like out on the course. He has worked at the course since day one (well since day one after the old Desert Inn course was completely renovated and reopened as Wynn in 2000), so he had a lot of insight and information to share.

The Wynn course was designed by Tom Fazio, which usually means good things. I can say that the layout is fantastic and has all the challenge, charm and character of a Fazio course. It has a great look and landscaping, and then it has a lot of added “cool factor” being located behind the copper-colored Wynn/Encore towers. You get plenty of views of The Venetian, the High Roller ferris wheel thing, The Stratosphere and other buildings along this part of The Strip. And though it is very close by and almost perfectly in between the Wynn/Encore buildings, you rarely get clear glimpses of the Trump building across the street. Hooray!

Most of the course runs north and south, so you don’t get too many harsh sun-in-eyes moments when facing east on a desert course in the early morning. There are a few that face somewhat east, so that hurt some pictures, and then there is only one hole facing due west.

There are plenty of memorable holes at Wynn. Two of the par-3s have a real “signature” feel with water hazards in play and cool settings. The 6th and 15th are both fantastic and demanding.

The 18th is undoubtedly the showcase hole here as that’s what you see from the bungalows, hotel and casino. It features a massively ostentatious waterfall behind the green and water up the left side. It is a beefy finishing hole at 425 yards from the middle tees.

Speaking of tees, I was surprised to find that there are such odd gaps between the tee box options you can play. You have the Championship tees at 7,042 yards. Then, you have the Black tees, which are only a tiny bit shorter at 6,938 yards. What’s the point of only 100 yards difference? Then, you go down to 6,464 for the Middle tees. That’s what I played, but the course played much longer because it is actually only a par-70 (five par-3s and only three par-5s) and it was very wet out in the morning (more on that later).

After that is a huge gap down to the Executive tees, which are just 5,556 yards, followed by the Forward tees at 4,835. Seems like there should be a combo set somewhere in the 6,000-yard range. My caddie mentioned that when the course first opened, they only had two sets: what is now basically the Black and the Middle tees. So even women had to tee it up from over 6,400 yards with a number of forced carries. Obviously, they came to their senses and added some forward tees eventually. Just one more strange decision made by this place (not to mention that the course isn’t officially rated because they want to be so much like Shadow Creek).

Let’s check the scorecard so far. Other than the caddie which I would prefer to play without if I had the option, the service was not even closed to what I would have expected or hoped for from a high-end resort. On a positive note, it is a really good layout and interesting setting.

Now, it’s time for the real disappointment. The conditions were very unimpressive. I understand it is summer and the course will not be in peak season shape. However, I’ve played enough courses in Vegas (and other desert locations) in the summer to know that they can still maintain very nice conditions despite the heat. Wynn really let me down on this front.

I mentioned that it was very wet out in the morning and they definitely put a lot of water out on this course overnight. It may actually be too much. For whatever reason, they try and hold onto the rye grass as long as possible when most desert courses will have transitioned to the bermuda base earlier in the summer. That meant there were a lot of thin/muddy patches in the fairways and then the rough was a total mess, with a lot of big bare patches throughout the course. Some sections were nice, while others were really spotty at best.

My caddie told me that in a month, the course will be looking great again as it will have fully transitioned to bermuda. Then, it’s great for a couple weeks before they close for the fall overseed of rye. It seems like an odd practice if they have a good bermuda base that would look and play better during the summer months, and would be easier/less expensive to maintain.

I sure wasn’t expecting pristine conditions this time of year, but this was really disappointing to see. My caddie basically forced me to play lift, clean and place in the fairways, and he usually nudged my ball to places where the grass was good in the rough. This shouldn’t have to happen at a course like this.

The greens were pretty well maintained, but also very saturated with water and they had also just laid down a light topdressing of sand/fertilizer. It definitely affected some putts and was also messy. Every putt would roll and gather a gross ring of schmutz around the ball. Fortunately, my caddie had his towel at all times and it was used very often.

The one positive thing I can say about the Wynn conditions is that the bunkers were nice. Vegas courses often have notoriously bad sand (thin, coarse and/or full of pebbles). Wynn had great sand that was very nicely maintained, other than being a bit damp in the early morning.

I may sound like I am being a bit nitpicky with the conditions, and I am. The pictures below will undoubtedly look a lot nicer than it was up close and personal. I had flattering morning lighting and I still always aim to take nice photos. However, I have the right to be critical when shelling out $350 of my hard-earned money to play a course in very-much-less-than-prime conditions. If you’ve followed my blog throughout the years, you will know that the more I pay, the more demanding I will be.

It’s a shame to have to write a bad review highlighting the sub-par conditions and lackluster service. Wynn is a great course layout and there is a lot to like about it. It will be unfortunate to see a course like this get shut down and wiped from the face of the earth. And, it is especially sad to see them going out on a sour note. I got the feeling from most of the staff I interacted with that they are a little bitter about the place closing soon.

I was told conditions will be better pre-overseed and post-overseed. However, with the course likely closing as soon as December, I really question how much time, effort and money they will put into the maintenance over the next few months.

Whatever happens, I can at least say I played it and it will give me something to gripe about for years. I won’t be reviewing my visit to Cascata from this trip because I’ve written about it at length before. What I can say is that Cascata really knows how to provide first-class customer service. The conditions over there are far from immaculate this time of year, but they treat you right and make sure you walk away with a positive impression despite the similarly high cost to play it (we actually had a huge discount at Cascata, so that helped a lot). Wynn doesn’t seem to have that same approach or attitude in the summer season, and I am not sure if they ever did. I certainly wouldn’t expect much in its final months of operation. Too bad.

Some pictures from Wynn Golf Club (8/8/17):

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Next I played a low-end course that provided surprisingly good service…

Black Mountain Golf & Country Club • Henderson, NV • 8/8/17

I’ve avoided this course throughout the years, primarily because I was never able to plan a trip to Vegas around my birthday. I was saving Black Mountain for such an occasion because they are the only course in the area that offers a good birthday deal (free green fee, only $25 cart fee required a week before or after your birthday).

I signed up for their e-club, but never got any instructions or emails regarding the free birthday round. After a few emails back and forth with management, they were very apologetic and got me on the tee sheet. They ended up giving me a slightly better deal of $19 for my round, and there was no problem when I checked in.

I originally booked a 12:30 time, but I finished quickly at Wynn and called over to Black Mountain. They told me to come on out whenever I wanted, and they’d get me out quickly. I arrived closer to 11:30 and was teeing off by myself a few minutes later. I ended up joining a threesome ahead of me as there were other slower groups ahead. We skipped a few holes on the front nine to come back and play later. We still ran into another slow group on the back nine, but finished at a reasonable 3.5-hour pace.

There isn’t much to highlight about the Black Mountain layout. It used to be 27 holes, but they closed what was called the Desert nine at some point in recent years. Now, it is simply 18 holes with Horizon as the front nine and Founders as the back. It is fairly flat and very straightforward. There aren’t too many hidden surprises as long as you stay out of the desert areas, and what you see is what you get. It’s fine for what it is, but it’s quite dull overall. There really aren’t any holes that stood out to me as memorable.

The course was in pretty solid mid-summer shape. A little dried out and firm, but good overall playability (it played better than Wynn, other than the bunkers). The tee boxes were fine. The fairways were mostly good with some thin/brown spots scattered throughout. The rough was more hit and miss, but cut down and not much of a factor. The greens were very firm and rolling at medium speeds. The bunkers firm and crappy sand like so many Vegas courses.

At the right price, Black Mountain is an okay option. I would say their normal rates seem a bit much, so take advantage of the birthday deal or look for better deals elsewhere. You are not missing much here.

Some pictures from Black Mountain Golf & Country Club (8/8/17):

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