It had been over 10 years since the last time I was in the city that rose from the sand. This was only my second trip to Vegas in twenty years. My first trip over 30 years ago came during a time when I was more judgmental and less tolerant of behaviors I didn’t approve of. I’d like to think that I’ve matured some since then. On that very first visit in the summer of 1987, I was making a semi cross country drive. I’d flown to Denver from Houston and rented a car to drive from Denver to Los Angeles. I’d planned to visit a couple National Parks in between.
During the days that preceded golf, my stress relief came from the solitude of solo cross-country drives. This fit well with a couple of the other goals in my life. They are to visit all fifty states (I’ve visited 49, just North Dakota remains) and the major National Parks in the country. There are sixty National Parks in the US, but only 32 that I considered major. I’ve visited 27 of those so far. On the trip that summer, I visited Arches and Zion. Following my visit to Zion, I traveled to Las Vegas.
My first glimpse of Vegas was of the glow from over 100 miles away (I don’t really remember the exact distance, but it was a long way) on an otherwise very dark night. The signs along the way with the casino payout ratio told me everything I needed to know. Those lights and that city were built on the dashed hopes dreams of those looking to grow their fortunes with the roll of dice, the flip of a card, or by pulling the lever on the one-arm bandit. On that first trip to Vegas, I walked along the strip but didn’t place a single bet. I wasn’t so disciplined and wise on future trips.
On this trip however, I’d come to Vegas not to challenge the odds but to challenge Shadow Creek, the 63rd course on my Quest to play the Golf Digest 2017-18 Top 100 Golf Courses in the US. Playing this one required a night’s stay at an MGM property and a whopping $500 greens fee. For that $500 I’d get a limo ride to and from the hotel and all the snacks I could eat while on the course. That’s a whole lot more than I got for my $500 at the blackjack tables.
I arrived at the course and was greeted by Brian McLaughlin, the assistant pro and Rick, my caddie. We all chatted for a few moments about my Quest. I then went to the locker room where I was assigned a locker with Paul Azinger’s name on it. I changed my shoes, grabbed a few of those “free” snacks, and headed to the driving range.
I had a great warm up on the range. The only problem was that each club was traveling 10 yards less than normal. I was making great contact, just not getting the distance. My driver and woods were either going straight or had a slight fade. I was fine with either of those ball flights. I deemed myself ready. Rick and I headed to the first tee. I decided to play from the regular tees at just over 6600 yards. The course has no official rating or slope.
The weather on this mid-morning in Vegas had been cool but not cold. It was around 45 degrees with about a 10-mph wind. As soon as I stood over my ball on the first tee, the wind increased dramatically to about 25 mph and the temp felt like it dropped at least 10 degrees. Rick looked as befuddled as I did. He remarked, “where did that come from?” From that moment forward, the weather only got worse.
The first hole is 350 yard par four. The fairway is aligned with the tee box at the beginning but shifts to the right at about 150 yards out before bending back to the left to align with the green. There is a creek along the left side of the fairway and a fairway bunker about 150 yards from the tee. The fairway slopes right to left. In the cold with winter gloves on both hands, I hit my first tee shot at Shadow Creek with a three wood. The ball started out low and bent to the right, landing on the right edge of the fairway about 150 yards from a front right pin.
The green has the creek along the left and a bunker off the front right. My approach shot fell well short of the green.
The third shot flew over the green. I pitched back on, the ball rolled to the front of the green. I two-putted to open the round with a double bogey.
As I finished the first hole, the temperature dropped further, and snowflakes started to fall. I don’t know what the wind chill was, but I was cold.
The second hole is a 380 yard par four with a 140 yard island of fairway in a sea of rough. The fairway starts at about 250 yards from the front of the green and end at just over 100 yards from the front of the green. There are bunkers in the rough between the end of the fairway and the front of the green. I pulled my drive to the mulch under a small cluster of trees on the left.
I duffed my first pitch and the ball remained in the rough. I hit my next pitch to just short of the massage bunker about 70 yards from the pin. My fourth shot hit about 8 feet from the flag. I missed my bogey putt and made a second double bogey.
I was on a beautiful course but was not loving it. I was already starting to lose the feeling in my hands as I approached the long and difficult par four third hole. The hole measures 450 yards. The fairway is divided into two successive sections. The first section has water on the left and a bunker between the left edge of the fairway and the water. It ends at 130 yards from the front of the green.
There is a bunker that separates the first section of the fairway from the second. The second section bends to the right slightly to connect to a narrow oval shaped green with no bunkers. I sliced my drive to the trees to the right of the fairway.
I hit my second shot back to the fairway and then laid up to 80 yards from a back right pin.
I pulled my fourth shot to the left of the green, chipped on and two putted for another double bogey. At his point with three double bogeys and some very cold hands, I had not written a single score on the scorecard. I decided to not keep score and just enjoy the beauty of the course. While it was cold with overcast skies in most directions, there were some patches of blue. The course is in a beautiful setting.
And wouldn’t you know it, after that decision I made par on the 512 yard par five fourth hole. The fairway on this hole is very narrow. It has a bulb like shaped beginning that curves left to right. It then moves like a low amplitude shaped wave to the green. There are several bunkers on the left and water beyond the bunkers. There are a couple of bunkers at about 260 yards from the tee and trees along the right. The only other group crazy enough to be on the course in these conditions was in the fairway in front of Rick and me. They motioned for us to play through. I finally hit a decent drive, landing the ball about 260 yards from the tee, just left of the end of the fairway bunkers on the right.
I laid up with my second shot to about 110 yards out.
My third shot landed well short of the green. I used a Texas wedge to cozy up to the flag.
I made a short one putt for the par, but it didn’t matter since I wasn’t worried about my score anymore.
The 140 yard par three fifth hole has a 130 yard carry over vegetation and a massive bunker guarding the front of the green. I hit an 8 iron off the tee. It wasn’t enough club to carry the massive bunker. I need a yard or two more. The ball hit at the top of the bunker and kicked in.
My sand shot hit on the green a few feet to the left of the flag and then rolled down the slope to the front of the green. I two putted from there.
The par four sixth hole at 442 yards is the second longest par four on the course, but the most difficult overall hole. It is almost straight from tee to green and has just one fairway bunker which is on the right at about 260 yards out. The challenge on this hole is the 25-yard-wide fairway with a lot of undulation. It also has what is probably one of the toughest greens on the course. I hit my drive 220 yards to the slope on the right side of the fairway.
I was blocked from the green by trees, not that I had a club in my bag that could get to the green on this cold day anyway. Not to mention the lack of a swing that could be used on such a club. I laid up into the fairway.
I hit my third shot well short of the flag which was on the upper tier near the back of the green. I wasn’t keeping score, but I know I didn’t make a par.
The seventh hole is a 530 yard par five. The fairway has areas that are as narrow as the previous fairway, but also has some areas that are slightly wider. It bends slightly to the left and then shifts a little to right as it passes a small bunker on the left and heads to the green. I hit another 220 yard drive to the right that rolled just off the edge of the fairway.
I hit my second shot to the middle of the fairway leaving 130 yards to a middle left pin.
The fairway ends about 15 yards from the front of the green. The area between the end of the fairway and the green is taken up by two large bunkers on either side of a smaller center bunker. I aimed over the center bunker with my approach shot. In this cold air, I didn’t hit enough club. The ball didn’t carry the center bunker. It landed in it. I never go my distances right during the round. I short most of the time, but then started going long when I started to further adjust. I was already hitting one club longer on each shot.
I hit my sand shot past the flag and it rolled off the back of the green. I two putted from there for a bogey.
The second par three on the course is the 162 yard eighth hole. It plays similarly to the par three fifth hole in that it requires a 150 yard carry over vegetation, just rough in this case, and a bunker that guards the front of the green. Unlike the fifth hole, it plays downhill.
I hit my tee shot to the green but well short of the hole which was cut on the back of the green. I two putted for just my second par, but who cares since I wasn’t keeping score.
The front nine ends with a 390 yard par four. The scene from the perch of the tee box high above the fairway is gorgeous. There is a pond just below the tee box and a mountain in the distance with snow clouds consuming half of it and blue skies over the other half. This was all framed by the trees that were along both side of the fairway.
The fairway curves multiple times as it flows by water, trees and bunkers on the left and bunkers and trees on the right. I hit my drive to the left side of the fairway.
From the left side of the fairway, the journey of the ball to the green is filled with peril. There is a creek with stones along its sides and a bunker in front of the left side of the green.
I hit my approach shot into the creek. I took a drop, put my fourth shot on the green and finished the front nine with a double bogey. My score on the front nine is whatever all that gives me. I didn’t add it up on the course and won’t add it up here, but feel free to do so if you’d like.
The back starts with 394 yard par four with another narrow fairway that doglegs to the right. There is a long bunker on the inside radius of the turn and one just past the turn on the left. The fairway narrows past the turn. I hit my drive down the middle of the fairway.
My 185 yard approach was to a front left pin on a green that bends around a bunker off its front right. My ball landed well short of the green. I’d clubbed up to account for the temperature, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Perhaps the issue with my distances is that with the cold temperatures my body wasn’t making a full turn.
My chip ran past the flag and off the green on the right. My chip rolled past the flag again and stopped on the front of the green. I missed the bogey putt and started the back nine the same way I started the front, with a double bogey.
The 11th hole is the shortest par four on the course. It measures a mere 284 yards from the regular tees. Its biggest challenges are an undulating fairway, the trees that are tight along the right and the large bunker that guards the approach to the shallow green. I hit a three hybrid for accuracy, but on this cold day near the end of February, I wasn’t accurate with this or any other club. I hit the ball to the right, near the trees.
I thought about hitting a low shot through the trees toward the green but thought better of it. I pitched out to the fairway, pitched onto the green and two putted.
The fairway on the 355 yard par four twelfth hole is offset slightly to the left of the tee box. There is a slight curve in the beginning of the fairway, otherwise it’s straight. There is a bunker on the right at 170 yards out and a couple more on each side of the fairway near the green. I hit my drive down the middle of the fairway leaving 110 yards to a back right pin.
My approach shot landed on the left side of the green, well below the flag. My putt missed on the low side of the cup and rolled three feet away. I made the putt for a par.
The thirteenth hole is the longest and most difficult par three on the course. It measures 205 yards. Almost all of it is a carry over the rough. There is a small amount of fairway in front of the green. There is a small pond to the right of the green but with the hole cut on the left front of the green, the water was not play. With the pin up front the distance to the hole was more like 190 yards, but in the cold temperatures on this day, I played the distance to the middle of the green. I hit my three hybrid flush. The ball flew over the flag to the back of the green.
I was now left with a fast downhill chip. Fearing the speed, I left it 15 feet short. I missed the par putt.
The next hole was the beginning of a series of three long and difficult holes. The holes are also some of the most scenic holes on the course. Coincidently they turned out to be a good stretch of golf for me. The sun came out briefly and the temperature increased enough for my hands to regain some feeling.
The fourteenth hole is a 442 yard par four. The fairway slopes from left to right. It starts out very narrow but widens in the landing zone. The landing zone is a 75 yards stretch of fairway with a long bunker along the right side. The fairway ends at 130 yards from the middle of the green and then continues after 40 yards of rough. I hit my drive to the left side of the fairway.
With slightly more than 200 yards remaining and water to the right of the green and the area just preceding it, Rick convinced me to lay up. I laid up to 80 yards from a back left pin.
It was a good call by Rick. I hit a lob wedge to three feet and made the putt for a par. I’d finally gotten a distance right. I guess even a blind squirrel can find a nut every now and then.
The next in the series of long and difficult par holes is the 433 yard fifteenth hole. The hole is beautiful, but it’s hard. It’s ranked as the second most difficult hole on the course. The fairway is long, has a creek off its left side, a large bunker midway to the green on the right side and it slopes right to left toward the creek. I hit my drive 240 yards to the left side of the fairway. The ball rolled left toward the creek. It was much too cold to tighten my butt cheeks, so I just watched and hoped. Fortunately, the ball stopped rolling before it reached the creek.
I was left with 190 yards to a left flag that was between the front of the green and the middle. The green was offset to the left of the fairway. I didn’t hit the ball well. I got lucky again when the ball cleared the creek and stopped on the opposite bank.
I hit my third shot a little long. It carried over the back of the green.
I chipped to eight feet and made the putt.
The last in the series of three difficult but beautiful holes is the 561 yard par five sixteenth. Everything about this hole makes it difficult. The fairway is again divided into two sections with a swath of rough in between. The first section starts at 150 yards from the tee. It has trees to the left and bunkers to the right. It narrows in a telescoping manner the closer it gets to the end at about 250 yards from the middle of the green. The second section of the fairway starts at 40 yards beyond the end of the first, has a bunker of the left side and is significantly narrower than the first. It continues to the green. I hit my best drive of the day to just left of the second fairway bunker on the right.
I laid up to 80 yards out from a pin on the left side of a green that was at a 45 degree angle to the fairway and protected by two bunkers on the right. With the angle I had to the pin, the first bunker was between my ball and the hole.
I hit my approach a little fat, it hit in that first bunker. I hit my bunker shot to five feet.
I made the putt for par.
The 140 yard par three seventeenth hole is supposed to be easy. It didn’t turn out that way for me. While the hole is short, its all carry over water to get to the green. I pulled my tee shot. We weren’t sure whether it went in the water on the left or not. I hit a second ball as a provisional. There was no drop zone. My second ball landed in a bunker off the left front portion of the green.
We found my first ball. It was on left across the water from the green. I hit my second shot over the green and in to bunker on the right side of the green.
I hit my sand shot to the green and two putted.
The closing hole at Shadow Creek is a 500 yard par five. It has fairway like several of the other holes. It has water at the beginning and gets much narrower has it advances toward the hole. There are three ponds along the right side of the fairway and trees along the left. There is a view of a mountain in the distance. All of this makes for a very scenic hole. My last drive of the day was a good one. I hit the ball to middle of the fairway.
I laid up on my second shot to the middle of the fairway, just over 100 yards from a middle pin position.
The green was offset to the right of the fairway at an angle of almost 90 degrees requiring an approach shot over the water to that middle pin. My shot barely carried the water, but barely was good enough. I was left with a 20 foot putt from below the flag for a birdie.
Sadly, I missed the putt and finished my round with a par.
It was a tough day. I would like to thank Rick for hanging in there with me under such harsh conditions. We got through the 18 holes and finished the 63rd course on my quest. I was exhausted and cold. I’d like to return and play the course again on a warm day. It is a spectacularly beautiful course. Perhaps I will return one day, sit at the blackjack table, win $500 and use it to pay the greens fee! What did I say this city was built on?