Friday, April 14, 2006

Shadow Creek

Seventeen of the courses on the top 100 list were in existence before the town of Las Vegas was even founded in 1905. Shadow Creek (ranked #89 in the world), located in Las Vegas, opened in 1989, the same year Royal County Down celebrated its centenary. Shadow Creek is obviously not on the list of top courses in the world because of its heritage. It is there because it shouldn't even exist, yet it is one of the most amazing places ever created to play the game. Built by Steve Wynn and Tom Fazio, they took a patch of desert and created Shadow Creek by spending $40 million, moving 2.8 million cubic yards of earth and planting 21,000 mature pine trees.

Many courses have been built in the desert and are great golf courses. They use the natural features of the land, have fairways only where necessary and create mostly a 'target' golf environment. What makes Shadow Creek so unique is that they built a non-desert course in the desert. If someone brought you to Shadow Creek blind-folded and you had to guess where you were you could easily guess the Pacific Northwest or the Carolina Pines.

I have avoided going to Las Vegas for most of my adult life because I like traditional cities and I don't gamble. I remember the first time I flew into Las Vegas about three years ago. I arrived close to midnight from the East Coast. Landing in Las Vegas is an odd feeling, you almost feel like you are landing in the middle of the city. McCarron Airport is only a half dozen blocks from the Strip. As soon as you step off the plane you know you are somewhere different with the slot machines ringing and the general buzz in the air. No where else that I've traveled to does the city smack you in the face immediately. The place is an adult Disneyland and it epitomizes what everybody wants: a chance to strike it rich, a chance to make it, a chance to overcome the odds. While Las Vegas has certainly come a long way in the last 20 years and is touted as a family destination, it is still sin city. As you walk down the street every block or two there are people giving out 'business' cards for escorts, strip clubs and prostitutes. One taxi we took, the driver handed us a black book with hundreds of these cards inserted into them. Certainly, Las Vegas now has very good restaurants and a lot of golf, but the underlying driver of the economy is clear. As the ultimate social commentary of life in the 21st century, in 2001 Las Vegas replaced, of all places, the holy city of Mecca as the most visited place on the planet!

When Shadow Creek was built it used to be that you had to be a high roller to play the course. It was the personal playground of Steve Wynn and he invited stars and big spenders. It is now possible to play Shadow Creek if you stay at the Mirage hotel or an MGM resort and fork over the $500 greens fee.

You don't drive to Shadow Creek. In certainly one of the more unique aspects of playing the top 100 courses, you are picked up by a stretch limousine at the hotel and are transported north of the city to the golf course. Shadow Creek is located between the Strip and the testing grounds used to detonate atomic bombs, which are located about an hour and 20 minutes north. The first test occurred in 1951 and 120 bombs have been exploded there over the years. I have, in fact, noticed that I have lost a lot of hair since playing Shadow Creek, but I'm sure it's not related.

The course is surrounded by a big black wrought iron fence in a 360 acre area. The clubhouse is a decidedly understated affair, and it is your first indication that Shadow Creek is not about glitz. You are given a golf cart and assigned a caddy. Since the temperature is normally around 100 degrees, a golf cart is probably a good idea, but we didn't use it. Instead, we walked and the caddy used it to drive the bag around so he didn't have to carry it. Forget everything you've heard about it not being that hot - after all, it's a dry heat. Dry heat my ass. Shadow Creek is more like something from the Carolina Pines and thus actually has humidity which is created by all the moisture coming out of the ground. My advice is don't wear your best shirt when playing Shadow Creek on a sunny day. I drank eight bottles of water and although you can't feel yourself perspiring, the salt stains on my shirt after the round should give you a good indication of what it's like.

Despite my preconceived notions of the city, I actually came to like it. It has a certain energy and vibrancy that is unique. It was much the same with Shadow Creek. I was skeptical before playing it; thinking it was just a $500 tourist rip-off, but I came to appreciate its uniqueness. The course is beautifully laid out and challenging. The mountains in the background create a dramatic backdrop. There are pheasantÂ’s running loose throughout the course and they are a nice touch, if a bit surreal. The back nine has some really nice holes and water is artfully worked into the design. The creek that runs along the fifteenth fairway (below) somehow makes this one of the most serene holes you will ever play.

The 17th hole is a dramatic par three that plays downhill and has an elevation change of 30 feet to a tiny green set behind a lake.

The locker room is allegedly modeled after Seminole's but it felt a bit forced to me, especially putting famous peoples names on lockers, which they could have done without. Playing Shadow Creek was a memorable days golf and I'd love to tell you the score I shot at Shadow Creek, but as the saying goes: "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas".

Las Vegas is a city that continually reinvents itself. The bottom line is that there is not enough water in the Western United States to support all the Sunbelt cities in the manner they currently exist in. It is conceivable that the water bill needed to maintain the course will not be economical over time or the novelty of the experience will wear off. When that happens the conglomerate that owns it will one day find the land is worth more for another use. That's the downside of no tradition. My advice is to play Shadow Creek while it still exits. Building this type of course in the middle of the desert is madness and the course most certainly will not exist to celebrate its centenary.

Shadow Creek

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Golf in Atlanta - Peachtree Golf Club

I recently returned from Atlanta where I had an opportunity to played the two top 100 courses located there. I have always liked Atlanta for its Southern charm, weather and respect for tradition that is part of the culture. Atlanta still has true gentleman. Peachtree (ranked #87 in the world) is the better of the two courses, East Lake being the other. Golf in Atlanta and Bobby Jones are inseparable. Jones grew up playing golf at East Lake Country Club. The story goes that Jones and a group of his friends grew frustrated at slow play at East Lake and thus founded Peachtree. Bobby designed the course with Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1948.

Peachtree only has 225 members and on the beautiful Spring day I played it we saw only two other group all day. The terrain is some of the hilliest I've played thus far (although the Olympic Club Lake course is hillier). It is not an exaggeration to say that the only flat lies you are likely to get all day are on the tee boxes. Many of the approach shots are to elevated greens, thus the course plays longer than the card indicates. I have encountered only two courses with faster greens than Peachtree: Merion and Oakmont. The course also has an ever-present creek that winds itss way around the course and is always ready to catch a wayward shot or to penalize those that should have hit three wood off the tee but through their hubris take the driver.

Comparisons between Peachtree and Augusta are inevitable because Bobby had a hand in designing both; their respective topographies are very similar and Peachtree, like Augusta, was previously a nursery. Several of the vistas a Peachtree could be mistaken for those at Augusta. Peachtree is a decidedly low key affair, the clubhouse is understated, the grill room is understated and the membership is both low key and low profile. I am a fan of golf clubs like Peachtree.

An interesting historical note is that the Union General William Tecumseh Sherman slept in one of the clubhouse buildings at Peachtree, which at the time was a private residence, on his march through the South.