IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Bali Hai Golf Club, Las Vegas
THE LAYOUT: From the well-appointed rooms at Mandalay Bay, the only championship course located right on the Las Vegas Strip is hard to miss, a lush tropical paradise in the middle of the desert that you can literally carry your clubs to.
Located on the South end of the Strip, Bali Hai Golf Club embodies the adult playground that is Las Vegas. From the South Pacific theme to the "ParMate" caddies available to shepherd golfers around the course, there is an undeniable upscale but laid-back vibe from the time you arrive at the Polynesian hut that doubles as the starter's shack.
Don't be mistaken, Bali Hai packs a very serious and thoroughly enjoyable golf experience.
The Lee Schmidt/Brian Curley-designed course opened in 2000 with seven acres of water features, white sand bunkers and thousands of palm trees, not to mention one-of-a-kind views of the strip as you traverse the beautiful layout.
At 6,601 yards (70.2/125) from the gold tees and 7,002 (73.0/130) from the tips, Bali Hai isn't dauntingly long on the scorecard. However, it's deceptive in that five of the par-4 holes play between 440 and 466 yards, and if the winds pick up as they're known to do, many holes are a long iron or hybrid away even following a corked drive.
Bottom line, Bali Hai is a unique luxury resort style experience. You can be wayward with your tee shot on most holes and still find grass, but multiple bunkers dot every hole, elevation changes make club selection important, and water comes significantly into play on eight holes.
GENERAL MANAGER: Butch Fogler
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: One of Bali Hai's best assets is the variety, as no two holes feel the same, and the par 3s are especially memorable. The 164-yard ninth is a true challenge if the pin is tucked on the left side, forcing a full carry over water, with sand over the back.
The 165-yard 11th often features a two-club headwind, and the 224-yard 14th is a bear despite playing downhill.
Like most courses, the par 5s are the scoring holes. The best designed is the 527-yard 15th. "Mandalea" is a dogleg left that is reachable in two and features one of the best views of the strip.
Forecaddies are complimentary, with a $50 per bag tip the norm. They're not necessary as long as you have a rangefinder or GPS -- it is a fairly straightforward resort course -- but local knowledge is handy on several of the more difficult par 4s.
With deep, hard white sand bunkers protecting virtually every green and several long irons required, potential blowup holes litter Bali Hai if you leave yourself short-sided in a head-high trap.
Don't be lulled to sleep by your first sweeping view of Mandalay Bay on the tee box at No. 8. At 464 yards, it's the second-longest par 4 on the course and is the No. 1 handicap hole despite playing downwind.
"Upaway" also serves its name justice, with the 458-yard par-4 13th playing back into the wind. It's a difficult hole for many average handicappers to reach in two.
Most will point to the par-3 16th as the signature hole, and it's hard to argue with the 123-yard island green with the restaurant as the backdrop. The hole also is featured in the popular "World Golf Tour" video game. But the truth is Bali Hai has several memorable holes, including the par-3 sixth, where we carded our first hole-in-one.
The back nine ratchets up the difficulty level with four of the most difficult holes lying in wait on the final third of the course, highlighted by a score-busting 1-2 punch to close.
The par-4 17th is aptly named "Ambush" and plays 456 yards from the gold tees. The ambush can come in the form of the wind, which can stretch this into a hole requiring two Nick Faldo-esque "career" shots for a birdie look. Most likely the third shot is with a wedge in your hand trying to navigate the tiered green to salvage a decent par putt.
Survive that and you're treated to arguably the best-designed hole on the course. The 18th, "Kuda Bay," plays 466 yards from the golds. Palm trees protect the left side, and a bunker 285 yards out on the right side is imminently reachable downhill and downwind, not to mention jail when having to carry all water to the green.
Even a straight drive leaves an approach shot into a small green surrounded 300 degrees by sand, which is in turn protected by water. Considering the typically hard and fast greens found in Vegas, anything more than a short iron is nearly impossible to hold the green, and we watched more than one group hack their way back and forth from sand to sand.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Walters Golf has three outstanding and unique golf courses in Las Vegas. Royal Links is 10 miles from the strip and is a tribute to some of the most iconic links holes from around the world.
Desert Pines is a Dye-designed resort-style course also a short drive from the Strip.
Rees Jones designed a pair of gems, Rio Secco in Henderson and Cascata, about 30 minutes outside of the city featuring a 418-foot waterfall.
TPC Las Vegas has featured PGA and Champions Tour stops, while Las Vegas National is close to the strip and offers little trouble off the tee for golfers looking for a less stressful experience.
WHERE TO STAY: If you're in town for multiple rounds, stay at one of the hotels affiliated with Walters Golf, including Aria, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Luxor and the Stratosphere. Numerous stay-and-play packages are available, along with discounts for playing multiple Walters Golf courses and very good replay rates. The staff is very accommodating in arranging additional tee times at any of the three courses.
ON THE WEB: www.waltersgolf.com; www.balihaigolfclub.com
THE LAST RESORT: The Resort at Squaw Creek in Olympic Valley, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: Skiers have long carried the torch for Squaw Valley, and golfers can do the same.
Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, has been a world-class ski resort since visionary developer Alex Cushing built the first chairlift there in the 1950s, and Squaw Creek has made this revered site a world-class golf destination.
In fact, there are days in the spring when you can ski and play golf at Squaw Valley, where twin Olympic torches still burn at the entrance.
Squaw Valley was the site of the first "Miracle on Ice," when the United States shocked the favored Soviet Union and Canadian teams to win the Olympic ice hockey gold medal in 1960 behind the goaltending of Jack McCartan.
The Olympic Ice Arena where Carol Heiss also won a gold medal in figure skating, an indoor-outdoor facility that was open to the public for years after, is gone.
However, recreational skiers still schuss down KT-22, where 19-year-old Penny Pitou became an American hero by winning silver medals in the downhill and the giant slalom.
Robert Trent Jones Jr. had only 80 acres to work with for the golf course, but he created a par-71, 6,931-yard masterpiece through a meadow in the Squaw Valley basin with five majestic Sierra peaks as a backdrop.
The result was a course with several mountain holes and others with a distinct links feel.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF AND SKIING: Eric Veraguth
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Utilizing the terrain rather than reshaping it, Jones Jr. created a classic target-golf layout on which water comes into play on 11 holes. Because he had limited terrain to work with, Jones sculpted the fairways in the shape of an hourglass, opening in the driving area at about 150 yards from the green.
The first six holes and Nos. 12 and 13 at Squaw Creek hug the mountain at the base of 7,750-foot Snow King, and the rest of the course winds through the environmentally protected meadow that is traversed by cross-country skiers during the winter.
You know this is a different golfing experience when you play the first two holes, strong par 4s, around the Squaw Creek chairlift, which whisks resort guests to the top of the Red Dog ski run to start their day during ski season.
The 406-yard first hole plays up the hill through the trees, and the 430-yard second goes right back down the hill to the resort. Your tee shot on the second should be to the right of a large pine tree on a plateau in the fairway, but beware of the elevation change on the approach.
The fifth and sixth holes still have the influence of the mountain on the left but serve as a transition to the meadow.
Squaw Valley opens up to the golfer, with 8,900-foot Squaw Peak a sentinel in the distance, on the tee of the 386-yard par-4 fifth hole, while the 210-yard par-3 sixth presents a challenging and spectacular tee shot into the prevailing wind over a large lake.
The 513-yard par-5 13th plays downhill to a fairway that slopes from left to right and back up to a two-tiered green that sits on the highest point of the Squaw Creek course, with a panoramic view of the valley and a glimpse of 9,050-foot Granite Chief.
The last three holes give Squaw Creek a finish to remember.
The 204-yard par-3 16th is all carry across the wetlands to what amounts to an island green, while the 429-yard par-4 17th is the No. 2 handicap hole and No. 18 is a par 4 from the back tee that measures 484 yards -- with a huge lake to contend with on the length of the hole. The lake comes into play on the tee shot and again on the approach if you are on the right side of a narrow fairway, with wetlands down the left side. Three traps guard the green, including one in the bailout area on the left.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Also on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe are the Championship Course at Incline Village, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., and its sister, the Mountain Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Northstar-at-Tahoe offers a unique Robert Muir Graves layout, with two completely different nines -- the front through a wide-open meadow and the back through narrow chutes of trees over meandering creeks to postage-stamp greens.
On Tahoe's South Shore are the elegant Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, site of the 1985 U.S. Senior Open, the 1980 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and the annual American Century Celebrity Classic, and the 9-hole Bijou Municipal Course, which has spectacular views of the lake and Heavenly Valley Ski Resort.
The area is the site of two sporty muni-type courses, the executive layout at Tahoe Paradise Golf Course in South Lake Tahoe and the nine-hole Tahoe City Golf Course.
WHERE TO STAY: The Resort at Squaw Creek is an all-season, world-class resort located a short drive from Lake Tahoe in the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California.
Squaw Creek offers guests a shopping promenade, four restaurants, extensive meeting and special event facilities, a full-service spa, a complete health and fitness center, and Mountain Buddies -- a comprehensive children's program.
Also within Squaw Valley are the Olympic Village Inn, Red Wolf Lodge, Squaw Valley Lodge, the Village at Squaw Valley, the Christy Inn and numerous condominium properties.
Nearby are the River Ranch Lodge near Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, the Mayfield House, the Tahoe City Inn, the Pepper Tree Inn in Tahoe City, the Tahoe Marina Lodge in Tahoe City and the Inn at Truckee.
ON THE WEB: www.squawcreek.com