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 laidback vibe from the time you arrive at the Polynesian hut that doubles as the starter's shack.
But 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. But 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 with 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. 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 get 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 -- the 458-yard par-4 13th plays back into the wind and is difficult 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 that is also 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 I carded my 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 a pair of Nick Faldo-esque "career" shots for a birdie look. Most likely, the third shot will come with a wedge in your hands 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 closing 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 eminently reachable downhill and downwind. It's also the equivalent of jail when you consider trying 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 two gems, Rio Secco in Henderson and Cascata, about 30 minutes outside of the city featuring a 418-foot waterfall.
TPC Las Vegas has been the site of PGA and Champions Tour events, 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: http://www.waltersgolf.com., http://www.balihaigolfclub.com.
THE LAST RESORT: Sedona Golf Resort in Sedona, Ariz.
THE LAYOUT: Architect Gary Panks crafted a spectacular course that climbs a ridge along the Mogollon Rim, part of the Colorado Plateau, and gives the golfer incredible views of Sedona's famous red rock formations in the Village of Oak Creek on the south end of town.
The course, which plays to a par of 71, stretches to a very playable length of 6,646 yards from the blue, or championship tees. It has played host to the Southwest Section PGA Championship and several events of the Arizona Golf Assn., the amateur body in the state.
The beauty of the surroundings and the famous Sedona vortex sites, spots where the earth's energy is supposedly increased leading to self-awareness and various kinds of healing, can produce a relaxing and vitalizing round of golf at the same time.
Other than playing at say, Pebble Beach, Augusta or St. Andrews, this is about as close as a golfer can come to the feeling of playing a round in a cathedral.
Sedona is located off Interstate 17 about 120 miles north of Phoenix, and the 4,400-foot elevation makes the area much cooler than the Valley of the Sun during the summer months.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Gary Pearce.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Sedona Golf Resort sits on hallowed ground. John Wayne and other famed celluloid cowboys rode this terrain as far back as the 1930s. In between the first and 18th holes at Sedona Golf Resort are the remains of the handmade red rock wall from Sedona's original homesteads.
All around the golfers are towering rock formations of red sandstone, created by Mother Nature through iron oxidation. Enjoy the golf but don't forget to drink in the views available from every spot on the course.
Especially gorgeous is the 210-yard, par-3 10th, the signature hole. The golfer plays from an elevated tee to a green that has Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock as a backdrop. The hole, rated No. 10 on the card, is user-friendly because tee shots that miss to the right often get a generous bounce onto the green.
The monster par-5, 623-yard fifth, toughest hole on the course, and the 448-yard, par-4 eighth hole give the golfer a bit of Scottish Highlands golf in the high desert because they share a multi-tiered, 17,000-square-foot green.
Another challenge is the 439-yard, par-4 15th, which rates No. 2 on the card. This hole requires a long drive to a narrow fairway with two sand traps on the right side of the landing area. An arroyo runs across the fairway 120 yards from the green, which is protected by a yawning trap on the left and four smaller bunkers on the right.
The 338-yard, par-4 18th hole can be reached from the tee on occasion by the long hitter, with the risk-reward factor coming into play in the form of a lake and four bunkers on the left of the green. For those who lay up, there are five more bunkers on the right side of the fairway.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Practically next door at the foot of famed Bell Rock is another picturesque course, Oak Creek Country Club, which was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr.
Verde Santa Fe Golf Course, located about 15 minutes southwest of Sedona in Cornville, is more of a desert-style course in the Verde Valley, with views of Mingus Mountain and the Black Hills that range from historic Camp Verde to Cottonwood. This is where Gen. George Crook and the U.S. Army cavalry chased Geronimo and other renegade Apaches in the 1870s.
Beaver Creek Golf Course at Lake Montezuma is a friendly country-style layout that also is about 15 minutes away, to the Southeast. This was the first golf course in the area, designed by Arthur Jack Synder and opened in 1962.
Canyon Mesa Country Club, across Highway 17 from Oak Creek and Sedona Golf Resort, is a 9-hole, par-28 layout that is good practice for your short game and comes with all the scenic beauty of the championship courses.
WHERE TO STAY: The Sedona Golf Resort offers all the amenities of a full-service resort, but there is a multitude of places to stay in the area, from bed-and-breakfasts to upscale resorts.
Among the best are Amara Creekside Resort, La Auberge Sedona Resort, Radisson Poco Diablo Resort, the Creekside Inn at Sedona, Boots and Saddles Romantic Bed and Breakfast, the Briar Patch Inn, the Apple Orchard Inn, and the elegant Enchantment Resort, which features a fun pitch-and-putt course and putting green.
ON THE WEB: www.sedonagolfresort.com.