The Amateur Side: Playing through the heat in Vegas

Every week, Devil Ball's Amateur Side brings you a tale of golf from our side of the ropes. Today, we bring you a story from Ryan Ballengee, editor of the always-enjoyable golf blog Waggle Room.

The year was 2004. That summer, I was planning on going to Ireland to celebrate my graduation from the University of Maryland. About a month away from my trip, I went to get my passport. Long story short, after filling out forms, taking pictures, and doing the whole process, I wound up not getting it in time. Ireland was out.

My backup plan? Vegas, naturally. I put together the trip in about a day for July.

Through a contact, I was able to get a tee time at the only publicly accessible course on the Strip -- the Bali Hai. Owned by Billy Walters, who made his fortune on sports betting, a round there usually goes for about $300. They graciously agreed to let me play for $90.

"Sweet," I thought. "Golf blogging works!" (But that's not what it's about, I swear.)

I flew out to Vegas and put my clubs in storage for a few days at the Golden Nugget, which is still my favorite hotel in Vegas after three trips there. On the second night, I got my clubs out and got ready for a morning tee time. Looking through my clothes, I realized I only had one golf shirt. And it was black. The forecast for tomorrow? 106 degrees. But since it is a dry heat in the desert, it would only feel like 95.

Being two months away from grad school, I don't have $70 to blow on a tacky, lighter-colored shirt. Besides, I'm a man, I can tough this out.

I get to the course around 7:30 in the morning. I go into the very swanky clubhouse to pay my $90. I check in and the clerk tells me that my cart is out back, but never asks for my credit card or any kind of payment. The round's on them. Even better! At least if I die out in the sun, my credit card won't carry an extra balance.

When I go outside to practice, it's actually pretty nice. Mornings in Vegas are usually great in the summer, but I knew it wouldn't be long before I was praying for shade. In any event, I had to practice for about a half hour to get warm, proverbially speaking.

At my tee time, I saunter over to the first tee to await my partner, whoever it is. I had all day to wait, it seemed -- I had not seen another soul on the course that did not work there. A couple of minutes late, my partner rolls up to the tee box. He says he had to get his rental set.

"Oh no," I think. Rental clubs almost always mean a long, awful afternoon. But anything can happen in Vegas.

The guy takes one practice swing with clubs that had way too much flex for his swing. For a guy that appears to be in his fifties, he puts a good swing on the first ball and puts it in play.

I don't really remember much about the next four or five holes. We played them at a pace that made speed golfers look slow. We both knew the heat was coming and wanted to limit our time in the triple digit temperatures. If you want to know how the holes play, check out the World Golf Tour's simulation of the course. It's dead-on.

About seven holes into the round, the heat strikes. Holy hell, it is hot. A black shirt doesn't help. I chug down water on the course to stay hydrated. What an idiot I was to wear black! But I'm playing at a pace to shoot in the 70s, so I kind of forget about it.

Eventually, my partner and I realize that we're not going to outrun the heat. We slow our pace, hide under the shade of the cart when we can, and chat more.

It turns out that this guy has been coming to Vegas for the better part of twenty-five years. He's a multi-millionaire who made his money in real estate in Pennsylvania, near Philly. There must be something about being very wealthy and getting an even bigger thrill out of gambling. Imagine how cool penny slots are if you multiply each pull by 10,000.

On the tee of one of the later par 3s, he tells me about his first time in Vegas. My curiosity is naturally piqued. He tells me of how he got wasted one night and started playing craps with his buddies. He builds it up to where he had somewhere around $25,000 in front of him. I'm reminded that was actually a lot of money before I was alive. And then he tells me about how he pissed it all away by being greedy. Seems to have worked out well in the end, though. After all, he keeps coming back.

(Little did I know that two years later, I would roll five straight 4s at the craps table in Vegas and make some guy about two grand. He tipped me $100.)

Somehow, there is still no one on the course. On such a perfect day, too. Very sunny. Maybe that's why the beverage babe seemed to come by on every hole. The best part was that she gave us free water and free, large, ice cold towels. We were even offered a free Snickers bar, but that was because it was almost totally liquified in the sun. I took it anyhow. Later I learned that you can get a lot of stuff for free in Vegas.

At the final par 3, though, I learned that Vegas luck can be cruel. My partner teed up his ball, took out his rental Callaway 4 iron, swung, and the club head went further than the ball. Snapped right in two. I suppose it's better to be unlucky while golfing than at $50 per hand on blackjack.

The misfortune on the tee actually sped both of us up to finish quickly. We wrapped up and went inside for a beer. We chatted for quite a while afterward. Then he had to meet his wife and I had a date with the poker room, so he offered to drive me back to the Nugget.

That round in Vegas taught me a lot about golf, gambling, and to always have a backup shirt. I've been back there two times since -- and will go again for my bachelor party in April -- and played another ten or so courses in town. I never had as much fun there as I did in that round in the blistering heat.

Thanks to Ryan, and be sure to visit Waggle Room. If you've got an Amateur Side story of your own, contact us at for details on how to submit it. See you on the course!

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