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 is deceptive in that five of the par-4 holes play between 440 and 466 yards, and if the winds pick up as they are 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: Michael Wachtman.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: One of Bali Hai's best assets is 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 are 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 is 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 is 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 is 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 are 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 reachable downhill and downwind, not to mention having to carry all water from the sand on your next shot 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 Perry Dye-designed resort-style course also a short drive from the Strip.
Rees Jones designed a pair of gems, Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson and Cascata Golf Club in Boulder City, about 30 minutes outside of Las Vegas, featuring a 418-foot waterfall.
TPC Las Vegas, formerly TPC at the Canyons, played host to 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 are in town for multiple rounds, stay at one of the hotels affiliated with Walters Golf, including Aria Resort and Casino, MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Luxor Hotel and Casino and the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel and Tower. 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: Paiute Golf Resort, Snow Mountain Course, Las Vegas
THE LAYOUT: The Pete Dye-designed Snow Mountain Course was opened in 1995 as the first of three tracks at the sprawling Paiute complex 25 miles northwest of the Las Vegas Strip. The Paiute Tribe owns and operates the resort, recognized as the first master-planned, multi-course facility built on Native American land.
What is unmistakable upon arriving at the complex is that it is a local favorite. The staff knows many of the golfers by first name, and the driving range is chock full of regulars swinging away while sharing stories.
Each of the three courses has its own distinct flavor, and Snow Mountain is generally considered the most playable for all levels of golfers. However, it also offers four sets of tee boxes that can stretch the experience out to a long as 7,146 yards from the tips with a 73.0 rating and 126 slope.
Some of the features of the par-72 Snow Mountain course are wide fairways with no holes that run parallel, although water comes into play on seven holes and there are a slew of risk-reward opportunities peppered throughout.
The course plays a fairly benign 6,035 yards (68.8/111) from the whites, but the "championship" tees provide a solid test at 6,645 yards with a 70.9 rating and 118 slope.
The rye grass fairways were in excellent shape during the spring and make excellent use of the natural rolling terrain. The greens feature plenty of slope that require good distance control, although they don't roll anywhere near as fast as some of the treacherous greens you can find around Vegas.
GENERAL MANAGER: Chad Gunier.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The first tip is to travel wisely. The Paiute Resort is roughly a $90 cab ride from the Strip -- in each direction. Barring access to a car, the day gets pricey in a hurry unless you have a full foursome to split the bill.
Once you arrive at the complex, however, it is well worth the effort.
A large clubhouse housing the pro shop, restaurant and other amenities is elevated and looks out across the vast property and the three courses.
If you are playing Snow Mountain, step back at least to the championship tees to bring in all the splendid design elements Dye incorporated.
From the opening drive off the 347-yard par-4 first hole, it is clear that while the course isn't particularly long, there is risk-reward almost everywhere.
Play it safe and you will have far longer approach shots into most every hole. Take the more aggressive lines that Dye taunts you with, and you better be able to carry bunkers and wasteland or shape your ball with control.
The first hole doglegs to the left and takes you away from the clubhouse. With no parallel fairways, you immediately get lost in the tranquility of the Paiute property.
How well you play the first time around the Snow Mountain course can directly hinge on how much wind is sweeping across the desert, as there is plenty of water, sand and wasteland to balloon a scorecard.
The par-5 third hole is a prime example. At 539 yards from the championship tees, it is two massive pokes, including a significant carry over water that runs up to the front right of the green. While downhill, a smarter approach is to lay up along the left side for a full wedge into the green. It is a beautifully designed hole that teases to the remainder of the course.
No. 7 is a drivable par-4. While it is 309 yards, you can slice off significant yardage with a decent hit over the dogleg right. Clear the bunkers, and the slope runs downhill to the putting surface.
Water comes back into play with a pond protecting the green on the 399-yard par-4 ninth hole heading back to the clubhouse.
The Snow Mountain experience really gets going on the 10th tee box, where you look out to a large pond that runs along the left side of the 10th hole and provides your first look at the demanding 18th hole running back along the same water feature.
Dye presents golfers with yet another risk-reward on the 381-yard 10th. A solid strike over the water and over the bunker requires a carry of about 220 yards, but anything left is in the hazard. Safer drives to the right leave a higher probability of an uneven lie and a dicey longer approach into a green that has very little room to go deep.
Where Snow Mountain understandably earns most of its acclaim is with a trio of picturesque closing holes.
My personal favorite is the par-3 16th looking out to Castle Rock and Gass Peak. At 182 yards slightly downhill, it requires a full carry over water, with little bailout room.
The 17th is a solid 509-yard par-5 that begins your trek back to the clubhouse.
No. 18 is one of the better finishing holes in Vegas. It runs 425 yards from the championship tees, with water all down the left side and the green turning around the corner a bit at the end.
A well-placed drive down the right that avoids two nastily placed bunkers still leaves a mid-iron approach shot for most, with a massive slope on the right and water on the left protecting the green. Anything left requires a carry to the putting surface. A closing par is an excellent score on the course's No. 2 handicap hole.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: There are dozens of quality golf courses in the Vegas area, but Paiute is tucked away in the northwest section, and we recommend playing two of its courses if you're looking to squeeze in 36 holes for the day.
We were paired with a Vegas local who plays the Paiute tracks regularly. A 12-handicap, he likes Snow Maintain because "Wolf eats me up." Opened in 2001, Wolf is one of the longest courses in Vegas at a total of 7,604 yards. Regularly the top-ranked of the three courses, Wolf features an island green on No. 15.
WHERE TO STAY: Paiute doesn't feature lodging, so the vast majority of out-of-town visitors make their way up from the Strip.
On the web: www.lvpaiutegolf.com