IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort, Snow Mountain Course.
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. Time permitting, you also might want to try the Sun Mountain and Wolf courses.
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 is 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's 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're 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's clear that while the course isn't particularly long, there is risk-reward almost everywhere.
Play it safe and you'll 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's 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's a beautifully designed hole that teases to the remainder of the course.
No. 7 is a drivable par-4. While it's 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 out 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 the way down the left-hand side and the green turning around the corner a bit at the end.
A well-placed drive down the right avoids two nastily placed bunkers and 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 are making their way up from the hotels along the Strip, on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
ON THE WEB: www.lvpaiutegolf.com
--Paiute Golf Resort review by Derek Harper, The Sports Xchange
THE LAST RESORT: Furnace Creek Golf Course in Death Valley, Calif.
THE LAYOUT: Located 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas and 275 miles northeast of Los Angeles, this is the lowest golf course in the world at 214 feet below sea level.
Murray Miller, one of the date-palm caretakers at Furnace Creek, set up an informal three-hole golf course in the pastures of the Greenland Ranch in 1927 to give the miners from the nearby Borax mines something to do in their spare time.
In 1931, a nine-hole course was developed around the ranch and date-palm orchards. It was the first grass golf course in the California desert.
During the summers, when the course was closed, the fairways were irrigated and leased to a rancher who would run about 150 head of cattle on the course. During the winter golf season, a small flock of sheep kept the fairways properly "mowed."
In 1968, noted designer William F. Bell expanded the course to a full 18 holes. Perry Dye of Dye Designs reworked the course in 1997, when a state-of-the-art irrigation system was installed to allow the course to remain open all year.
Furnace Creek Golf Course has been recognized by Golf Digest magazine in its list of "America's 50 Toughest Courses."
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Matt Bryda.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Presidents Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan played major roles in the process having Death Valley finally being designated a National Park in 1994.
Hoover signed Proclamation Number 2028 in 1933, creating Death Valley National Monument, and Reagan was the last, but most famous, host of "Death Valley Days" -- a popular dramatic series on radio and television that ran from 1930 through 1966 and brought Death Valley into households across the country every week.
Don't be fooled by the wide-open fairways and the length of the course, which plays to a par of 70 and a relatively short 6,215 yards from the back tees. From there, the course has a USGA rating of 74.7 with a slope of 128.
The Panamint and Funeral Mountains, two of five ranges that ring Death Valley, frame the golf course.
The fifth and sixth holes, totally reworked by Dye, along with No. 7 provide a stretch that is the highlight of the front nine.
The 573-yard fifth hole is a par-5 dogleg right that wraps around a line of tamarisk trees running down the right side of the fairway, which rises slightly halfway to the hole and then slopes down to a diabolical green.
The drive from the back tee on the par-4, 440-yard sixth hole -- the most difficult on the course -- must carry more than 200 yards over a lake to a fairway that doglegs to the left. There is bailout room to the right, but then you must deal with a series of Scottish-style mounds.
No. 7 is called the "Goalpost Hole," because the drive must split two large trees in the middle of the fairway, 150 yards from a two-tiered trap-door green, which drops off dramatically in the back.
The finish is strong, with the funky 17th hole, only 310 yards, and the 414-yard 18th hole, which has three of only 10 bunkers on the course.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: The Devil's Golf Course, located a few miles from Furnace Creek, is a wretched piece of unusable land named by someone with a perverse sense of humor. It actually is an expansive salt field created by evaporated bodies of water, and you actually can see the crystallization process at work.
The closest golf courses to Furnace Creek are China Lake Golf Course, located at the Naval Weapons Center in Ridgecrest, and Trona Golf and Social Club, a nine-hole layout in Trona. Both are just outside the western entrance to Death Valley.
WHERE TO STAY: The luxurious mission-style Furnace Creek Inn, located on a hill overlooking the golf course, was built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company and opened in 1927.
The Furnace Creek Ranch, which was built as a working cattle ranch in the 1880s, offers hotel rooms, cabins, duplex apartments and a campground. The Panamint Springs Resort and Stovepipe Wells Village in Death Valley offer resort accommodations and camping sites.
The Inn and the Ranch offer outdoor swimming pools that are naturally heated by warm springs that keep the pools' temperature at a comfortable 82 degrees. Guests also can enjoy tennis on the lighted courts, horseback riding, walking, jogging and hiking.
ON THE WEB: www.furnacecreekresort.com