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Rollercoaster golf in Las Vegas
Las Vegas and its environs has a deserved reputation for excellent golf and Vic Robbie discovers a course that takes it to a new level THE gentleman smiled as he handed me a slip of paper and asked me to read it carefully and sign it. It was a waiver, absolving the establishment of any blame in case of death or serious injury. Oh, well, I thought, when in Las Vegas anything goes. As anyone will tell you, this Disneyland for adults, or Sin City as some call it, prides itself in catering for all kinds of tastes and even if you are a regular visitor you can bet you’ll still have a new experience never to be forgotten. But putting your life on the line? It was not quite like jumping off the top of the 855-feet Stratosphere Tower and landing as softly as a butterfly thanks to your harness. This was just the first tee of a golf course – Wolf Creek – that looks in parts like a moonscape but in reality is more like traversing the slopes of Mount Everest. Apart from its obvious distractions, Las Vegas has a deserved reputation as a golfing destination as its environs boast more than 50 golf courses that satisfy all standards of players. Perhaps our drive of around an hour through a beige desert might have given us a clue. First, there was a surreal comfort stop where a gas station was built right next to a store claiming to be the biggest firework shop in the world. But the real fireworks began when we arrived at the course that markets itself as ‘Nevada’s ultimate golf experience’ near the town of Mesquite. Spectacular is too often used when describing courses, but this one deserves it with its emerald green fairways winding through red-rock canyons and players teeing off a hundred feet up, with the walls of the ravines studded with ‘lost’ golf balls that only a mountain goat could retrieve. This is the closest you can get to rollercoaster golf with golfers labouring up stiff inclines in their carts before, teeth gritted and knuckles white, plunging down steep descents with sheer drops on either side. Every hole is dramatic and at almost every tee the view is breathtaking. Some might claim this course – 6,939 yards from the back tees – is non-traditional but it is one that demands respect. An errant shot here and you run up big numbers. After the surprise of signing your life away, the first hole gives an inkling of what to expect with walls of rock hemming in the fairway but it’s on the second that you begin to realise that this is going to be an entirely different adventure. You access the tee box, climbing more than a hundred feet up 90 steps to a driving area the size of a suburban bathroom but with terrifying drops on three sides. The drive across a canyon is intimidating and this is certainly not the time for a Gary Player-style follow through. The par-3 third is 227 yards to one of the highest points on the course with 70-mile views. At 490 yards, the fifth is a short par-5 but it doglegs so sharply left it almost doubles back on itself. Surprisingly, there’s quite a lot of water on the course with tumbling waterfalls, creeks and lakes and the wet stuff comes into play on a number of holes, especially the short eighth, which from the very back tees is a daunting 248 yards, made all the more difficult by water on three sides. The seventeenth is another that is simply amazing. Playing from the towering back tees, the hole looks as if it is in another country rather than 562 yards. And the eighteenth, as if the designer thought you deserved a break, is a driveable par-4. As the day wears on and the sun sets lower in the sky, the course takes on an almost haunting beauty as the dying sunlight casts shadows that transform the canyon walls into a kaleidoscope of colours like an ever-changing canvas. Back in Las Vegas, Bear’s Best Golf Course is one of the most popular amongst visiting golfers because it offers a unique golf experience, bringing together 18 of Jack Nicklaus' favourite holes into one course. Nicklaus and his design team scoured photos and plans from hundreds of holes from many of his most notable golf course designs around the world to come up with these 18 holes. He chose holes from such as Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona Castle Pines in Colorado, Palmilla Golf Club in Los Cabos, Mexico, and PGA West in Palm Springs. At 7,194 yards from the back tees, this is more than replica course with a character all of its own and a good challenge for all. Las Vegas offers the best of both worlds for the golfer and the thrill-seeker. We had been based at the Aria Hotel which is ideal for those wanting to get the complete Vegas experience as it is right on the Strip and has a host of great restaurants and bars and casinos. From there we moved onto the JW Marriott at Summerlin, about twenty minutes from the Strip and a world of calm away from the frenetic ringing of slot machines. The ambience of the Marriott is more laid back than those on the Strip but at the same time offers you all the excitement of the casinos, only hidden away at the back of the hotel. And the Marriott is close to one of our favourite courses, TPC Las Vegas. With the TPC brand, you always know you are going to get a high level of excellence and that’s certainly the case here. It has hosted several PGA Tour and Champions Tour events. Designed by Bobby Weed and Raymond Floyd, the 7,080-yard course features elevation changes, mature trees and a wandering canyon with a handful of tricky par-3s. Although water only comes into play on the challenging18th hole, there are plenty of hazards along the way, especially the 196-yard second across a barranca that has to be avoided for the rocks and rattlesnakes. You need your strategic game to thread a way between stretches of desert and countless bunkers, and approach shots have to be accurate to hold the fast, true greens. Perhaps not so much of a surprise as Wolf Creek, but that’s Las Vegas for you; it’s never the same twice running. FLIGHTS Virgin Atlantic fly daily to Las Vegas from London Gatwick. Prices start from £310 plus £354 tax. For more information please visit www.virgin-atlantic.com or call 0844 209 7777 HOTELS JW Marriott – a room at starts from $149 per night, plus 12% tax. For more information please visit http://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/lasjw-jw-marriott-las-vegas-resort-and-spa/ Aria Resort and Casino Las Vegas – a deluxe room at starts from $149 plus tax per night. For more information please visit http://www.arialasvegas.com/ RESTAURANTS Five50 at Aria – so named because 550 degrees is the ideal temperature to cook your pizza to perfection, combining signature pizza, a selection of craft beers and shared plates, small bites, handmade pastas and decadent desserts. http://www.aria.com/dining/restaurants/five50-pizza-bar Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Palace – If you are homesick for elevated British pub food, this is the place to visit. Friendly staff with a good atmosphere, it serves all the old favourites, including English ale onion soup, shepherd's pie, a selection of sausages and the classic fish and chips. Also Scottish Salmon, lamb T-bone, whole brick pressed Cornish chicken, beef rib eye and spotted dog. http://www.caesarspalace.com/restaurants/gordon-ramsay-pub-and-grill.html Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak at The Mirage – This is the place for meat, prepared entirely over an open flame – from wood-burning ovens to charcoal grills, and people watching. http://www.mirage.com/restaurants/heritage.aspx Honey Salt at Boca Park – A restaurant that claims to be devoted to family, friends and community, offering a farm-to-table inspired menu that makes a welcome change from some run of the mill establishments. http://honeysalt.com/ SHOWS Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at MGM Grand – Brad Garrett is one of the funniest comedians around but his material is bluer than blue so perhaps don’t take your maiden aunt. There again, maybe you should, judging by the reaction of most of the women in the audience to his jokes. http://www.bradgarrettcomedy.com/BradGarrettsComedyClub.aspx Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah’s Las Vegas – Not one to be missed. If you like your rock n’ roll vintage this is not one to be missed. Story revolves around a night in 1956 when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins came together for an impromptu jam session. The actors play their own instruments and are almost as talented as the originals http://www.harrahslasvegas.com/shows/million-dollar-quartet.html GOLF Bear’s Best Golf Course http://www.clubcorp.com/Clubs/Bear-s-Best-Las-Vegas TPC Las Vegas www.tpc.com/tpc-las-vegas Wolf Creek http://www.golfwolfcreek.com GENERAL INFORMATION For further information about Las Vegas, please visit http://www.visitlasvegas.co.uk/
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