The King is dead—long live the King! Having transformed itself from America's vice capital into a family-friendly destination, Las Vegas is now evolving into a must-play mecca for hookers (and slicers) of the Big Bertha-bearing variety. The area now boasts some of the hottest golfing action under the sun—in the past two years, theme-park courses, designer resorts and daily-fee layouts have been built by some of the biggest names in the business. And while golf nuts may be content to live on refreshment-cart fare alone, master chefs from New York to Hong Kong have brought the Strip the best in world cuisines. Of course, Vegas is still the gambling capital of the universe, and yes, Elvis impersonators are still in every other building. So are gondoliers, killer sharks, and contortionists. It may be a golf mecca now, but it's still Vegas, after all.
The Desert Inn Golf Club is slated to be bulldozed early next fall, but even as Vegas waves bye-bye to the D.I., it is welcoming Bali Hai, an eye-popping course with a South Pacific theme, and bestowing citizenship on Royal Links, which features replicas of holes on the British Open rota. Meanwhile, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Rees Jones have all recently completed championship layouts, including one that reportedly will rival fabled Shadow Creek. Play your aces, folks.
Desert Inn Golf Club
3145 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV; 702-733-4290. Yardage: 7,193. Par: 72. Architect: Lawrence Hughes. Green fees: $195.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
Time is running out to play the first and finest course on the Strip, which will be giving way to a new Steve Wynn casino-hotel-spa complex. Opened in 1952, the D.I. has hosted Presidents from Kennedy to Clinton, celebrities from Sammy Davis Jr. to Celine Dion, and PGA pros from Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods. Its fairways are lined with pine, oak, cypress and willow, and the four finishing holes (including the classic 501-yard, par-five fifteenth) are guarded by a chain of lakes that provide both beauty and potentially tragic drama.
Reflection Bay Golf Club
75 MonteLago Blvd., Henderson, NV; 877-698-GOLF. Yardage: 7,261. Par: 72. Architect: Jack Nicklaus. Green fees: $200 Hyatt guests; $235 public.
T&L GOLF Rating: ****1/2
Reflection Bay, located at the Lake Las Vegas Resort seventeen miles from the Strip, is a hybrid parkland-desert course that showcases the Nicklaus trademark design elements: generously wide fairways and large undulating greens best approached with high-fade iron shots. The real gut check comes on the back nine, with the uphill 442-yard, par-four sixteenth; the 164-yard, par-three seventeenth, which requires a precise, forced carry over the edge of Lake Las Vegas; and the 561-yard, par-five eighteenth, which doglegs around the water and bristles with a dozen devilishly placed bunkers.