To Wynn, one of the world's foremost art collectors, it's completely natural to talk about art in the same breath as golf course design. "I know what criteria magazines use to rate courses, and there's a place for that," he says. "But the fact of the matter is that to the millions of golfers who are not architectural experts, the issue is the aesthetic impact when you're standing on the tee. The human eye experiences vistas sequentially. It follows lines from close in to far out. If there are sides on a golf hole, like trees, and it's a dogleg, the eye moves out and then takes the turn of the dogleg. If there are no sides to a hole, then, of course, distances compress and it's hard to judge them. Sides give you proportion and scale."
Wynn's emphasis on insular, well-framed holes may also be borne of a more practical matter: his own impaired eyesight. He is afflicted with a degenerative, incurable eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which gradually destroys a person's retinas and optic nerves, reducing the field of vision until blindness occurs. Fortunately for Wynn, in recent years its advances have been slowed. Even so, his peripheral vision remains limited. What no ocular disease can take away, however, is Wynn's eye for detail and innovation.
To tee it up at the new Wynn course, you must be a guest of the resort. Access to the course is through the hotel, the entrance of which is right on the Strip. As you walk in, you're greeted by an atrium full of living trees; on your right is the registration desk; on your left is the main corridor that cuts through the hotel and casino and eventually leads to the golf club. One quick left and you're in the pro shop. Another and you're on the first tee.
If you remember the old poker-table-flat Desert Inn course that occupied this site for forty years, you're immediately aware that this layout is utterly different. The surprises start at the first tee, from where you descend forty-five feet to a generous landing area on this mid-length par four. The 469-yard par-four eighth is the hole Wynn considers the toughest on the par-thirty-four front side, and while it's a strong two-shotter calling for a power fade off the Stratosphere needle from a slightly elevated tee, it's not the most memorable hole on the side. That honor belongs to either the 447-yard par-four third, with its bucolic stone-dappled creek, or to the sixth, a 163-yard par three with a tee box surrounded by Indian hawthorn plantings and a handsome rock wall shoring the green.
Things come alive even more on the back nine, most notably on a pair of jaw-dropping par threes. The 201-yard eleventh features a Dali-esque green that practically melts off the front edge and into a left-hand bunker. At the shorter fifteenth, a Y-shaped creek guards a peninsula green.
Nevertheless, in true Vegas fashion, the biggest thrills arrive at the end. "You want to have a finale," Wynn says. "And the [498-yard par-four] seventeenth is the best hole we've ever designed. It's the best hole in town." The more conservative Fazio says, "Some people will think it's the hardest hole in town." Both men believe the hole might play better as a par five for higher handicappers. The tee shot emerges from a chute and plays over a stream to a crested fairway narrowed by four bunkers on the left and by trees on the right. A pond guards the right side of the approach, while the kidney-shaped green is further protected by another cluster of bunkers short and right. But the eighteenth is the ultimate showstopper, a 448-yard par four that features a thirty-seven-foot-high wall of water behind the green.
In all, the layout measures 7,042 yards from the back tees and features sixty-three bunkers and eleven holes where water comes into play. Despite the course's playability, Wynn claims that the top players he had sample it before the official opening said that it's tougher than Shadow Creek (which occupies roughly double the acreage). That group included UNLV's Ryan Moore, the 2004 U.S. Amateur and NCAA champion (see Inside the Ropes, page TK), who set the course record of four-under sixty-six in late March.
Is the course better than Shadow Creek?Privately, Wynn says yes, but even he knows only time will tell. "The truly special places in golf," Wynn says, "Augusta National, Cypress Point, Pine Valley—they have their own personalities. I'm not comparing Wynn Las Vegas to them, I'm just saying that it aspires to be an original, consistent to itself, finding its own voice—a hard thing to do."
It isn't until you're practically standing on the eighteenth green that you notice the thirty-six golf villas that branch out harmoniously from the hotel. Wynn is especially proud of them. Picture every creature comfort from a high-roller suite, including a separate massage room with built-in table, plus infinity pools and views of the course, and you get the idea. With the mountain views beyond, it's like having the best of Scottsdale or Palm Springs at your doorstep, only you have all of Vegas's attractions within minutes.
The new Wynn hotel is, in many ways, a huge departure for Las Vegas. It's partially hidden from the street by the berm. Its standard room is 630 or more square feet, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a plasma TV. Perhaps most unusual, the hotel will be suffused with natural light, with multiple indoor and outdoor environments. There will be twenty-two restaurants, including one by Daniel Boulud. There's also a lavish spa, luxury retailers such as Louis Vuitton and Manolo Blahnik, and Maserati and Ferrari dealerships. Future plans for the resort call for more hotels, including one next door called Encore.
This is Wynn's reality. Are there any dreams left?
Dreams have always played a role in Wynn's life. He and his wife of more than forty years, Elaine, were drawn to Picasso's "Le Reve" ("The Dream"), eventually purchasing the masterwork—and now displaying it in the Wynn Gallery at the new hotel. The resort was originally going to be called Le Reve until market research showed that consumers and investors responded better to Wynn Las Vegas. So what does its mastermind dream about?
"I would like to be a good golfer, a single-digit handicapper," Wynn says. "At my best, I was a ten or eleven. I wish I were a two. I'd be happy if I were a five."
Given his hectic schedule, Wynn hasn't played in a year. He learned the game as a kid in Utica, New York, abandoned it for years, then took it up again in the late eighties. His first teacher was 1954 U.S. Open champ Ed Furgol. "After that there were rescue attempts by Hank Haney, David Leadbetter, John Redmond and others—to no avail," Wynn says, laughing. To be sure, he has a number of factors to overcome to realize his dream. But as anyone who knows Steve Wynn would tell you: Don't bet against him.
WYNN LAS VEGAS RESORT AND COUNTRY CLUB
3131 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109; 888-320-7123; wynnlasvegas.com.
Accommodations Rooms: $199-$529. Suites: $400-$1,700. Golf Villas: from $1,200.
Attractions 50-floor hotel and casino; 22 restaurants; dozens of luxury shops; Maserati and Ferrari dealerships; 35,000-square-foot spa; three wedding chapels; an extensive art collection including works by Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse.
Golf Yardage: 7,042. Par: 70. Architect: Tom Fazio. Greens Fee: $500 (resort guests only).