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The Best Bets in Vegas

Perry Dye, son of Pete, is the consulting architect. The holes are accurate and beautifully done. The only thing missing from this version of the Road Hole is the hotel in the crook of the dogleg. The 115 pot bunkers with sod walls are dead-on. There is, however, one key difference throughout: The Royal Links is one hundred percent manicured. The intermediate rough is zoysia--a first for Nevada. "I wanted the golf course to be enjoyable and playable by the average player," Walters called out as he gunned his cart across a curb. "Fescue for the rough would have made this course too difficult. Zoysia is like putting the ball on a tee." Beyond the zoysia, in areas that are knee-high in Britain, Walters has planted alyssum, gazania and wildflowers.

The next day I joined the developer for a spin around one of his other clubs, Desert Pines, which he touts as the Pinehurst of the West, built from scratch in nine and a half months on just ninety-eight acres in the middle of town, right next to the freeway, and where the pine needles beneath the four thousand mature trees are replaced twice a year. Powering past a foursome on the back nine, Walters hollered, "'Scuse us, fellas! Have a great round!" and then barked to me, "You hit the ball out of one of my fairways, you're on turf. You're not out in some desert and rocks." The seventh, eighth and seventeenth greens congregate around a pond--a great design, even if it was dictated by the confines of the site. I had to agree with Walters: In an era of sprawling golf courses designed to incorporate bizarre geography and fairway homesites, such a neat, tight layout in the Merion manner is a refreshing change of pace.

But the real essence of what the prosecutors are up against with Walters is the five greens on the Desert Pines practice range. Each replicates a famous par three's green complex, right down to the bunkers and, in the case of Harbour Town's seventeenth, blue paint. Walters is that rare sort, a visionary with an eye for details, and I'll make this prediction right now: The law will never catch him. Not that he's done anything wrong.

After five days of golf in Las Vegas, the back blew, so I just rode around Rio Secco Golf Club and putted in the company of assistant pro Paul Charron. This course Rees Jones was supposed to be part of the Seven Hills development south of the Strip, but it ended up in the hands of the Rio Suites hotel and now serves as an exclusive amenity for its guests. Premier casino players, tour pros and invited VIPs even have their own locker room. Rio Secco is also home to Butch Harmon's School of Golf. Harmon teaches Tiger Woods, which is why Tiger was on the school's practice tee hitting half wedges as Paul conducted his tour, regaling me with stories from his long days and nights on the Nike Tour. He had always understood that he's a free spirit, certainly as golf pros go--his ponytail on tour was halfway down his back--and maybe he wasn't all that surprised to learn that he was neither good enough nor competitive enough for the grind. When he OB'd on the first tee of one tournament, he turned and bowed gallantly to the gallery. It's tough picturing Tiger horsing around like this, and surely this is one reason Tiger, not Paul, holds the course record, sixty-seven.

Tiger must have been putting well that day because Rio Secco's greens are something else: huge, lopsided and fast. Such Augusta-type greens are a lot of fun to mess around with, maybe not so much fun if you're shooting for a score. From many spots, forget about making the first putt and go for position instead, and steel yourself ahead of time for the occasional four-putt. Holes two through seven are the visual highlight of the golf course, playing across, along and down inside a series of canyons--terrific holes with brutal greens.

And then I left Las Vegas, passing, on my way out, computer folks coming in for a huge industry show. For once, everybody in the city agrees on something: The geeks are notorious low rollers, especially when compared with, say, the automotive after-market crowd. Back in Manhattan, I saw confirmation of this point in a little news item.Apparently Bill Gates had taken his seat at a Bellagio blackjack table and doubled his modest stack of twenty-five-dollar chips. Although I like to picture Bill counting coin as he strode away, I'm sure this windfall wasn't the point. I'll bet he was just laying the groundwork for his real play, the call to Steve Wynn angling for the coveted invitation to Shadow Creek. Asked if he was gaming at Steve's tables, Bill wanted to be able to testify, in all honesty, "Yes."


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