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The Best Bets in Vegas

Tom agreed, but he can be a stickler when it comes to the holy game, so he zeroed in on that point one percent. The tee markers, for example: "Strictly resort course," Tom said, and after further consideration I had to agree. At a course this classy, on which caddies are required, these totem poles are cheesy and superfluous. (Wynn could take his cue here from the simple logo-free scorecard.) Tom also found fault with our caddie's beeping range finder. The device is illegal in any official competition, and cell phones and pagers aren't allowed on the course. "So why this thing?" Tom demanded of our man, who was, for once, at a loss for words.

After the round, we retired to the nineteenth hole (meal not included in the $1,800) which overlooks the eighteenth hole and, off to the right, Steve Wynn's capacious home. Tom, a strong player, understood the reason for the relatively easy driving conditions on the course, but he found some of the holes not quite demanding enough, strategically. My rejoinder was simple: Phil Mickelson and Ken Green may share the course record at sixty-one, but the average score at Shadow Creek couldn't be below 90 and probably isn't below 100, according to our man on the bag. That sounds right to me, and it is right regarding me. And the shortest of the two sets of tees is 6,700 yards. The course is tough enough. "Okay," Tom said, "but three of the par threes are less than 150 yards from the basic tees. That's weak." Sorry, Tom, but such a quirk is the legitimate prerogative of the designers. It's not as though Wynn and Fazio didn't realize what they were doing. Those stories about scale models, tiny video cameras and painted dirt fairways are true. Besides, you can always head to the back tee on an ad hoc basis, should you get bored with your birdie putts.

Staggered by this response, Tom threw his haymaker, labeling some of the waterworks as "froufrou." Well, part of the big splash behind the seventeenth green is obviously molded, but we wouldn't know this if the structure were wet all over, which is easily accomplished with further engineering. Otherwise, Tom missed the point regarding the water: He had forgotten where he was.

Sometimes Billy Walters picks up the phone himself. When he did so in my case and said he'd be happy to show me around his Vegas golf courses anytime but Saturday or Sunday, when he was busy betting on football games, I should have put two and two together. I didn't, but when I got to town it was hard to miss his smiling face in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the headline reading WALTERS PLEADS INNOCENT TO CHARGES--state money-laundering charges, which are not all that different, in the defendant's view as expressed in the story, from a set of federal indictments for which he and the ultrasophisticated Computer Group gaming syndicate were exonerated in 1992. Not two months after these latest charges were filed, the judge dismissed them.

The issues are complicated and beyond our purview here, but suffice it to say that Walters is a professional gambler, a longtime target of investigators (they have $2.8 million of his cash, and he wants it back), a native Kentuckian who has bestowed large sums on a variety of charities in his adopted Las Vegas and the area's leading golf course developer. His proposal for developing 163 acres south of the Mandalay Bay casino at the southern end of the Strip--touted as the most valuable land in Nevada--recently beat out two other well-placed groups, one fronted by Andre Agassi, who also lives in Las Vegas.

Walters plans to build a tribute to the work of his favorite living architect, Pete Dye: copies of twenty-seven of Dye's greatest holes, including a par-three layout. This might be a pretty good idea. Dye is a flatland specialist, and Walters does know how to do this kind of thing, as I saw while careening around his Royal Links club east of town, which was not quite finished when I was there but is now open for play. He owns four other courses in Las Vegas, but this will be the project that's going to be instantly famous, if not quite in the Shadow Creek category. Each hole of the Royal Links is a reproduction of a great hole in the British Isles. The developer knows all about the legal problems faced by the similar Tour 18 concept and is confident he has them well in hand. The literature states that the holes are "reminiscent of," "inspired by" and "similar to" the originals. Besides, he demanded with an intense gaze, why would anyone object to such deferential homage?His clubhouse is a castle with a life-size bronze of Old Tom Morris out front. The museum inside will be a tribute to British golf. Out back by the first tee will be a large, yellow scoreboard, emblematic of the British Open.

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