Golf Travel Destinations
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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This idyllic island is open for golf all year round and there’s more courses per square mile than anywhere in the world, reports Vic Robbie
TAKE a beautiful island ringed by pink sand beaches and warm turquoise waters teeming with wahoo, tuna, rockfish and red snapper. Everywhere is ablaze with the rich pinks, purples, reds, yellows and blues of frangipani, jacaranda, bougainvillaea, hibiscus, oleander and morning glory – and you have paradise.
Add eight glorious golf courses – more per square mile than anywhere in the world – and you have perfection.
In Bermuda they know their onions when it comes to golf. Like everything else on this beautiful volcanic island lying in splendid isolation in the Atlantic Ocean, a two-hour flight from the United States’ eastern seaboard, their courses are not only a superb test of golfing skills but expertly manicured and maintained.
Although a British colony, many Britons know more about Bermuda shorts and the Bermuda Triangle than Bermudan golf. With only around 10 per cent of the almost half a million tourists each year coming from the UK, it had not been regarded as the Brits’ first choice for golf.
One of Bermuda Tourism's marketing campaigns was – ‘shop in New York, flop in Bermuda’. In recent years, the number of visitors to the island has fallen and Dr Ewart Brown, the Minister for Tourism, admitted that some of the fault lay with Bermuda.
“In the eighties, we became less dependent on tourism and more on international business," he said. “We sort of got fat and complacent."
But now there is an upturn in visitors and there are exciting plans to market the island. With the variety of courses, and the relatively uncrowded links, Bermuda makes an ideal golfing destination.
Nick Faldo, arguably Britain’s greatest ever golfer, is one who presumably subscribes to this opinion having a home on the island and being a member of the fabulous Tucker’s Point Club.
Surveys have shown that tourists point to the hospitality of the locals, known as onions, and the safety as the major attractions of an island which is a pristine and orderly destination unlike some other ‘paradise’ locations.
A hub for offshore banking and re-insurance, it is a wealthy island, and it has attracted the likes of Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, and Ross Perot, billionaire and once US presidential candidate, who have houses here.
Bermuda has its own celebrities – film star Michael Douglas for example, who is perhaps Bermuda’s most famous resident along with his wife, Catherine Zeta Jones. Michael’s mother is Bermudan and the family are major shareholders in the Aerial Sands, an upmarket resort on the South Shore.
The superstar couple share a passion for golf and are members at Riddell’s Bay Golf & Country Club – the oldest 18-hole course on the island – and Tucker's Point Club, in an area known as Bermuda’s Beverly Hills, which is a disservice to the Bermudan version so undeniably more beautiful and classier.
Locals tell you that on the island there is a church every 400 yards and a bar every 500 yards. The local specials are well worth sampling. There’s Dark 'n Stormy, black rum and ginger beer, a refreshing drink but have too many I was warned and "it will knock you on your butt". And Rum Swizzle, a concoction of five varieties of rum, fruit base, grenadine and some secret ingredients which are left to ferment.
They could have added that there’s almost a golf course every 800 yards on the island which stretches for 22 miles from east to west.
“Golf is critically important to us," said Dr Brown, a steady 18 handicapper. “We want to market Bermuda as a golf destination. Although the golf season is from November to April, we are open 365 days a year. We have a great variety of courses and it's convenient to get to them as we are a small island. In December, January and February, when you're freezing, we are open for golf."
In the past many famous names have played golf here – Churchill, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter and Bush senior, and Bob Hope.
Frankie Rabain, the professional at Port Royal for 27 years, said: “There is great hospitality here. We have lovely beaches, a good climate, lots of history and our golf courses are as good as anywhere in the world, and they are all conveniently close together."
Port Royal, which was named one of the top public courses in the world in a prestigious poll, is one of three courses – the others are Ocean View and St George’s – owned by the government. There are no restrictions to playing there, although guests at the many resorts and hotels have an introduction to any of the courses.
Every visitor is catered for in luxurious accommodation including The Fairmont Southampton, the elegant Elbow Beach, which is owned by a Saudi prince, and Aerial Sands, and the friendly Harmony Club is ideally placed in the middle of the island.
Although there is a defined local golf season, you can play any time of the year, claimed Alex Madeiros, the head professional at Riddell’s Bay.
“January and February are good months," he said. “The best period is probably September to December. The locals find July and August too hot to play golf."
Bermuda’s sub-tropical temperature is ideal, rarely dropping below the mid-sixties and rising to the high eighties. In the autumn the waters of the Gulf Stream are still in the low eighties and in the summer going into the sea is akin to taking a hot bath. Water sports, including snorkelling and scuba diving, are favourites on the island and although many of the resorts have private beaches two of the most spectacular, Warwick Long Bay and Horseshoe Bay, are open to the public.
The Bermudians enjoy eating out and there are many restaurants not just in the capital of Hamilton but also on the waterfront like Elbow Beach’s Mickey’s. Seafood dominates many menus and dishes like boiled salt codfish, broiled spiny Bermuda lobster, curried mussel pie, spicy fish chowder spiked with sherry pepper sauce and black rum, shark hash and conch stew, tuna, wahoo, red snapper and rock fish are not to be missed.
When you’re not golfing, swimming, eating or drinking, there’s plenty to take up your time. History is everywhere on the island, which was first discovered by Juan de Bermudez more than 500 years ago. Then in 1609, the British ship, Sea Venture, captained by Admiral Sir George Somers, was wrecked on the dangerous reefs, which have claimed scores of victims over the centuries. They set up home on the island and in 1615 England bought Bermuda for £2,000.
Now St George’s, where they first settled on the eastern coast of the island, is Bermuda’s second town and where many of the cruise liners dock when they visit. The history of St George’s is fascinating with quaint brightly-painted buildings, with white limestone roofs designed to catch the much-needed rainwater, tucked away in narrow lanes and back streets.
Everyone is catered for here with those who regard shopping as much a sport as golf more than satisfied in ultra-smart Hamilton where designer shops and all the big brands are just a credit card apart.
When your day is done just kick back, relax with a drink, listen to the whistling chorus of the tiny tree frogs, and watch the spectacular sunset. One thing’s for sure it’s not likely to be Dark n’ Stormy.
GOLF IN BERMUDA
Belmont Hills Golf & Country Club
Bermuda’s newest professionally designed 18-hole course.
Par-70, 6,017 yards.
Contact 001 441 236 6400 or visit www.belmonthills.com
Mid Ocean Golf Club
Rates as one of the toughest course on the island.
Par-72, 6,512 yards
Ocean View Golf Course
A public nine-hole course with 18 tee positions.
Par-35, 2,940 yards.
Port Royal Golf Course
Home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf for 2009 and 2010
Par-71, 6,561 yards
Contact 001 441 234 0974 visit www.portroyalgolf.bm
Riddell’s Bay Golf & Country Club
The island’s first golf course.
Par-70, 5,800 yards
St. George's Golf Course
A public course designed by Robert Trent Jones.
Contact 001 441-297-8353
The Fairmont Southampton
The resort’s hotel overlooks its own par-3 18-hole course, private beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
Par-54, 2,762 yards.
Contact 001 441 239 6952 or visit www.fairmont.com/southampton
Tucker’s Point Hotel & Spa
Course overlooks Tucker’s Town where the celebrities live.
Par-70, 6,361 yards
For more information visit www.gotobermuda.co.uk