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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Latest Golf News
ASK a golfer the courses he would most like to play in the Home of Golf and you might not get the answer you would expect.
Obviously, the Old Course at St Andrews is still top of everyone's wish list especially for its place in the history of the game. But second might be a surprise. A growing number of golfers are setting their sights on an altogether different venue.
Scotland's Golf Courses (www.scotlands-golf-courses.com) reports that the target for those golfers is Loch Lomond.
Many – and Americans in particular – want to play the Loch Lomond course they have seen on television in glorious technicolour hosting the Barclays Scottish Open in the week preceding the Open Championship.
Until now they have been disappointed. The Loch Lomond Golf Club is an exclusive establishment and its beautiful course is for members and their guests only. Drive up to the gates and you will be politely turned away.
Now that has been sorted. You can play on the bonnie, bonnie banks and sleep there as well if you wish. Last year the five-star Cameron House Hotel opened The Carrick course a couple of miles from their five-star resort and the course can be played not just by guests but anyone who turns up.
The De Vere Deluxe Resort group have spent in the region of £25 million renovating the hotel to bring it right up to date. Once it had a reputation for shabby chic and its splendid Wee Demon nine-hole lay-out was more of an aperitif than a main course. Now The Carrick course, laid down over 300 acres on the banks of the loch for around £7million, is the main attraction and has already hosted professional events.
Its designer Doug Carrick is an affable Canadian gentleman who has the knack of producing stunning and testing golf courses with an abundance of bunkers, and The Carrick is no exception with 118 of these revetted sand play-pits.
As you would expect, there's water on 10 of the holes with a handful running along the banks and everywhere the view of the loch and the mountains is stunning in what is one of the most spectacular places in Scotland if not the world. On a winter's day it is a delight, on a summer's day it is simply glorious with the scented air crisp and invigorating. While nine of the holes stick to classic Scottish lowland along the banks of the loch, the other nine is a climb to tackle Highland heathand sloping fairways.
Up there, Carrick's signature hole is the 199-yard par-3 14th which takes you all the way down to a well-bunkered green on the loch side.
The Carrick offers a wide variation of good golfing holes and the eighth for example is a massive 611 yards but the opening holes set you up for an enjoyable and traditional experience. The 429 yards first demands a carry over shrubland while the second is a short hole over water, the third 428 yards doglegs right around the same lake while the fourth also hugs water and demands accuracy with trees on the right awaiting anyone who seeks safety. The green is a tight target over water.
The 172-yard sixth is the farthest point on the course and from the green take the opportunity to look back at the magnificent views of the loch. You start back on the seventh towards the towering Ben Lomond that for most of the year has snow on its shoulders.
Be sure to visit the clubhouse and its Claret Jug restaurant before heading back to the hotel by either the complimentary shuttle or by motor launch.
If the course is Doug Carrick's domain, the hotel perched so close to the edge of the loch that in bad weather the waters lap at its front door, is another designer's – Gavin Liddle – unusual canvas. The 600-year-old baronial house, which housed 80 bears inits grounds when the previous owners ran a wildlife park here, has had some unfortunate extensions bolted on over the years but it is the old house through which you enter and it is exactly what the tourist might expect.
The entrance hall has a flag-stoned floor and a welcoming wood fire to warm you as you relax in high-backed chairs.Liddle, who describes his work as 'contemporary classic', obviously has an outrageous and idiosyncratic sense of humour.
As you enter, the animal lover almost recoils from 12 animal heads lining the walls of the foyer. There's a 12-point red deer stag, grouse, golden eagles, a hare, badger, fox, bear, and boars. But then you see the joke – the badger is smoking
a pipe and the fox a cigarette. These were not real animals but instead handmade in papier mache by the Yorkshire artist David Farrer. Some of the paintings are also worth inspecting for equally wacky creativity. And you're never quite sure what's around the next corner.
Take the Cameron Grill restaurant with its walk-in wine cellar. The food is first-rate but the huge mural of a last supper running the length of a wall is alone worth the visit even if some of the diners are likely to turn their backs on the open feature kitchen with carcasses of what they are about to eat hanging from hooks. Tartans in abundance, on the floor and on the walls, solid Scottish burr walnut furniture, large staghorn chandeliers, original fireplaces, oak-panelled doors all help to add to a distinctive Scottish flavour.
And no Scottish hotel worth its stars would be without its whisky bar and Cameron's houses more than 270 with the staff only too helpful to set up a tasting. Well, it would be a shame not to.
Those who know Loch Lomond might point to the local midge as being a dampener on your enjoyment of the golf course. Taken care of! Working quietly in the trees and out of sight, blower machines efficiently eradicate the problem of the tiny biting insects.
In fact, they are the only guests not to be made completely welcome at Cameron House.
Summer at £125pp, winter £70 (Nov – March 31, 09).
Caddies £40 plus tip per caddie
Golf Packages with accommodation High Season (May 08 – Oct 08) rate are mid-week – dinner, B&B and 18 holes of golf on the Carrick from £199 sharing a double/twin room and for a weekend date – dinner, B&B and 18 holes of golf on the Carrick from £219 sharing a double/twin room.