My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
Even wildlife was imported to Shadow Creek. No detail was ignored!
#17, Par 3, 140 Yards
This has to be the most photographed hole at Shadow Creek. It really is a gorgeous scene--and to think that every square inch of it was created from scratch. It starts off with the London phone booth again and finishes with green that sits peacefully on the other side of water with rocks, sand, and other hazards in between and a waterfall in the back. If you look carefully, you'll see tombstones on the ground by the tee boxes. These are actually the burial places of the original dolphins from The Mirage! As far as the play of the hole, goes, this is just wedge or short iron, but it needs to be precise. The green is small and the surrounds are unforgiving. Try to get your mind off of the beauty and focus on hitting a good shot.
#2, Par 4, 381 Yards
Here is the first time you need to sort of remind yourself that everything here was made by the hands of man. It's easy to forget, as you're winding through thousands of trees that in most cases we're so much planted, but trans-planted! The tee ball on the second needs to carry over a huge valley and into a relatively small landing area, before the fairway ends and runs downhill into a huge collection of bunkers. The second shot plays from that plateau over the bunkers and into a well guarded green. The pin was tucked on the left when I played, which makes you navigate around (or over) a tree that protects that side.
#9, Par 4, 391 Yards
If I had to criticize one thing about Shadow Creek, it's that most of the holes that have water (the 18th is an exception) put it on the left side. Water meanders its way along the left of the ninth all the ay to the green. Bunkers are on either side of the fairway and the approach into the green needs to be precise. The deeper the pin is on the putting surface, the smaller and narrower the target is.
#12, Par 4, 355 Yards
After the fun and dramatic 11th, the 12th hole is bit of a let-down. The drive is one of the least demanding tee balls of the day--everything is right in front of you and only one bunkers in the on the right side of the fairway. The key decision off the tee is whether to hit driver, or lay back a bit and just get it in the fairway. Just not that much to be said about this hole, relative to many of the others at Shadow Creek.
The picture below was taken with my phone. Raise an eyebrow next time you see a picture with such vibrant colors--the picture above were taken with a real camera and represent what the real colors looked like!
Since this is largely a playground for the super rich (and largely men) the scorecard didn't even show a set of forward tees. The shortest tees on the card were called the Regular Tees, with a length of 6,626 yards and a par of 72. As I went around the course, there were definitely forward tees out there, I guess they're just not promoted as such. Shadow Creek is one of those handful of courses/clubs out there with no USGA rating and slope. So, you're not posting your score today--just have fun. Las Vegas is about 2,000 fee above sea level, so you'll get a small bump in carry distance, but I still didn't see any reason to play the tees that were further back. The Championship Tees stretch to 7,560 yards--what would be the point of playing those??? I'd play the Regular Tees, and will quote them below:
#8 Par 3, 162 Yards
The second par three on the front nine would also be the second time I'd play through a group. So much for having a chance to enjoy the view! This one is another time you need to remind yourself that this hole that seems to be cut out of a forest is quite the opposite, with the forest being added to complement the hole instead!
#6, Par 4, 442 Yards
After making a mess of the "play through" hole, I was hit in the face with a long par four and the number one handicap hole! There is one bunker on the inside corner of the dogleg (on the right) that you can't see from the tee. After you get to your drive, you're faced with an uphill shot into a a green with a significant false front and a bunker protecting the right side. Favor being long on the approach, as a backstop over the green will likely feed your ball back onto the surface.
When Shadow Creek opened, it was only only for Steve Wynn's buddies. In fact, he lived on the property in a 12,000 square foot home just to the right of the 18th hole (he has since moved out--terms of the sale to MGM required him to move out within five years). After selling Mirage Resorts, the course would become open to guests of the MGM Mirage empire....sort of. It was mostly saved for invited (read: high roller) guests, and still largely is. However, it you have deep enough pockets and want to spend a day living like one of those Las Vegas "whales" you can play it too, at certain times. The course is generally available from Monday to Thursday to those staying on MGM properties, with a green fee that has been as high as $600.
When your day comes to play Shadow Creek it all stands at the Limo stand at your hotel. There was a bit of a mix-up they day I played. I was staying at Delano, but they asked me to come to Bellagio to be picked up. No big deal. The limo isn't one of the huge wedding-style limos with a bar and such...it's a pleasant four seater stretch sedan--still plenty classy though:
#5, Par 3, 140 Yards
The first of four par threes on the course. I can't state this enough times--this was a flat and featureless piece of land on in the Mojave Desert. A slope behind the green will help funnel balls back to the middle. I played through a foursome on this one--I don't think that's terribly common at Shadow Creek--that is, seeing another group. However, playing as a single, it was bound to happen.
#18, Par 5, 516 Yards
One can only imagine the money that's changed hands on this hole. It's a bit like a longer and more dramatic mirror image of the 15th. The water goes down the right on this one and again needs to be carried to get to the green. Take it into account to decide whether to go for it in two or not. The putting surface is pretty shallow if you can't hold the approach shot into it, so a layup might be the right play for many. As I mentioned earlier, the huge home on the other side of the pond from the 18th green was one Steve Wynn's.
#3, Par 4, 449 Yards
Each of the first four holes get longer and longer. The third is a long hole, with the second shot playing a bit uphill. The drive is mostly just bombs away! Just get it out there as far as you can to make the approach is manageable as possible. A lot of the greens at Shadow Creek are set on angles and this one is one of those and plays away from you to the right.
My wife and I grabbed a quick drink and a bit to eat before heading out to the range to loosen up. She wouldn't be playing with me today, but the course was gracious enough to let her ride along and take pictures of my special day. The range is a spot where a serious golf could spend the entire day practicing, but I'm guessing it doesn't get much action except for those warming up.
#13, Par 3, 203 Yards
There are two par threes on the back nine and they're quite different. This one is long shot into a fairly generous green. If you don't get it all the way to the green, there is trouble short in form of rocks, a bunker, and closely mown grass.
#10, Par 4, 394 Yards
In making the turn, we drove right by the clubhouse and decided to stop inside for some drinks. Remember your caddie's name, because that's how they track your charges while you're on the property. I guess maybe that allows high roller visitors to keep a bit more anonymity? The tenth hole is a dogleg right and you need to keep your ball on the left half of the fairway to have the best angle into the green. A tree stands in front of the right half of the green, so depending on where you hit your drive and where the pin is located, you may have to shape a left-to-right shot into this hole.
#15, Par 4, 433 Yards
With a creek meandering its way down the left the length of the hole, the 15th is a little like the ninth. The main difference is that the creek crosses in front of the green on this one, and with it playing about 40 yards longer than the ninth, the approach shot is more intimidating. Carry it all the way to the putting surface, or you might be dropping your next one! The best angle into the green is from the left of the fairway, but of course that means you need to hit it to the side that the creek guards--a hole where you need a sound strategy and execution.
#4, Par 5, 512 Yards
Playing from the extreme northwest corner of the property, the fourth bends to the left around a large pond, which flanks the hole most of the way. Keep the ball out of the water and you have a chance to score here. Bite off as much as you can chew from the tee to make the second shot as short as you can.
The entrance to Shadow Creek is gated with a guard out front. The only way past the guard (unless you're staff) is in an MGM limo. So, don't think about trying to drive in just to check out this desert oasis and buy a hat in the pro shop. Unless you're in their limo, you're not getting in. There are two small lots that serve staff, grounds staff, and caddies, which is all that's needed when you don't let guests bring their cars in!
Upon arrival in the front circle of the clubhouse, you're immediately greeted by name by the locker room manager and introduced to your caddie. I was shown to my locker--my wife was even allowed to check it all out once we confirmed that there were no other men in there already ;-) The locker room is just one wide open room with some chairs and tables in the center. The names on lockers are A-list athletes, musicians, and even Presidents. For the day, I was given Dr. J's locker, right in between Oscar De La Hoya and George Strait!
#16, Par 5, 531 Yards
Two par fives with a great par three sandwiched in between make for a dramatic finishing stretch--especially on a course where big money bets are likely on the line! This one bends to the right with bunkers on either side of the fairway along the way. The hole and green are relatively narrow, so keep your shots precise.
In a course where you detail was ignored, why not go all out with everything. It's not uncommon for golf courses to have a phone when you approach the turn to be able to call the clubhouse and order food and drink in advance of your arrival. At Shadow Creek, these phones are authentic working London phone booths--because, why not? This is the first of two.
#14, Par 4, 442 Yards
Similar to the third and sixth holes, this is a long par four. After the long par three 13th, this one, and then the longer 15th hole as well, this is the middle of a three-hole stretch where your long irons will need to be sharp. Number 14 bends to the right, and a pond lays on the right of the green, so keeping it to the left is the safe play the entire way. Of course, hitting it down the left off the tee will make your shot a bit longer into the green, so it's still the safest and smartest play.
#11, Par 4, 284 Yards
In a gambling town, here is a gambling hole. Big hitters can just take a swing at driving the green, but shots that find the bunker or the closely mown area short of the green provide for a difficult up and down. I suppose you could lay up with a wedge or short iron off the tee, but why? I hit by drive just short and left into that closely mown area and couldn't get it up and down. Still a par, so I guess that was ok, but a little disappointing.
After finishing up on 18, we would head to the clubhouse and grab lunch on the porch before summoning your limo to take us back to the hustle an bustle of The Strip. Shadow Creek is a work of art. I'm not sure whether it's fair to compare it to most other courses, because it's purpose and budget really put it in a group of its own. It really does an unspeakably good job in transporting you into a scene that is unlike anything else in the desert. If you're looking for a desert course, look elsewhere--if you're looking for lush vegetation and something that feels like an oasis, well then I think you'd be happy here!
#7, Par 5, 490 Yards
After playing a dogleg to the right, the seventh hole bends back the other direction. Avoid the bunkers off of the tee and you have a reasonable chance to hit the green in two, but well positioned bunkers stand in the way short of the angled green, so it's all carry to get there. If you're not comfortable hitting that shot, a layup to a comfortable distance can leave an easy shot into the green and an easy par.
Comparing one course to another to determine which is better can be a really difficult task. It's hard enough when you're comparing courses in similar parts of the country that were built in the same era. However, how do you compare a course that was build with horses and plows to a course that was built with an unlimited budget and modern construction equipment? That's part of the challenge in trying to compare a course like Shadow Creek to some of the other most well regarded courses in the world.
There is nothing natural about Shadow Creek--nothing at all. However, in a city with a faux Eiffel Tower, pyramid, and fabricated New York City skyline, that shouldn't come as a surprise. Las Vegas is a town of excess and alternate reality, so it kind of makes sense that there would be a casino-owned course that attempts to simulate a rolling North Carolina golf course--and that's just what Steve Wynn set out to create, roughly 13 miles up I-15 from The Mirage, a casino/hotel he was building around the same time.
The construction of Shadow Creek dated back to 1980's, already an age of excess. At the time, Steve Wynn was mostly known as the owner of the Golden Nugget, but was beginning to start developing more properties, which would include The Mirage, Treasure Island, and Bellagio, among others that were developed outside of Las Vegas. The company became known as Mirage Resorts, and was later sold to MGM Grand, Inc. As he began to grow is company, Wynn decided he wanted his own private golf course, and the idea for Shadow Creek was born. I'm sure his logic wasn't much different than it is for casino golf courses today. That is, if you build an opulent enough destination golf course that everyone wants to play, you can use it to lure high roller gamblers into down. Those gamblers can play on your golf course during the day and then play at your tables at night! When it became time to hire an architect to build a course that would serve as a magnet for the filthy rich, it made sense to hire Tom Fazio. Not only does Fazio have a reputation for being an artist when it comes to golf course beauty, but he has the vision and creativity to build something out of nothing. "Nothing" is exactly what he was given--a 350-acre pancake-flat piece of desert land. The long standing joke is that Steve Wynn gave him a blank check of a construction budget, and he still exceeded it! I'm not sure there's a confirmed cost that is that credible, but I've seen estimate of $40 Million up to $60 Million, making it one of the most expensive, if not THE most expensive courses ever built. This was like being given a huge piece of raw marble and ending up with David--everything at Shadow Creek was sculpted, planted, shaped, transplanted, etc... and what stands today is simply mind-blowing when you remind yourself that it was all man-made and created. Whenever you're weaving your cart through a forest and up a hill, it's easy to forget that this entire place was nothing but flat open desert land 30+ years ago. In fact, a photograph hangs near the bar in the clubhouse that shows the course shortly after it opened (forgive the lousy picture/reflections):
#1, Par 4, 344 Yards
The first hole at Shadow Creek isn't terribly difficult and gives you a good chance to get off to a good start. A driver may not be required, as the key is just to get the ball out there on the fairway and avoid the left bunker and the creek even further left. After the tee shot, the holes bends softly to the left and plays to a green that is quite wide open and will allow for a run-up shot, if needed. I learned early on that the green complexes are quite firm and fast and being above the hole is a very bad idea. A 3-putt for bogey wasn't the ideal way to start.