If there’s a better place anywhere in the world than Las Vegas for a three-day golf vacation, I haven’t found it.
Just two hours after landing in Vegas I was standing at the daunting first tee of Bear’s Best golf course — a compilation of 18 holes assembled from the vast catalogue of none other than Jack Nicklaus. The course takes full advantage of its desert location to feature sweeping mountain vistas on one side and postcard-worthy panoramas of the Vegas strip on the other with the occasional appearance of unusual black sand traps. My persistent right fade was rewarded with a silver lining as I “toured” the opulent backyards of mansion after mansion. With shots as inconsistent as mine, zero edge infinity pools are as “in play” as the more traditional water hazards.
After taking that same high handicap to the pro’s doorstep at TPC Las Vegas — a regular PGA Tour stop — I closed out my trip with a rare opportunity to play one of the true gems of the golf world: the once-exclusive Southshore Golf Club.
In 2007, a round at Southshore was available only to the club’s small cadre of exclusive members, who would fly the Gulfstream into Vegas and take a short limo ride into the gated community before retiring for a night of champagne and caviar in your private desert hacienda. But the global recession has taken a devastating toll on the area: two other nearby courses have been shuttered; epic villas that once commanded high seven-figure sums can now be purchased from desperate foreclosure agents for the price of a Toronto-area bungalow; and, to the consternation of some original members, the $175,000 initiation fee is now non-existent and anyone willing to pay $150 can enjoy one of the greatest courses I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.
The real payoff at Southshore comes in its final three holes. Standing on the pro tips at the 17th hole, I looked down at the desert gorge separating the par-three 16th from tee-box to green. Laid out ahead of me were the 17th’s four tee boxes, each its own tiny island of green surrounded by the jagged brown rocks of the desert mountain. Above in the distance I could make out the 18th tee nestled between a rock wall on the right and a sheer cliff face on the left giving way to a breathtaking view of Lake Las Vegas below. Collectively, these three holes may well be the most dramatic back-to-back-to-back challenge in all of golf. After sacrificing a sleeve or two of balls to the canyon gods, I returned to the clubhouse in awe.
Although some lawyers might debate this point, a traveller cannot live on golf alone. Because this was Vegas, names have been omitted to protect the guilty and all my fellow golfers contributed modest retainers to afford themselves the safety of solicitor-client confidentiality. That said, I can confirm that our trip also included:
- Chatting at our hotel with Calgary Flames star Jarome Iginla about the ongoing NHL playoffs (“I’m happy so long as Vancouver loses”);
- Taking in the Cirque Du Soleil show Ka, which has been at the MGM Grand since 2005 and still impresses with its mammoth rotating stage packed with dozens of acrobatic performers — though it loses a bit of steam during its more melancholy transitions; and
- Dinner at Tao Las Vegas, where, while seated at the base of the towering two-story Buddha, I inhaled a diverse selection of expertly prepared sushi and Japanese dishes including spicy tuna tartar and satay of Chilean sea bass. I closed off the meal by sharing the giant speciality fortune cookie — a full-plate decadent monstrosity stuffed with chocolate and vanilla mousse and a provocative fortune for each member of my foursome.
The proximity, diversity and quality of everything Las Vegas has to offer make it an easy Crime Traveller– approved destination. Start your weekend early with a Thursday departure and you can be back at your desk by Monday. Just pack an extra sleeve of balls, sleep only on the plane, and burn the fortune cookie slips.