Tony’s Test Drives
One in a series of occasional reviews of courses, equipment or products by our traveling golf writer and host of the GolfTalk Live radio show.
By Tony Leodora
Play the word association game.
Nevada – Las Vegas
Golf in Las Vegas – great quality but very expensive
Great golf at a more affordable price in Nevada – Mesquite
That’s right. Those who come across golf in the Mesquite area of Nevada will find it to be an emerging golf destination that makes an immediate impact. In fact, first-timers liken the golf experience to “striking it rich.”
Located in the northeastern corner of Nevada, close to both the Arizona and Utah state lines, Mesquite is quickly becoming a favorite stop for visitors who are looking for a pure golf experience.
With a few casinos that are much smaller than the grandiose palaces found in abundance in Las Vegas, Mesquite is known to some as “Las Vegas Light”. But there is absolutely nothing “light” about the quality of the golf courses to be found in the area. They range from very good to outstanding.
“Getting the word out about the golf we have in this area has been a major project in recent years,” explains Cody Law, executive director of Golf Mesquite, a cooperative effort between golf courses and hotel/casinos to market the area. “We now feel we have a product that can compete on a national level with other golf destinations and we are trying to reach golfers across the United States and Canada.”
Just over a one-hour drive north on I-15 from the Las Vegas airport, Mesquite is easily accessible from just about everywhere. Flights into Las Vegas are reasonable, as are costs for the rest of the trip. The golf courses, of equal quality to the courses in the immediate Las Vegas area, are available at about half the price. So are the hotels. And the restaurant prices in the Mesquite area are about as reasonable as can be found anywhere.
For those reasons, Mesquite was chosen as the site for the 17th Freedom Trail Challenge, an amateur competition that has visited sites across the United States and overseas. Not a single member of the experienced group of golf travelers was disappointed with the choice. In fact, to a man, they were greatly surprised with the quality to be found in all aspects of the trip.
The hotel was the Eureka Casino and Hotel, a medium-sized facility that offered extremely clean and fresh décor, large rooms, a nice outdoor pool and Jacuzzi area and a relaxing spa.
Immediately next door to the hotel was the casino that offered great breakfasts every morning (either buffet or off the menu), a fabulous seafood buffet on Friday night, and the award-winning Gregory’s Mesquite Grille – a steakhouse of the highest quality, but not at killer prices.
The hotel and casino proved to be a nice extra but the Freedom Trail Challenge group, and most of the groups that come to Mesquite, are there for the golf.
One group, also staying in the Eureka Hotel, was from the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area. They have been coming to Mesquite annually for 10 years. When quizzed about their apparent golf addiction to Mesquite, one of the players said, “Shhhh. Don’t tell anybody about this place. It is the best kept secret in America.”
The Freedom Trail Challenge group played five rounds of golf on four golf courses. It proved to be a good mixture of variety and convenience. Two of the courses were part of the Oasis GC complex – 36 holes of championship golf and an excellent clubhouse/restaurant.
Oasis Palmer – Built in 1994 and designed by Arnold Palmer, the course hosted a PGA Tour event in the first year it opened. It also hosted “The Big Break Mesquite” television series on the Golf Channel. In the years since, it has matured into the consummate members’ club … as well as a friendly stop for visitors to the area.
Palmer made excellent use of the natural elevation changes in the area – using bluffs and rock outcroppings as tee sites that afford 100-foot drops to the fairways and greens below.
The course has five sets of tees – ranging from 4,226 yards to 6,468 yards – which affords enough flexibility for a comfortable round of golf for all levels of players. Highlight of the course is Hole 6, the short par 4 that doglegs slightly left and places a green in a magnificent setting that is surrounded by rock cliffs. The green complex is cathedral-like, and No. 6 is Palmer’s favorite hole on the course.
Oasis Canyons – This course came about in stages, completed seven years after the first course opened. The first nine was built by the Palmer construction group. The second nine was built by a local company. Amazingly, it matches very well the style of the original course and provides a perfect complement.
True to its name, the Canyons Course also has plenty of elevation change … and some of the most magnificent views to be found on any golf course.
The most memorable hole was probably No. 9, a 175-yard par 3 from the back tee, with at least a 100-foot drop from tee to green. The views of the surrounding mesas, smaller mountains and the huge Virgin Mountains in the background can cause traffic jams with the golfers who find it hard to move on to the next hole.
Coyote Springs GC – This Jack Nicklaus signature course is the perfect course to play on the way to or from Mesquite. It sits in the middle of a very desolate area, about 45 minutes from the Las Vegas airport. The golf course is the only thing in sight for miles – unless you count the most abundant residents of the area, coyotes and roadrunners.
The course was part of a planned major community that has yet to be completed, due to the economic recession that hit in 2008. However, nothing has been spared on the golf course. Amazing water features – a series of connected ponds and waterfalls – bring beauty to a site that was originally desolate desert.
Nicklaus provided extremely generous landing areas off the tee throughout the course … but don’t think that makes it a pushover. Par is defended once golfers reach the extremely undulating greens – a trademark of many Nicklaus designs in recent years.
Sand Hollow GC – The one day the group decided to make a trek out of the immediate Mesquite area proved to be the highlight of the entire trip. John Fought, a native of Utah, designed Sand Hollow GC in Hurricane, Utah – about a 50-minute drive from Mesquite.
The drive, north on I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge, proved to be the perfect preliminary to playing an outstanding golf course. Winding through canyons with seemingly artistic rock formations towering above the highway proved to be, as one player termed it, “a religious experience.”
Once arriving at Sand Hollow, eyes popped at the beauty to be seen. Emerald fairways are accented by fiery red sand bunkers – with the mountains of Zion National Park looming in the background.
The front nine is more of a parkland layout, with a gentle roll to it. The back nine is a step into one of the most dramatic settings in golf. The holes wrap around the side of a mountain, with ledges looming above huge ravines.
The black tees are a hearty 7,315 yards, with a slope of 137 and a rating of 73.7. The blue tees play to 6,893 yards and the whites are 6,462. There are red tees at 5,306 yards. The elevation and thinner air allow the course to play a bit shorter and the generous tee shot landing areas allow the golfer to attack the course.
The emerald green fairways are offset by the red-colored powdery sand in the bunkers. It is a look no golfer will ever forget.
In fact, the entire trip was unforgettable. Jim McCalmont, a Golfweek Top 100 Course rater, may have put it best when he said, “I didn’t know much about golf in the Mesquite area before this trip, but I guarantee that I will be back.”