I have been a regular visitor to Las Vegas for forty plus years. I marveled at the pace of mega golf development over the years, yet much of the golf present is on the functional side of things from a design perspective. There are exceptions to that but you can likely count them on one hand. The high-end Vegas golf scene is centered on the pampering and utter detail to customer service. People who want top shelf attention can certainly get it in Vegas. The script is a simple one -- get the customer what he or she wants -- before they want it -- and make sure you exceed expectations.
Cascata was created in the aftermath of the success of Shadow Creek. Then owner Steve Wynn smartly understood that taking care of the highest of high rollers meant giving them a golf diversion second to none. In Vegas -- replication is the sincerest form of flattery and MGM -- the folks behind Cascata at its inception -- wanted to have something to rival what Wynn was doing. Ironically, it is now MGM which owns Shadow Creek and Harrahs which owns both Cascata and Rio Seco.
440 acres of land was found about 30 minutes south of The Strip in the town of Boulder City. The course is built literally on a hillside which provides views of the western landscape. Befitting the theme Cascata -- which is Italian for waterfall -- provides a 37,000 square-foot Tuscan clubhouse that features a waterfall that starts at the highest portion of the property and eventually is routed through the confines of the clubhouse. The water rushing through provides a thunderous roar and is truly spectacular. To make the day even more complete you get a personalized caddie who is there to take care of your golfing needs. This isn't the gum-smacking or cigarette chain smoking looper. You get someone who is essentially your butler on the course.
Naturally, when you have top shelf service you also get top tier conditioning. Cascata rivals -- and likely exceeds -- most clubs on the agronomy side of things. The greens are cut and rolled and if you don't develop a sense of speed control at the outset you'll likely be three-putting several times for sure.
The course climbs up and down the hillside where it's routed. The issue quickly becomes one of shot distortion. The uphill holes become predictably harder than the ones going downhill. Rees Jones is a skilled architect and I have played numerous other designs he has created and Cascata fails to break new ground or provide something beyond what he's done previously.
The overriding theme for Cascata is about taking care of the customer and providing an oasis setting that goes far beyond a typical golf experience. Candidly, if people were truthful and had all the extras removed and were forced to just look at the course itself it's more than likely they would see things far differently. The architecture is good in spots but simply empty in others. Shadow Creek is still the top dog when it comes to providing a design on par with the service and amenities provided.
Naturally, the costs to play at Cascata is not a cheap ticket but for those enamored with high end servicing the costs are a much lower concern. However, for those who are golf design aficionados you'll likely come away wondering why the architecture is just so predictable. The hardest part in working in stark desert terrain is providing golf that doesn't look superimposed on the land -- Cascata is an example of man's hand being too big an element in the final creation. One can play quality desert courses such as Coyote Springs and Conestoga in nearby Mesquite which are both well done and far less expensive to play.
As I said at the outset -- Vegas golf is about the customer -- taking care of them to the max. Cascata does not disappoint from the customer service side and there are many people who view customer service and course grooming as being equals or more so to when the actual architecture is assessed. While I certainly appreciate the former -- it is the latter which gets my immediate attention and higher priority.
Cascata is the equivalent of many modern movies today -- give the paying viewer plenty of car chases and explosions but no real character development or storyline. Cascata provides a first rate show -- the depth side of the aisle is what's missing. When you finish playing Cascata you'll relish the attention to detail on the customer service side -- but you'll be scratching your head in trying to remember the holes you just played.
by M. James Ward
Date: May 10, 2017