Once the preserve of the limited few, Shadow Creek can now be shared. You’ll need a few dollars, but you’ll start your journey as a guest of the MGM Mirage™ Resort and they’ll rest you overnight in one of their suites and after breakfast you’ll be taken by stretch limo to the course where your caddy will be waiting for you. Sounds yummy eh? Well, we are now frantically saving up.
Shadow Creek opened for play in 1989 and Tom Fazio & Andy Banfield sculptured it out of the rugged Nevada desert. It’s set in the most breathtaking location with the majestic mountains as the backdrop and seeing really is believing. With Bermuda grass summer fairways and winter rye, the playing surfaces are quite stunning throughout the year.
Words don’t do Shadow Creek justice. “Shadow Creek may be the most spectacular golf course this side of heaven” is how the course is lauded in the marketing material. But more importantly, we’d love to hear what you think about the whole Shadow Creek experience.
What many people fail to understand about Shadow Creek is that the primary storyline on the course is how it came into being and how when you visit you're serviced like a top tier VIP when going there. The grand vision of the original owner Steve Wynn was truly brilliant -- create a desert oasis on non-descript land and tie that to his various properties for marketing purposes. It helped that Wynn hired Tom Fazio -- the master at creating visual treats -- to create the poster child course symbolizing the impact of eye-candy design.
Shadow Creek is golf's version of Xanadu. The desire to showcase a property that exists totally in the desert and is transformed to become a North Carolina vista with streams and trees galore is clearly in the Wizard of Oz production.
The hype surrounding Shadow Creek was like nothing ever seen in golf. The resulting publicity even had Golf Digest rate the course not long after it opened as one of the ten best courses in America. Hard to envision but the people who should know better simply had developed a form of paralyzing amnesia because the never ending hype machine had so brainwashed them to reaffirm what they heard.
Fazio is a gifted architect and he has designed numerous other courses -- several of which are quite good yet will never remotely engender the kind of hype that Shadow Creek still creates.
Wynn no longer owns the course and the aura from his days as owner have ebbed slightly.
Shadow Creek is a testament of man's desire to build something on the grandest of scales. The pyramids of golf. How appropriate such a course would reside in the most fantasy related communities such as Las Vegas. Hats off to Wynn and Fazio because while the design is good the essence of Shadow Creek is pushing the envelope beyond anything previously seen. Amazingly, other courses since Shadow Creek have done their part to do likewise. All have not been successes and all have not been failures. But generally -- all have been prohibitively expensive and clearly showed a side of golf that can be a turnoff to many. Someone from outside the USA once told me America could be described in just one word. I was dumbfounded and asked what it is. His reply -- more. Shadow Creek personifies the "more" calculation. Just realize that just because something is "more" does not mean it is better.
by M. James Ward
Many courses have been built in the desert and are great golf courses. They use the natural features of the land, have fairways only where necessary and create mostly a 'target' golf environment. What makes Shadow Creek so unique is that they built a non-desert course in the desert. If someone brought you to Shadow Creek blind-folded and you had to guess where you were you could easily guess the Pacific Northwest or the Carolina Pines.
The course is surrounded by a big black wrought iron fence in a 360-acre area. The clubhouse is a decidedly understated affair, and Shadow Creek is not about glitz. You are given a golf cart and assigned a caddy. Since the temperature is normally around 100 degrees, a golf cart is a good idea. The course is beautifully laid out and challenging. The mountains in the background create a dramatic backdrop. There are pheasants running loose throughout the course and they are a nice touch, if a bit surreal. The back nine has some really nice holes and water is artfully worked into the design. The creek that runs along the fifteenth is quite serene.
My advice is to play Shadow Creek while it still exits. Building this type of course in the middle of the desert is madness making it most unlikely that the course will be able to celebrate its centenary in 2089.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Unfortunately, we had a cloudy day at Shadow Creek, so the shadows that are a large part of the design were not in play. Larry, Jeff and I were picked up by the limo at 10 a.m. Yeah baby! All three of us were greeted by name as we stepped out of the limo at Shadow Creek. We entered the elegant clubhouse, were assigned lockers labeled with celebrity names, and we were off to the practice area. The practice area should not be confused with a driving range. It is divided by stands of trees into areas that hold four people each, so your group can practice in privacy. (God forbid that Michael Jordan should look over and see us.) Everyone hits to the same set of targets. What a concept. We had an 11.30 tee time but were told we could go whenever we were ready. There was one foursome out on the course, and a pair of twosomes scheduled to play around lunchtime. We checked the scorecard to determine which tees we were going to play. There were only two choices: 7,239 yards and 6,701 yards (women have it tough here). It was an easy choice for us, and we were off on our adventure…
Let me describe for you three of Shadow Creek’s par 3s. Number 5 was the first par 3 we encountered: 170 yards across a pine-tree-filled abyss. In fact the hole is called “The Abyss.” As they dug the Abyss, Steve Wynn kept saying “deeper, deeper” until they were 66 feet deep, with a tee box on one side and the green on the other. The Abyss is filled with mature pine trees. As I stood on the tee box, I could see the green on the opposite hillside surrounded by pine trees – not exactly a typical desert setting.
Number 8 looks like it belongs at Augusta National. Steve Wynn calls it “Shangri-La,” inspired by the secret hideaway in the book Lost Horizon. Completely isolated from the rest of the course, the garden hole is 150 yards and filled with thousands of exotic flowers. You enter and leave it via entrance and exit tunnels. The experience is like walking into a painting. Shangri-La was one of the many surprises along the way.
Number 17 would be a signature hole on any golf course, but at Shadow Creek it is one of many signature holes. The 130-yard par-3 hole plays from a ridge 30 feet above the very small putting surface. It is framed at the back by a massive waterfall cascading into a creek that drains into a lake in front of the green. Just close your eyes and imagine that for a moment. This particular creek was called Michael’s Creek, named for Steve Wynn’s father, and had a plaque to identify it. One of the first actions of the new owners was to remove the plaque and change the name of the creek. (It must have been a very friendly sale. Not!)…
Shadow Creek is a wonderland. I know $500 is a lot of money, but not in Vegas economics, where people lose more than that in the casino in minutes. It was well worth the cost. Larry Berle.
This course is a fantastic marvel of golf course construction. It was modified two years ago by Fazio himself and he took out three thousand trees from the original thirty thousand that were put in, to let the greens breathe a little. Put in few more bunkers and added a third set of tees. The course is now 7560 from the backs, 7102 from the middles and 6626 from the front. We decided to start on the backs. The first two were ok but the third off the backs is a 486 yard par four stroke index one. Time to revert to the more normal middle tees where it is just a mere 471!.After starting with a par on the first by holing a 25 footer I realised that these were the fastest greens I have played on. I don’t intend describing every hole as I would be here all day but the creek flows beautifully around the course from a pond high up to the pond in front of the 17th. It is then pumped up via underground pipes again to the top.
The greens, fairways and bunkers were all in perfect condition. They drench the course every morning just before sunrise and in some areas there is standing water believe it or not. The watering bill for this place is $1.5m per annum! It is the trees and views though and the contouring that stand out most. Sometimes you think that you are in Scotland amongst the Pines especially on the 5th which is a par three across a valley full of pines to an elevated green. The signature hole on the front nine is the fourth with the creek on the left and a weeping willow at the star of a pond. It is very similar to the thirteenth at Augusta. The eighth was designed by Steve Wynn the original tycoon owner. A par three of great beauty accessed and departed via a tunnel the buggy goes through. Fazio insisted on this as he wanted visitors to know this was not his hole! Reputation stands for a lot here. Another factor that Fazio took into account quite brilliantly is the view of the mountains. You can see nothing of the outside world from the course and the mountains provide a perfect backdrop on most of the holes.
After nine you take a break in the clubhouse and get a snack from the complimentary bar whilst the caddie stocks up with more iced water and towels. You can ring ahead for food from a red London telephone kiosk on the course. A nice feature you would not expect. The back nine is tougher although shorter. The seventeenth really is golf from heaven. It is the most beautiful hole I have ever played and you really do have to pinch yourself to remind you that you are in the desert. I thought the photos on the web site would be touched up to show the course at its best. Believe me they are not, it really is that green.
I play off ten and didn’t three putt once thanks to excellent reads by the caddie, and I managed to get around in under 100. It is US Open style rough at times. Five yards off the fairway and you are in knee high grass, tough but good. Greens were up to near 14 by the end, crazy fast. Back to the clubhouse and the showers that include a dressing gown for the walk back to the locker room. The locker room with lockers for two ex US Presidents, Bush Snr and Clinton, plus Mickelson, Crenshaw, Oscar De La Hoya, Stallone and one simply labelled Tiger. Dustin Johnson had just broken the course record from the back tees the Tuesday after his USPGA debacle, an amazing 65 shots for 7,560 yards. All in all a fantastic experience I will never forget on a course that simply should not exist. Will it still be there in ten years time with Las Vegas running out of water? I would go and play whilst you can the price is similar to Muirfield at full price with a caddy anyway. Not the history but marvel at the course design and construction in truly millionaire surroundings. Play it and sod the cost! AW