Category: Las Vegas

July 16, 2013

Muirfield for the Masses: Royal Links and The Tribute

Posted at 8:19 PM by Joe Passov

The 9th hole at Royal Links in Las Vegas (right) mirrors the 5th hole at Muirfield. Credits: Getty (left), Walters Golf 

The obstacles to playing Muirfield are daunting.

Start with a flight to Scotland and finish with the club's notorious exclusivity. Visitor times are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they're quite limited. You'll likely have to book a year out, and you may have to play foursomes as well, an alternate-shot format that's seen in the Ryder Cup, but not much at U.S. courses.

For those seeking a more feasible taste of Muirfield, two courses will satisfy, Royal Links ( and The Tribute. Dozens of replica, homage and faux-links courses are scattered across the U.S., but by my count, only these two deliver Muirfield holes.

Royal Links, a Walters Golf facility in Las Vegas, is a favorite of mine. Sure, you can roll your eyes about the entire concept of "Scotland in the Desert," but at many times of year, it works perfectly. Just ask David Feherty, who once told me, "Royal Links -- you go out there and if you close your eyes and forget that you really came here for the slot machines -- you can really believe that on a cool day, maybe that you're floating around in Scotland. I mean, hell, they've got pirates, they've got the Eiffel Tower, they've got the pyramids. Why the hell shouldn't you be in Scotland, and if you're in Scotland, you should be on a golf course."

True, the softer, more lush conditions and the high heat that defines summer in Sin City make the experience slightly less authentic, and the pine trees are more Rocky Mountains than Scottish links, but so what. The Royal Links experience is superb -- great fun in every way -- especially when you start with the only-in-Vegas, castle-like clubhouse. They pour Guinness and Newcastle at Stymie's Pub, to accompany the fish and chips, bangers and other across-the-pond favorites (though truth be told, they feature the best hot dog in the business, with awesome home-made chips -- crisps for those of you from the U.K.).

Still, you came to experience Muirfield and that's what you'll do at No. 9. Inspired by the par-5 5th at Muirfield, Royal Links' 9th is beautifully rendered. The back tee distance of 567 yards is nearly identical to Muirfield's 559, and the bunker strategies, shapes and placement compare favorably. Humps and hollows check out, as does the two-tier green.

My most recent Royal Links visit was in late March, on a cool, breezy, overcast day with a hint of raindrops. The ninth hole couldn't have looked any more Scottish. Muirfield's 5th is actually the least celebrated of its three par 5s, so it was an interesting pick for owner Bill Walters and designer Perry Dye, but it's a spirited risk/reward hole -- on both sides of the pond.

The second U.S. public course that serves up a plate full of Muirfield is The Tribute (, a Tripp Davis design in the northern suburbs of Dallas. As with Las Vegas, the wind is a frequent, if nearly constant factor here, so it's easy to envision playing links-style golf if ground conditions permit it. For the most part, The Tribute lives up to its billing.

The first hole mirrors the opener at St. Andrews' Old Course and does a great job as impressions go. So do a slew of other holes. As with Vegas, The Tribute can lack Old World authenticity when it's too hot and soft, but overall, especially with the vast and very visible Lake Lewisville factoring in, this is faux-links fun at its finest.

The Tribute dishes out a double dose of Muirfield. Its 9th hole mirrors Muirfield's 9th, both outstanding par 5s, replete with a long, low stone wall down the fairway's left side, exquisitely placed bunkers and native fescue grasses awaiting the errant shot. One difference: Muirfield built a new back tee for 2013, so the hole now plays 554 yards. The Tribute's is 505.

Hole No. 14 at The Tribute mimics one of the world's great par 3s, Muirfield's 13th. Yardage is similar, 201 yards, to Muirfield's 190, and so is the long, narrow green. Most impactful are the gaping bunkers that frame either side of the green.

If a round at Muirfield isn't in the cards anytime soon, don't despair. Royal Links and The Tribute are worthy alternatives.

April 20, 2013

Course Spy: Is Wynn Las Vegas worth $500?

Posted at 11:16 AM by Joe Passov

Location, location, location. The Wynn is the only golf resort on the Strip, so our hungover spy staying at the eponymous property was thrilled to find the pro shop just steps from the luxe lobby. Once there, it was a quick shoeshine before clean-cut attendants led him to his cart.

Pace of Play
March is high season in Sin City, but the fairways were far from clogged this Saturday morning. (Hey, $500 green fees screen out the low-rollers.) A topnotch caddie kept the pace to four hours and change, shared gossipy mini-tour tales and read almost every putt perfectly.

The dual vision of Steve Wynn and Tom Fazio, the 7,042-yard, par-70 track may be compact, but it packs more fun and drama than a Cirque du Soleil show. Holes are framed by thousands of pines and shrubs, and narrow landing areas off the tee make it a thinking-golfer's course.

While dropping half a grand on golf would make Suze Orman's head spin, chances are you came to Vegas willing to stimulate the economy, so when in Rome … Bonus: A chipping lesson from our caddie on the par-3 15th ("more arms, less wrist") was still paying off weeks later!

If you can afford the splurge, give yourself a lasting Vegas memory and tee it up. Also, play has been opened to non-resort guests, giving you the option to stay at a cheaper property and still enjoy this excellent, well-conditioned course. So for wallet watchers, it's a win-Wynn!

Wynn Golf Club
Las Vegas, Nev.
7,042 yards, par 70
Green fees: $500

(Photo: John and Jeannine Henebry)

February 12, 2011

Travelin' Joe's Wish List: Top Five Values in Las Vegas

Posted at 4:51 PM by Joe Passov

Angelpark My favorite times to steal away to Las Vegas are Thursdays through Sundays in mid to late March, when you can enjoy the casinos, college hoops, and golf. But you'll need luck at the tables to enjoy places like Shadow Creek or Cascata, where fees run to $500 a round. Here are my picks for the best golf values in Sin City.

1. Angel Park Golf Club (Mountain Course) sports ample fairways, handsome views of Red Rock Canyon and a quality set of par 5s, but it's the pro shop, food and lighted golf—putting course, par-3 course and practice range—that elevate the value quotient. $99; 702-254-4653,

2. Boulder Creek Golf Club trots out 27 holes laced with arroyos, lakes and beach bunkers, and the reasonable green fees make it well worth the 20-mile ride southeast from the Strip. Regular fees are $110, but non-residents will fork over just $90 after 11 a.m., $60 after 1 p.m. 702-294-6534,

3. Las Vegas National isn't great, but it is great fun, thanks to its hip history, stellar location and pipsqueak prices. The Rat Pack used to roam these parts, and the course was part of the rota when Tiger Woods captured his first Tour win back in 1996. It's $99 before noon, $40-$69 after noon, and less than a $10 cab ride from the Strip. 866-695-1961,

4. Desert Pines Golf Club manages to cram a ton of golf into a smallish parcel, testing players with mounds, lakes and 4,000 pines. The $99-$179 rack rates might sound high, but a pre-pay option and numerous Internet specials can slash 30 to 50 percent off the posted fees. 888-427-6678,

5. Wildhorse Golf Club is the sixth name to grace this 53-year-old layout, which played host to the PGA Tour from 1970-1972. But hey, good value is a constant. Redesigned by Schmidt-Curley in 2004, this 6,525-yard, par-70 muni is only 15 minutes from the Strip, in Henderson. $56-$108; 702-434-9000,

More on Las Vegas: Golf Guide | Perfect Weekend | Best Public Courses

(Photo: Dick Durrance/Angel Park Golf Club)

October 24, 2009

Ask Travelin Joe: Louisiana's Audubon Golf Trail and Las Vegas

Posted at 3:46 PM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Hi Joe,
We've played part of the RTJ Golf Trail in Alabama, and loved it. Which courses would you recommend from the Audubon Golf Trail in Louisiana?

Mark Skipper,
Cedar Park, Texas

Make Gray Plantation ($50-$65; 337-562-1663, in Lake Charles your first stop. The Rocky Roquemore layout is a top value, especially during the week, when you can play this well-bunkered test that skirts the Calcasieu River for $50.

Near the heart of the city is the short but affordable Audubon Park Golf Course ($30-$40; 504-861-2537,, a par-62 track.

Fifteen minutes from downtown is the TPC Louisiana ($110-$169; 866-NOLA-TPC,, a flat, 7,500-yard Pete Dye design that hosts a PGA Tour event, but at twilight can be played for less than $100.

Dear Joe,
I'm going to Vegas next month and would like to play an affordable course within a short cab drive of the Strip. What do you think is the best bargain in Sin City?

Chad Hartman,
via e-mail

Thanks to the stagnant economy and a dearth of giddy gamblers, Las Vegas is awash with ever-changing golf deals right now. (See, the recession isn't all bad!) Of the fistful of solid second-tier courses, I think The Legacy Golf Club ($75-$119; 702-897-2187, in Henderson meets your criteria. This burly but playable 7,233-yard, par-72 Arthur Hills design is lined with houses, but mountain and desert vistas, quality service and facilities and a memorable stretch of holes (Nos. 10-13) are highlights. Plus, it's only a 15- to 25-minute ride from the Strip, and even closer to the airport.

September 17, 2009

Ask Travelin' Joe: Chicago, Washington D.C. and Las Vegas

Posted at 11:07 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Hey Joe,
A group of 8 of us are going to Chicago on the September 19 weekend. We were looking into a golf course to play that Saturday morning but haven't made up our minds yet. I was wondering if you could give me some suggestions as to where we should try. My criteria would be: public, $100 or less, relatively close proximity to Chicago because we won't have our own vehicles. Our handicaps range from 2 to 20. We want to play something quality and memorable.

Jordan Lund

Jordan, it would take Solomon's wisdom to find a perfect answer here, but you're stuck with Travelin' Joe, so we'll forge ahead with compromises. The Glen Club (847-724-7272, almost fits your bill. It's only 15 miles north of O'Hare, it serves up a handsome, tournament-tested Tom Fazio design and it's got all the service bells and whistles you could ask for. Unfortunately, they're asking $175 to play on a September Saturday.

Continue reading "Ask Travelin' Joe: Chicago, Washington D.C. and Las Vegas" »

May 20, 2009

The Vegas Experience

Posted at 11:53 AM by

If you've been to Las Vegas share your experience with us here in the Trips Blog. Tell readers like you about the golf courses, hotels and nightlife in Las Vegas. Need help planning your trip? Visit our Vegas guide here.

January 08, 2009

Ask Joe: Las Vegas, Orlando and Portugal

Posted at 11:30 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Dear Joe,
I’m going to Las Vegas in January and wanted to get a round in. I live in Tennessee but really like desert courses. Wolf Creek in Mesquite seems like a good alternative, but it seems like a hike from Vegas. I know you’ve been asked a million times, but let me know your thoughts.

Brock Sturdivant

You’re right — I get asked this a lot — and for golf in the raw desert, I’ve been recommending Badlands ($70-$150; 702-363-0754,, a 27-hole Johnny Miller target course that merges the spectacular with the unplayable and Rio Secco ($115-$225; 702-889-2400,, a Rees Jones design with holes that plunge through scrub-filled canyons. Also, watch for glimpses of Natalie Gulbis on the lesson tee with Butch Harmon.

Two other worthy choices are any of the three Pete Dye courses at Las Vegas Paiute Resort ($79-$159;, 800-711-2833) and The Chase at PGA Golf Club Coyote Springs ($140;, 877-PGA-VILL). Both require 45- to 55-minute drives from the Strip through barren desert. I like the Wolf course at Paiute, though I don’t know that it’s $30 better than its siblings. The good news is that each is under $100 after 12 noon. The Chase is a superb new Jack Nicklaus track that earned a No. 4 ranking in our 2008 Top 10 New Courses You Can Play. It’s worth the drive.

Hi Joe,
I’m looking for a couple of easy courses in the Orlando, Florida area. I don’t want to pay good money and have a bad score. My handicap is 18.

Steve Smith
Via email

Since most of us equate “easy” with “boring,” what I’m guessing you’re looking for are some fun, interesting layouts that won’t beat the stuffing out of you.

Two that I have in mind are MetroWest Golf Club ($80-$129;, 407-299-1099) and Hawk’s Landing Golf Club ($169;, 800-567-2623). From the tips, MetroWest actually is far from easy, but this 1987 Robert Trent Jones Sr. creation is traditional golf, with no gimmicks. There are elevated greens and bunkers galore, yet plenty of fairway room and only a handful of lakes make it playable for all. The 6,104-yard middle tees (the tips go 7,051 yards) check in at a comfortable 68.8 rating and 123 slope.

Hawk’s Landing is a Bob Cupp redesign of a mid-‘80s Joe Lee course that stretches only 6,600 yards, with a slope of 131, and features shorter tees of 6,165/5,601/4,746 yards. It’s pricey, but couldn’t be more centrally located, right at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort.

Dear Joe,
I’ll be in Lisbon, Portugal and I’m looking for courses to play. I have two days set aside for golf. Would you have any suggestions and contact numbers?

Dave Oravets
Via email

Absolutely worth the splurge is Oitavos Dunes (60-150 Euros--$75-$195;, 011-351-214860600), 20 minutes from Lisbon in Cascais, on the Estoril Coast. With holes edged by umbrella pines and scrub-covered dunes, this Arthur Hills-designed seaside layout is annual host to the European Tour’s Portuguese Open.

A shorter, hillier, more traditional parkland test is Golf do Estoril (65-71 Euros--$85-$95;, 011-351-289300680), one of Portugal’s oldest courses, a semi-private club that’s affiliated with the Palacio Estoril Hotel.    

December 04, 2008

Ask Travelin' Joe: Las Vegas, Alabama and Scottsdale

Posted at 12:59 PM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Travelin' Joe,
I'm headed to Vegas with friends for a quick weekend golf trip in December. We're scheduled to play at Revere and Badlands. We'll try to get in 36 in a day. Any thoughts on these courses?

Thomas Jones, Esq.
Washington, D.C.

Counselor, I'm advising that you sample those two venues on different days. Sunrise in Las Vegas on say, December 10, is 6:41 a.m., sunset at 4:26 p.m. and the two courses are a good half-hour apart, so it's not going to be easy doubling up. If you stay at the same property, different story. The Revere Golf Club has two Billy Casper/Greg Nash courses, the Lexington and the Concord, the latter the newer and less expensive of the two. Lexington is the slightly stronger product, but they're both good plays. I wrote about Badlands ($70-$150; 702-363-0754, in this spot a couple of weeks back, calling it "a 27-hole Johnny Miller desert target design that has plenty of quirky touches and a nice 'wow' factor." I haven't changed my mind.

Dear Joe,
I'm looking at property at Kiva Dunes, Alabama. I found a great value down there. I'm attracted because of its location and its challenging golf course. Can you tell me where does Kiva Dunes Golf Club rank in 2008?

Michelle Murray
Atlanta, Ga.

Kiva Dunes Golf Club ($72-$92; 251-540-7000, is a 1995 Jerry Pate design in Gulf Shores, 45 miles west of Pensacola that darts through wind-sculpted dunes along the Gulf of Mexico. It rates among the best in the state from every publication that ranks courses. At GOLF Magazine, it charted as the third-best public course in Alabama in our 2008 rankings that were published in September. Best reason to buy? Property owners pay only $50-$55 to play.

Hey Joe,
My family is taking a trip to see friends in Scottsdale over Christmas. I am planning on playing a couple of times. I'm looking for a couple of somewhat affordable courses and one high-end course. Are there some lower priced courses that you would recommend in the general vicinity, and if you could pick only one course to play out there, what would it be? Thanks for the info.

Matt Moore
Stillwater, N.Y.

Scottsdale is a legitimate golf mecca, but not for bargain hunters. Remember, too, that rates rise after the first of the year at many area courses, so try to tee off before the calendar changes.

That said, since you've come from New York, you should get a taste of desert golf. Start at Mountain Shadows Golf Club ($25-$49;, 480-905-8999), a lush, tight, par-56 executive track that's under $30 to ride most afternoons and features in-your-face views of Camelback Mountain.

Head next to the Sanctuary Golf Course at WestWorld ($71-$99;, 480-502-8200), an Audubon-certified desert target design from Randy Heckenkemper that juniors can walk for $31. You can ride after 2 p.m. for $45 and can walk during the week for $71.

Finally, splurge at We-Ko-Pa's Saguaro course ($145-$180;, 480-836-9000), a very walkable Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw creation just east of Scottsdale that has no homes or roads — just wide fairways, strategic bunkering, cleverly contoured greens and unobstructed cactus and mountain vistas everywhere you look.

November 13, 2008

Ask Travelin' Joe: Las Vegas, Phoenix and Orlando's best

Posted at 11:45 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Hi Joe,
I'm heading to Las Vegas in November and I'd like to know what you recommend for a true "desert golf" experience. I want to play a type of course I can't get here in Georgia. I'm even willing to drive up to Mesquite while I'm there.

Paul Allmon
Atlanta, Ga.

Hey, this is Vegas-you can get anything your heart (or wallet) desires here. If you're willing to splurge, you'll be captivated by the back nine at Butch Harmon's haunt, Rio Secco ($115-$225; 702-889-2400,, where the holes dip into and out of scrub-filled canyons. A worthy alternative is the Badlands ($70-$150); 702-363-0754,, a 27-hole Johnny Miller desert target design that has plenty of quirky touches and a nice "wow" factor.

Hey Joe,
I'm headed to Phoenix with my wife in December and want to play somewhere scenic, but one that won't beat us up, if you know what I mean.

George Kent
Richmond, Va.

Say "Hi" if you see me strolling the fairways of my hometown! Try any of the three nines at The Phoenician ($115-$175; 480-423-2449, The Oasis loop offers a touch of Florida thanks to the landscaping and lakes, while the Desert and Canyon nines embrace cactus and mountain themes. All three nines are pretty short but eye-catching.

Hi Joe,
I'm a Spanish pro and going to Orlando next winter. Which are, in your opinion, the top 10 golf courses to play in Orlando?

Mario Fernandez Cobo

Travelin' Joe hasn't played them all, but taking in the feedback I've received, plus my own subjective whims, here's your Orlando area Top 10.

1. Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club, Orlando (private-resort)
2. Sugarloaf Mountain Golf & Town Club, Clermont (private-resort)
3. Southern Dunes, Haines City (public)
4. Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, Orlando (private)
5. Isleworth Country Club, Windermere (private)
6. Ginn Reunion Resort (Independence), Orlando (private-resort)
7. Grand Cypress Golf Club (New), Orlando (public-resort)
8. Walt Disney World (Osprey Ridge), Lake Buena Vista (public-resort)
9. Orange County National (Panther Lake), Winter Garden (public-resort)
10. Orange County National (Crooked Cat), Winter Garden (public-resort)

Many private courses are receptive to allowing play from visiting professionals, on a space-available basis, so call or write ahead of time. If that doesn't work, mention Sergio's name.

Ask Travelin' Joe

Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at


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