By Andrew Penner / Featured Travel Contributor
Golf and gambling go together like cake and ice cream. Beer and nachos. Steak and potatoes. Or, in Vegas, Kobe beef and a bottle of Bordeaux. Indeed, swinging with some swagger – and going for broke whenever possible – on Sin City courses is just par for the course.
For golfers and gamblers looking to throw down a few bets – on either the tables or the turf – hunkering down at the MGM Grand always does the trick. The massive hotel, owned and operated by MGM Resorts International, has it all. And then some.
(MGM Resorts International owns and operates 12 hotels in Las Vegas. They include: MGM Grand, Bellagio, Aria, Vdara, Mandala Bay, Delano, Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Luxor, Excalibur, and Circus Circus. For information on all their resorts you can visit www.mgmresorts.com).
With 5,033 guest rooms, including 751 suites, the MGM Grand is mind-boggling in size. The hotel, which consists of four 30-story towers, occupies one of the most prized plots of land – the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard – in the city. It also boasts the largest casino in Las Vegas with over 170,000 square feet of gaming space. To give you an idea, there are more than 2,500 slot machines and over 150 table games in the casino.
The hotel also boasts a 380,000 square foot state-of-the-art conference center, 22 restaurants, a 16,800-seat arena (they have hosted acts such as U2, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, and many more), as well as the largest bronze statue in the United States. The 100,000-pound bronze lion that guards the front entrance to the casino sits on a 25-foot pedestal and reaches 45-feet high.
With all those over-the-top numbers, you’d think the number of golf courses owned by MGM would also be an eye-popper. Shockingly, it’s not. They own just one. Of course, for anyone who has ever heard of Shadow Creek – or, better yet, made divots on the hallowed grounds – this is “one” course with the beauty and charm of a 100.
But before we wax too poetically of Shadow Creek’s many virtues, there are other courses in the area that guests of the MGM Grand should consider playing. For example, MGM’s corporate partnership with Walters Golf is certainly worth noting. Guests of MGM-owned hotels are entitled to various packages and promotions, which can equate to more bets at the tables! The two courses owned by Walters Golf – Bali Hai and Royal Links – are also two of the top “upscale” tracks in the city.
Located right on the strip and just a few minutes by cab from MGM Grand, Bali Hai captures the Vegas golf scene with all the glitz and glamour you might expect. But, then again, this is Las Vegas, so one always has to expect the unexpected!
While the soaring hotels on the strip provide the backdrop on many holes, it’s the gorgeous white-sand bunkers, the plants and palm trees that pepper the property, and the pristine water features that really give it character. Its distinct South Pacific look is unmistakable and, certainly, a trademark of the Brian Curley-designed course.
True to the Vegas mantra, there are a number of holes that should satisfy the risk/reward “gamblers” who come to play. The 16th, for example, an island green hole of striking “Balinese” beauty, is always a blast. When the pin is tucked back right you’re certainly rolling the dice by going for it. The 9th, another great par-3, also invokes the “are you feeling lucky?” question. Going pin hunting can be a precarious proposition. Of course, this town was founded on the “going for it” principle so, let’s be honest, you should try to attain “hero” status on every shot!
Flirting with flags – and nasty pot bunkers, knee-high fescue, and historic rock walls – is also part of the equation at Royal Links. A replica course inspired by many of the best golf holes on the British Open Championship rota (think St. Andrews, Troon, Carnoustie, Royal Liverpool, etc.), Royal Links serves up an old-world golf experience unlike anything else in Las Vegas.
The ultimate gamble here is on the 10th, which is a very cool take on, arguably, the most famous hole in all of golf, the 17th, or “Road Hole,” at St. Andrews. How much of the corner do you want to cut off? What are you willing to risk? The choice is yours!
Another choice – mind you, it’s a $500 one! – you need to make is whether or not to play Shadow Creek. Only guests of MGM Resort hotels are able to gain access and the rule is strictly adhered to. However, I’ll cut right to the chase: if you’re an MGM guest and you appreciate top-notch golf…play it! It will not disappoint. In fact, it will exceed all your expectations. It’s that good.
A legend in its own time, Shadow Creek is one of those ultra-rare courses that words and accolades just can’t quite do justice to. It really – from the limo ride there and back – has to be experienced to be appreciated and understood.
A Tom Fazio design that was built with an unlimited budget, Shadow Creek is spectacular from start to finish. It’s one postcard-perfect hole after another. And, certainly, golfers who like to “go for broke” are going to fall in love with the place, especially the par-5 closer. A water-framed hole of incredible beauty, this par-5 captures all the strategy, drama, and risk/reward options that you might expect. But, then, again, this is Vegas we are talking about.
Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta.
You can visit him at AndrewPenner.com.