Going to Carolina in the Pines . . . via Las Vegas

By: Steve Habel

A desert neighborhood just 15 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip might seem to be a strange place for a pine-lined golf course reminiscent of the rolling Carolina Sandhills. But just about anything is possible - and doable - in Vegas, so when you give a Dye a free hand and a good piece of land, you can expect excellence and challenge.

Desert Pines GC

To wit is Desert Pines Golf Club, a Perry Dye-designed gem east of the glitz and glitter of Sin City but close enough to the action you can almost smell it. But the bouquet is not pine-scented air freshener - it's real pine from the more than 4,000 mature trees that border this track's fairways.

There is a lot more to like about Desert Pines than the way it smells. White-sand bunkers protect large and undulating bentgrass greens, and four lakes create the need for strategy and precision, two aspects that many golfers seem to leave behind after a night of debauchery in the city's nightclubs and casinos.

No. 4 at Desert Pines

Color comes alive on the course thanks to abundant landscaping and flower beds, but - as with the city - green is what it's all about at Desert Pines. The sometimes narrow fairways are bordered by thick rough and water comes into play on half the holes. To add to the degree of difficulty, the course has more than 60 bunkers - many framed with Pete Dye's (Perry's father) trademark railroad ties. The putting surfaces are generally small and protected by severe greenside slopes.

Owned and operated by Las Vegas-based Walters Golf, Desert Pines is a tight layout built on about 100 acres (and that includes the "Toyko-style" practice facility, the parking lot and the spacious clubhouse), and is bordered on all four sides by major roadways. The course opened in February 1997 and quickly became a favorite of locals because of its modest green fees and the need to play virtually every club in you bag.

Desert Pines plays to a par of 71 and a modest 6,810 yards from its back set of three tees, where it carries a rating of 70.6 and a slope of 125.

Generous mounding separating fairways can often bounce stray shots back into the play. The bunkers, water and some narrow landing areas are great equalizers to challenge both long hitters and those with a good short game. Desert Pines is not about machismo; it's a track that rewards good course-management skills.

The venue underwent extensive renovation in summer 2007 when all 18 greens were completely rebuilt and re-grassed. Aesthetic and ecological enhancements were also part of the redo.

After being allowed to ease into your round with a short par-4 (355 yards) and a not-too-punitive 195-yard par-3, the stakes get higher on the third hole. Playing from a tree-lined chute (and with the Vegas skyline so close you can seemingly reach out and touch it) to a fairway lined on the left by sand, the 535-yard third brings a huge lake into play on the right side en route to the green.

The 15th Hole at Desert Pines

Mounds and bunkers are the defenses on the 322-yard par-4 fourth, and those dangers may dissuade you from going for the green in one. No. 5 is a massive (489-yard) par-4 with a lake on the right and a pesky bunker in the crook of the elbow on this slight dogleg-right; use the bunker as a target as it's almost impossible to reach from the tee.

An upside-down question mark-shaped bunker is to be avoided on the sixth, a 435-yard par-4. You should be able to recover a lost stroke or two at the 517-yard par-5 seventh if you can avoid the eight bunkers and a lake right of the putting surface. The front side's closer is a real test, a two-shotter that plays at 467 yards with water threatening on the right by the green

You might think you have played into a tree-lined tunnel on the 372-yard par-4 10th (named the Valley of Fire) as descends off the tee and then back up a hill on the approach. The green is mounded and has three tiers, so make sure you find the right one.

The green on the 425-yard par-4 12th is framed by huge bunkers lined with railroad ties, but the real hazard is the long and deep bunker front and left of the green. No. 15, while not long at just 341 yards, demands accuracy as a lake awaits any shot that wanders right off the tee and a bunker left of the fairway near the landing area seems to draw golf balls like a magnet.

The final two holes at Desert Pines are its most demanding back-to-back offerings. The 428-yard 17th is a par-4 that moves left to right off the tee and narrows in the landing area. The approach here can be blocked by trees on the left, and the green - void of bunkers and almost perfectly round - has a front-to-back slope sends bad shots into a lake behind it.

The closer is another titanic par-4, playing 466 yards and usually into the wind. A long and deep bunker along the right is in play as is another left and short of the green, which might save a shot from rolling into the lake along the right. The putting surface has a huge ridge down the middle, again creating the need for precise iron play.

Desert Pines is often referred to as Las Vegas' "Top Strategic Course" and it hosted Golf Channel's Big Break II. It was listed as one of the Top 50 Public Courses in the country in the 2009 Golf Digest's Readers Choice poll.

For more information or a tee time, visit www.desertpinesgolfclub.com.

Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas

Vegas off the Course

We all know that there are many ways to be entertained in Vegas, and every trip must start with a place to lay your head at the end of a long day (or night). We did so at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, a luxury facility built in the late 1990s on the site of the old Sands Hotel and now, along with the adjacent Sands Expo Convention Center and Palazzo Hotel and Casino Resort), is part of the largest five-diamond hotel and resort complex in the world.

Nothing is small at the Venetian; it sports 4,049 suites, 4,059 hotel rooms, and a 120,000-square-foot casino. But it's the little things that make the difference, and our suite was roomy, plush and tastefully furnished. Staying at the Venetian for a few nights will make you feel like a high roller.

Choose from 19 restaurants - featuring an unprecedented six James Beard Award-winning chefs including Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse and Thomas Keller. Browse the 80 international boutiques of the Grand Canal Shoppes, which are set beside a huge interior structure designed to make you feel like Venice, including a canal and piazza.

To add to the Vegas experience, we ventured off the Strip for dinner at the sublime Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas. In a city built on fantasy this restaurant is different - it's the only faithful reproduction of the original Hofbräuhaus München in the world. The original Hofbräuhaus has remained Munich's most famous attraction since 1589 and its Las Vegas-based little brother is, quite simply, amazing, serving authentic Bavarian cuisine and beer and even offering live music from Germany.

Lance Burton, Master Magician

No trip to Vegas would be complete without seeing a show. We spent an evening with master magician Lance Burton at the Monte Carlo Resort. Widely considered the best and longest-running magic show in the world, Burton's act will finds new levels of the art form. He was named Best Magician for 11 years in a row by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and has performed 15,000 shows over the past 30 years. Burton's 14-year run at the Monte Carlo Resort will come to an end on Saturday, September 4, so catch him while you can.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Texas CEO Magazine and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.