Desert Pines Changes Your Expectations

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeffrey A. Rendall


LAS VEGAS, NV -- There's a certain set of expectations you carry with you wherever you go.


When you head towards the ocean, you're probably expecting to find sand. When you head to Hawaii, you're going to see palm trees and lava. And when you journey to the desert, you'll look for cactus, scrub and snakes.


How about pine trees?


They wouldn't be high up on the list. Sure, there are certain species of desert pines, but generally, if you want to see evergreens, you head towards the mountains. Or maybe a Christmas tree farm--but definitely not Las Vegas.


That's why it was surprising to find Desert Pines Golf Club, a course that bills itself as providing a Pinehurst type feel, right smack in the middle of the Las Vegas desert environment. Desert Pines features a Dye designs layout (course architect was Perry Dye, Pete's son) that opened in December of 1996 -- and was developed by William Walters (Walters Golf) on land formerly owned by the City of Las Vegas.


Walters Golf specializes in themed golf course designs, which seems to fit in well with Las Vegas' themed entertainment industry. In addition to Desert Pines, Walters owns Bali Hai Golf Club (at the south end of the strip) and Royal Links (amongst others), which sheds allusions to a lush tropical paradise and golf in the British Isles, respectively. Hardly your ordinary Las Vegas golf outings.


Andy Wright, Desert Pines' General Manager, says differentiation's the idea. "When you play golf in Las Vegas, or the desert in general, you're probably thinking you'll be playing target golf with carries over desert waste areas and looking at lots of native desert vegetation. Well, Walters Golf offers an alternative to 'desert golf' at each one of our properties."


That's true. Having seen many desert layouts, there's really nothing quite like Desert Pines. Most desert courses are fairly spread out, and like Wright mentioned, target oriented. In contrast, Desert Pines is quite compact and requires very few forced carries.


True to its name, the property contains over 4,000 pine trees (and its white sand bunkers also gives it a Pinehurst look). When combined with the relatively small tract of land, you'll find a course that requires straight hitting off the tee and precise iron play to reach and hold its small greens. Not overly long at 6810 from the tips, it nonetheless plays much longer because the narrow driving allies squeeze the driver out of your hands on many occasions.


Wright elaborates: "Our course isn't long by today's standards but the numbers don't really tell the story. Because of the thousands of trees, you can't get wild off the tee--and we're also well protected with some small to medium sized, undulating greens. If you don't keep the ball below the hole, you're going to have a hard time scoring well."


"By the same token, if you choose the proper set of tees, you'll be able to club down off the tee on quite a few holes, which for most people, greatly improves their chances of keeping it in play. And that's the key here -- playing it down the center," Wright adds.


Desert Pines' layout offers a couple other solid defenses. The fairways often slope up towards the trees at each extreme, leaving many uneven lies. And although there's usually ample room in front of the putting surfaces, the Bermuda grass makes it difficult to bump it up on the green. Sand isn't oppressive here, but bunkers are strategically placed.


When you do miss the fairways, it's a challenge to hit off the pine straw and avoid the trees at the same time. The best play is sometimes in the adjoining hole's fairway, but then you run into other potential hazards.


Water also comes into play on half the holes, the edges lined with 'signature' Dye railroad ties. They contribute nicely to the aesthetic package, and there're some real scenic holes here, and not just those that face towards the Las Vegas skyline.


Because of these elements, Desert Pines is a surprisingly tough test. We found it hard to hold the firm greens by flying it on, and numerous times when we landed it short, hoping for it to release onto the green, the ball just stuck, deadened by the lush Bermuda.


One special note is the service. Walters Golf prides itself on offering its patrons a "country club for a day" golf outing, and they deliver. The cart attendants are friendly, the starter's helpful, the on-course service is plentiful and the GPS system answers your unspoken yardage questions. Not much is left wanting.


Turning to the layout, you'll get a good sample of the Desert Pines experience from number one--dead straight and narrow, with trees and bunkers to both sides. Mercifully, it's not long at 355 yards, and the hole's shape and yardage strongly suggests hitting an iron or fairway wood right from the start.


The par fives on the front are both good ones. Three measures 535 yards, and offers one of the wider landing areas on the course. Risk-reward all the way, you'll be tempted to go for the green in two, but you'll have to avoid water down the right side and just short of the green. There is ample room to bail left, should you lose your nerve.


The name for hole seven is 'Sidewinder,' which is very appropriate -- because it'll bite you like a rattlesnake if you're not careful. Another risk-reward par five, bunkers squeeze the landing area on both sides off the tee. If you stay out of the sand, it's inviting to try for the green in two -- but once again, water juts in from the right side and short. Plenty of room waits your layup second shot, the smart play.


Eight's a nice par three, named 'The Road Hole,' due to a road that runs along the left side of the hole. Water again hugs the green to the right and long, ready to catch a shot with too much fade.


Twelve is probably Desert Pines' signature hole. Named 'Tunnel Vision,' from the back tees you're hitting through a chute of trees with a bunker guarding the left side of the fairway. If you're to the right off the tee, you're shooting over one of three 'starburst' shaped bunkers that surround this long and narrow green on your approach. Pin position is crucial here, so pay close attention to the cart's GPS -- because you won't always be able to see the flag.


Fourteen's a great short par four. Called 'Do Or Dye,' long hitters will definitely have a shot to get it close to the green -- but once again, accuracy's paramount with large bunkers guarding both sides of the landing area, and mounds prevent a ball from running on. Not many eagles here, but probably a fair number of birdies.


Seventeen's another great par four. If you play it in the afternoon, you're shooting right into the sun, but once you get closer to the putting surface, take in the beautiful views of the Las Vegas skyline.


Eighteen's a great closing hole, as you'd expect from a Dye (Pete or his sons) designed course. 466 yards in length, your drive must avoid a large waste bunker to the left of the driving area, and large grass mounds and a bunker protect the right side. If you're not in the short stuff, consider laying up on your second, as water protects the entire left side of the approach, and another large bunker protects the green's right side.


A fitting conclusion to a 'different' golf experience in Las Vegas -- that's Desert Pines. Although it probably won't exactly remind you of the Sandhills of North Carolina, there certainly isn't anything else quite like it in Las Vegas. Almost makes you want to adjust your normal set of expectations.



Desert Pines Golf Club
3415 East Bonanza Road
Las Vegas, NV 89101


Phone: (702) 388-4400
Toll-Free: (888) 450-8000




General Manager: Andy Wright
Course Architect: Perry Dye












Mon-Thurs: $135; Fri-Sun: $175


Twilight and Summer rates available.

Related Links   Comments on this article?
Maryland National Golf Club
Hollow Creek Golf Club
Rocky Gap Resort
PB Dye Golf Club in Ijamsville
Whiskey Creek Golf Club
E-mail Jeff Rendall, Editor: