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Natural Elements Make TPC Las Vegas Special

By: Steve Habel


TPC Las Vegas bucks the trend in a town where very little is natural. Indeed, the challenging and fun golf here is what's over the top.

There's No Bail-out on No. 2 at TPC Las Vegas

There was a lot of rock and sand moved by architect Bobby Weed and his player consultant Raymond Floyd, but it's what Weed and Floyd left virtually untouched that separates the TPC Las Vegas from other courses in Sin City. Here, the lush green parcels of manicured turf are woven throughout a rugged tapestry of arroyos, barrancas and other natural features in the southern Nevada desert, just 15 minutes north of the Las Vegas Strip.

The natural elements at TPC Las Vegas are impossible to overlook. Dramatic scenery abounds, including views of the mountains of Red Rock Canyon to the northwest. Much of the indigenous vegetation was preserved, and Weed and Floyd took great care in considering the natural drainage. While the course meanders over several hundred acres, it has only 110 acres of irrigated land, a real plus in environmental conservation and wildlife preservation.

The theme of TPC Las Vegas is a rugged look that creates contrast with the natural wash areas and transplanted desert plants; the course looks anything but manufactured. "A golf course is kind of like a fine wine," Floyd said. "The best come from the toughest pieces of ground. That's the case with TPC Las Vegas."

Opened in 1996 as TPC Canyons (it was considered a real monster in its early days), the track took its new moniker in 2007. TPC Las Vegas, which has hosted the Champions Tour Las Vegas Classic as well as the Frys.com Open in 2007 on the PGA Tour, is an integral part of the nation's largest master-planned community, Summerlin. The community is also home to TPC at Summerlin, a private club.

There many forced-carry shots to deal with at TPC Las Vegas, and it's up to the player to figure out how much of a risk to take. It helps that the landing areas are generous (50 yards wide on some holes) and that most shots on the edges seem to find there way back into play.

If the wind is up - and it usually is - TPC Las Vegas will require your best game. The putting surfaces, considered by locals as among the quickest and toughest to read in town, can also throw you for a loop. When the course first opened the greens were considered extreme and unfair, but after growth and maturity they are among the highlights.

TPC Canyons plays to a par of 71 and 7,080 yards from its back set of six tees, where it carries a rating of 73.4 and a slope of 136.

Target Golf

After the relatively benign 359-yard opening hole to ease into the round, Weed and Floyd hit you square in the face with a tough par-3 followed by the No. 1 handicap hole. The former plays downhill and downwind at 196 yards to a large desert-island green - there is no bailout area to be found. The latter is a 466-yard par-4 over a barranca to a green partially obscured on the right by sand and a native area.

You can get a shot (or two) back at the 544-yard par-5 fourth, but the narrow opening into the green is guarded by a huge bunker and shots that are long may find one of three traps at the back.

On the 604-yard par-5 sixth, three bunkers border the left side of the fairway and a fourth lurks deeper in the landing area along the right to snag offline second shots. The green falls off on three sides and is defended front-right and rear-left by a pair of slender bunkers.

The eighth - a 458-yard par-4 - plays uphill into the prevailing breeze so take plenty of club to avoid the left, where a pair of bunkers threatens. No. 9 is, at 349 yards, a short hole, so take plenty of club on the approach to avoid the bunker that nearly blocks out the green from the fairway.

The key to the 444-yard 11th is the drive, which should challenge the left fairway bunker for the ideal approach. The green here can be attacked by a run-up approach, a strategy that may be needed if the wind is strong and the hole is cut front-left.

The 12th, a 145-yard par-3, plays over a canyon to an elevated green. While the target seems inviting, but any shot not perfectly struck will skip over the green into one of two bunkers on the rear.

No. 14 Green Sits on Rocky Ledge

The 439-yard, par-4 No. 13 is played left to right over a deep arroyo that runs the entire length of the hole on the right. Next up is the thrilling 365-yard 14th, which offers another hard left-to-right test and a blind tee shot over a canyon. Take aim at the church steeple in the distance. The approach is also over the arroyo to a green on a rocky ledge.

The 612-yard, par-5 15th plays shorter than its yardage thanks to a downhill run and the wind at your back. Another pesky arroyo enters play on the far right, and the green is well-bunkered.

The 17th, a 443-yard par-4 - may be the prettiest hole at the TPC Las Vegas, with natural features abounding. There's a large ridge on the right and a cluster of bunkers left, and a left-to-right approach to a green that falls from front to back must be considered.

The closer at TPC Las Vegas is a dramatic, downhill par-4 stretching 448 yards. From the elevated tee, water left - the lone such hazard on the course - comes into play, and fairway bunkers on each side pinch the landing area. The green is protected by water and surrounded by bunkers.

In a town where gambling rules, you can afford to take a few chances at TPC Las Vegas. You'll have fun - no matter what the result - and use every club in your bag during the round. And out here, away from the lights and glitter, it's nature that provides the show, as the rocks produce colors you swear have never been seen before.

For more information, visit www.tpc.com/lasvegas.

JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa

Amenities & Activities

As the home of professional golf in Las Vegas, TPC Las Vegas can most aptly be described as "desert elegance." Amenities here include a 10th-tee snack shop, fine dining at The Grille in the understated clubhouse, an outdoor patio overlooking the 18th hole, luxurious banquet accommodations, a fully stocked golf shop and complete locker room facilities.

Nearly abutting TPC Las Vegas next to hole Nos. 4 and 5, the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa boasts 50 acres of gardens, a resort pool with waterfalls and whirlpools, a spa and 11 fine-dining and casual restaurants. Heck, it even has its own European-style casino, with a 50,000-square-foot space with more than 1,200 slot machines, 40 gaming tables and a sports- and horserace-betting club.

The property's 548 guestrooms and suites elicit rave reviews from departing guests. We enjoyed a spacious suite that overlooked the gardens and the mountains in the distance, and the spa experience at the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort was second to none. For more information, visit www.marriott.com/.../lasjw-jw-marriott-las-vegas-resort-and-sp.

KA's Acrobats Climb a Moving Wall

Cirque du Soleil's KA

We returned to the hustle and bustle of the Vegas Strip and the MGM Grand, where we took in a performance of Cirque du Soleil's KA. This show, brought to life by 80 artists from around the world, is a gravity-defying production featuring an innovative blend of acrobatic feats, Capoeira dance, puppetry, projections and martial arts.

Presented in the unprecedented performance space, Kņ unfolds on a colossal, 360-degree rotating stage which forms the backdrop for this cinematic journey of aerial adventure and perpendicular acrobatics. The show was stunning and the stage is - quite frankly - worth the price of admission all by itself.

For tickets, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/cirquedusoleil/ka.

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.