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Royal Links in Vegas Simulates British Open Venues

By: Steve Habel


With the recent British and the Senior British Opens still fresh in our consciousness, golfer's annual calling to visit and play the courses where the game originated is at its strongest. Who wouldn't want to tee it up at the Old Course at St. Andrews or Carnoustie, especially right after watching the world's best players compete on these legendary tracks?

You don't have to book a trip to the British Isles to experience the thrill that many courses on the British Open rota; instead, book a flight for Las Vegas and make a tee time at Royal Links Golf Club, where you can experience the game on holes inspired by 18 of the best offerings from 11 of the courses that have hosted the world's oldest golf championship.

9th Green at Royal Links

If Vegas seems an unlikely place to find a British Open "inspired" course, take into consideration that virtually anything can be replicated with the enough know-how, attitude, gumption and money. At a place where replicas of the Great Pyramid, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower and canals of Venice vie for notice and tourist dollars with dead-on entertainment ringers for Elvis, Cher and Michael Jackson, perhaps finding a golf course likening itself to Turnberry, Royal Liverpool and Muirfield should be expected.

At Royal Links, about a 20-minute drive from the glitz of the Strip, golfers will find a course built to honor the history and tradition of the Royal & Ancient Game. Designed by Dye International, the track duplicates the "Road Hole" and "Hell Bunker" from the Old Course at St. Andrews, as well as the "Postage Stamp" from Royal Troon. Other courses paid homage in the loop include Carnoustie, Prestwick, Royal Lytham and Royal Birkdale.

The holes were chosen for how well they represent the spirit of the game in golf's birthplace. The Dye design simulates the shot values, challenges and drama of those at these fabled links. While Royal Links is mostly turfed with Bermuda grass, its mounding and native grasses provide a verisimilitude of the gorse and other hallmarks of seaside links.

These 18 holes are not exact replicas because of copyright laws, but they're close enough. Royal Links' developer, owner and operator - Las Vegas-based Walters Golf - strives to be authentic down to the statue of Old Tom Morris and English phone booths used to call in food and drink orders.

All the 18 holes at Royal Links share common characteristics. There are absolutely no water hazards, for example, a rarity for a modern course, but the norm (aside from the occasional burn) on British Open tracks.

Monuments were erected at various locations to indicate spots where great moments in British Open history took place. A Champions Wall is erected near the all-turf practice range honoring American winners of the British Open.

Royal Links plays to a par of 72 and 7,029 yards from the tips, where it carries a rating of 73.7 and 135 slope, a pretty salty number for a track void of water, canyons or desert and just one forced carry.

No Surprise: Not a Bad Hole in the Bunch

On the outward nine at Royal Links, the easiest hole by handicap - the 170-yard par-3 third (inspired by No. 2 at Prestwick, which hosted the first Open Championship in 1860) - is followed by the toughest hole, the 621-yard par-5 fourth, a tribute to the massive eighth at Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake. On the fourth, a substantial mound on the right side of the fairway makes ball position off the tee very important. The elevated green is guarded by a pot bunker on the front-right.

Royal Links 8th Patterned After Postage Stamp

Perhaps you can get a shot back at the 322-yard par-4 fifth (inspired by St. Andrews' 12th), but the hole features six fairway bunkers that are virtually invisible from the tee. Royal Links' longest two-shotter is the 471-yard seventh, patterned after Royal St. George's 13th. The hole has traps guarding the right side of the fairway and three more deadly reverse bunkers farther down near the center line. Its elevated green is fronted by two large bunkers left and right.

The shortest hole at Royal Links - the 153-yard eighth - may be its deadliest, especially if you go short and left off the tee. Like its model, Royal Troon's 8th (famously known as "Postage Stamp"), you'll find a deep, sod-faced bunker waiting if you miss the tiny green.

The inward nine at Royal Links starts with a copy of the St. Andrews' "Road Hole," but instead of playing over the Old Course Hotel, you line up and carry a huge yellow scoreboard and wall. Playing at 466 yards and turning hard to the right off the tee, a menacing bunker protects the front-left of the tiny green and a road cuts diagonally across its back.

Royal Links 10th Inspired by Road Hole

Royal Birkdale's No. 6 is the inspiration behind the 471-yard, par-4 12th. Two fairway bunkers keep players honest by requiring drives to be accurate and long, and a sharp dogleg-right and two bunkers protecting the green make the approach tricky.

On Royal Links' 16th, inspired by the 15th at Carnoustie, the drive is critical. At 454 yards, the hole is long, narrow and peppered with bunkers. Even with a good tee ball, you could be looking at a long-iron or fairway wood into a green heavily guard and may or may not be visible depending on your tee shot.

The round concludes with a terrific risk-reward 515-yard par-5 modeled after the 14th at the Old Course. Five bunkers, similar to St. Andrews' "beardies," lie left of the fairway and gobble up errant tee shots. Likewise, players must carry two more bunkers - akin to the "Hell" and "Grave" - with their second shots. The third must be well-placed to hold the shallow green.

Royal Links is a Stern Test

This is not your typical round and, whether you are into the history of golf or just seeking a fun round while in "Sin City," expect to be humbled by Royal Links. Despite all the cozy sentimentality, this is a tough track. The rough is penal and, at times, impossible; there are places where the wild Bermuda and fescue are waist-high.

Many of the course's shots are blind or partially blind, which makes taking a caddie (offered but not required) very helpful.

Complimenting the replica theme, Royal Links' clubhouse is a miniature castle. Inside you'll find Stymie's Pub with authentic ales and drafts on tap as well as an extensive selection of Scotches and blends.

Royal Links was voted at No. 13 in its 2009 Readers Choice poll of the "Top 50 Golf Courses in the Country" by GolfWorld, named "Vegas' Best Golf Course" by the Las Vegas Review Journal in 2006, and garnered mention as one of "America's Best Courses You Can Play" by GolfWeek in 2005.

If you are a golf purist, getting to step foot on courses that have held the British Open is a dream come true. Royal Links could be the next best thing and is surely is one of the most unique playing experiences in the U.S.

For more information, visit www.RoyalLinksGolfClub.com.

Plenty to do Off the Course as Well

During our stay in Vegas, we set up shop at the Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino (www.venetian.com), which usually runs a stay-and-play promotion with the three Vegas courses operated by Walters Golf.

From the mesmerizing entertainment of Blue Man Group to gondola rides along its quarter-mile Grand Canal, there's nothing standard about any of the accommodations at this all-suite hotel.

We also took in a performance of Jersey Boys next door at the Venetian's sister property The Palazzo (www.palazzolasvegas.com). Jersey Boys is the Tony Award-winning Best Musical of 2006 that takes you up the charts, across the country and behind the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. It's really good stuff for music buffs and anyone looking for a great show.

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.