None of this should be here.
It’s the thing I kept thinking again and again as I played the Wynn Golf Club.
I was playing golf just paces from Las Vegas Boulevard, right on the Strip, on one of two courses with an address on one of the most famous drags in the world.
Not too faintly in the background, I could hear the omnipresent squealing of tires and the revving of engines. Just miles in the distance, fellow grown people were living out their dreams of being a race-car driver at an experience only Vegas could conjure and execute.
Vegas is the ultimate adult playground. You can do almost anything here. A lot of it you probably shouldn’t. But this was an automatic yes for me.
I’ve wanted to play this Tom Fazio design for some 15 years, since the first time I came to Las Vegas when I was 21 years old. In my mind, the Wynn Golf Club — which originally opened in 2005 with the Wynn resort — represented what I thought I was going to love about Sin City, a city with so many secrets and spots you can only unlock if you know the right people or have the right credentials. This is a town which projects success, and young me knew I would just love this place.
A decade and a half later, my relationship with Vegas is a little more complicated. I’ve won big here. I’ve lost a little, too. I’ve been hired here. I had my bachelor party here. I’ve met larger-than-life people and had incredible meals and experiences. And, still, my favorite memory of Vegas is coming with my family to watch professionl darts in the basement room of a casino convention center and play in a time-share pool with my son.
I still don’t need to be asked twice to come to Vegas, but with a Vegas-style casino just 30 minutes away from my home, I’m coming for different reasons. When I was invited to come experience the Wynn Golf Club revival after being closed for nearly two years, it was an automatic yes.
The Wynn Golf Club wasn’t supposed to come back. The former Desert Inn Golf Club, home to the PGA Tour in Vegas for many years, closed in 2017. Steve Wynn, who paid an estimated $270 million for the property in 2000, was prepared to bulldoze the course and erect a 1,000-room boutique-style hotel, including a 40-acre lake and 400,000-square-foot convention center dubbed Paradise Park.
The reaction from some of the Wynn’s biggest customers was to take business elsewhere. Wynn CEO Matt Maddox said in November 2018 the company had lost some $15 million from gamblers and guests choosing to go to other properties. So, the company made a Vegas decision and decided to find a way to have their cake and eat it, too. The convention center is opening soon, and Tom Fazio was re-engaged to look at his own work and find a way to once again turn it into an 18-hole course. The lagoon and hotel were shelved.
Fazio got to work, and he came up with a par-70 course playing 6,722 yards from the championship tees. There are eight par 4s, four par 5s and six par 3s all on a 140-acre parcel of land. Hearing that will make any golfer imagine how that all could work logistically, but in a clever piece of routing, Fazio made it work — and work well.
The Wynn Golf Club experience begins when you walk into the pro shop. You have to pass by a guard, who is also keeping the riff-raff away from some of the Wynn’s most coveted rooms and villas, including a 9,000-square-foot mansion on the property. Once you slip through a pair of glass doors in the pro shop, you head down a plaid-wallpapered hallway toward the locker room that’s modern Vegas. There are big TVs to keep up on your sports wagers, pristine lockers and plenty of space to get ready for the round ahead.
Once you’re done in there, you walk down another short hallway until you get to a door. It’s like shoving open the school doors for recess when you were a kid. Fun and freedom, albeit temporary, await outside.
It’s part of the Vegas experience, the shock and awe, and the surprises big and small. Suddenly, you’re thrust from a luxurious hotel into a private enclave custom-built for your favorite thing. Even though it’s not yours, it still feels there just for you. Great staff, including a fleet of professional caddies, are there to help you get ready. There’s not much of a range at the Wynn, but the mats and nets do the trick. The practice green was remarkably fast, and not a blade looked out of place.
The stunning Wynn and Encore resorts were the beginning and end points of the round. It’s a fitting feeling, starting the round feeling like you’re leaving one world to enter another.
The course is Fazio through and through. There are plenty of mild twists and turns on the par 4s, giving aggressive, skilled golfers a chance to take on risk while allowing more prudent golfers plenty of space to get in play. There’s plenty of land movement to give players a chance for additional distance. The greens have various tiers to create a variety of pinable locations with diverse challenges.
Fazio’s biggest achievement with this course was making each hole feel special and self-contained. On a small property, it’s hard to create a sense of privacy for each group, which is something plenty of high-profile Vegas guests want. Beyond that, the mounding and landscaping maintain the sense you get walking through the doors that this places is yours for the day.
It’s a resort-style course at its core, but it’s really a gambling course — a great place to make a friendly wager, or an unfriendly one.
The par 3s are the star on this course. They kind of have to be, with six of them. Two of the par 3s are short-iron shots into a tricky, big green with water guarding. Two of them are demanding long-iron shots that feel a lot like going for a par 5 in two after a perfect drive — effectively creating more go-for-broke opportunities emblematic of the city. The other two par 3s ask the player to hit a mid-iron to sloped surfaces which almost assure a three-putt with a lackluster approach.
How Fazio fit in four par 5s feels somewhat of a mystery, particularly considering two of them are right up on 600 yards from the tips. The holes require a good drive and some mettle to get home in two, taking on water or somewhat hidden targets.
The result is a friendly course where you can post a great number, sip on the best Transfusion you’ve ever had and soak in a guest-first experience.
It’s at the 17th hole that the turn back to home begins. It’s a short, dogleg-right par 4 where a fairway wood will do nicely. Playing into the new convention center, you realize your day is almost done. It was a bit of a melancholy moment, but this can’t last forever.
The 18th hole was once a bit of a brute as a par 4, but now it’s the second long par 3, with the new convention center area looming behind the tee box. The 35-foot-high waterfall beyond the green is the center of attention. And while some will not find that water feature the most natural-looking thing they’ve seen on a golf course, I couldn’t help but take it as a reminder how insane the whole day was. Nothing about the Wynn Golf Club was designed to make you think once of reality — that is until you realize Wynn will pay you $20,000 if you make a hole-in-one on the home hole.
Vegas wouldn’t exist without the whims of capitalism, so why should a high-end golf course at a five-star resort feel like an austere property that could have been fashioned by God’s fingers? That wouldn’t make sense. This town is about projecting success and catering to the wealthy and influential while still offering a glimmer of the good life to the rest of us. The Wynn Golf Club is an extension of that, with a green fee of $575 for hotel guests before tacking on the cost of having a great caddie-sherpa to help you throughout your day.
The Wynn Golf Club was a great time, played on a perfect day under pristine conditions. Who doesn’t want to experience that at least once?