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Las Vegas, NV

So you say you're a gambler, huh? Enjoy playing the odds, do you? Get a kick out of going for the whole pot sometimes? Well, pigeon, you are looking in the right place: Las Vegas. Oh, yeah: we're talking about golf not gaming.

Hey, if you think about it, it's only natural that Las Vegas has become one of the most exciting and popular put-it-in-the-air destinations in the entire world. After all - as you well know - there's a lot of gambling in golf, too. Such as whether you should play for some serious bucks, or just a few beers. Whether you should hit driver to a trouble-bordered fairway, or play safe with a shorter club. Sometimes it's also whether you should hammer home a birdie putt, or simply let the slope of the green slide it in. Risk-and-reward is what golf is all about, right? Well, you will get it in spades in Las Vegas. In terms of the quality of the courses here, however - and the sensational weather - it's no risk and all reward. And you can take that to the bank.

Winter, spring, summer or fall, Las Vegas is a fantastic place to tee it up. An average daily temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, 320 days of sunshine, less than five inches of rain annually. Sure, uh-huh: choosing Las Vegas for a golf trip is a real gamble. You can hardly lose picking where to play, either. Like links-style courses? They're here. Prefer playing in the mountains rather than looking at them from one of the layouts in the valley? You can do that, too - or both. Hey, you can even play golf at night if you want to. Seriously. In addition to the two very fine courses available at Angel Park Golf Club, the facility features a 12-hole par-3 course and an 18-hole putting course - and both are lighted. What a fun way to get warmed up for the bigger courses to come, and where else would you get to do it but in Las Vegas? The two regulation layouts at Angel Park, by the way - Palm and Mountain - are quite enjoyable. The Palm course, an Arnold Palmer design that was built in 1989, was recently renovated by Bob Cup and John Fought (two highly respected course architects). From the tips, Palm measures a very manageable 6,530 yards. The Mountain course (opened a year later) was also designed by "The King." It's also a bit bigger from the back markers: 6,722 yards.

For more of Mr. Palmer's work, make sure you make a visit to Red Rock Country Club. There you'll find The Arroyo, one of the newest layouts in Las Vegas and one of the most beautiful. Opened in 2003, The Arroyo is proof positive that The King is as much an artist as an architect as he was as a golfer. Nestled within the spectacular landscapes of Red Rock Canyon - one of the city's most revered landmarks - this golf course is one of many in the area that offers a wonderful mix of compelling design and exceptional beauty. Its bold bunkering and dramatic water hazards, and the cool contrast of emerald greens and fairways against the tanned desert mountain, make The Arroyo as visually striking as it is challenging. To ensure that it will be enjoyable for golfers of all abilities, however, a choice of five tees are available - with a back marker measurement of 6,883 yards. And don't forget to bring your camera: views of the Las Vegas skyline are frequent and unforgettable.

Not surprisingly, Arnold Palmer is not the only well known golf course architect to move some dirt in this part of the Nevada desert. Just about every "name" designer you can think of has gotten his hands dirty here, including the dye-o-bolical one: Pete Dye. And oh boy, did Mr. Dye do it up BIG. Thirty minutes northeast of the city, in the shadows of the spectacular Spring Mountains, sits the Las Vegas Paiute Resort. Named for the Native Americans that lived here for hundreds of years, Paiute is home to three Pete Dye designs. The first course constructed at the resort, Snow Mountain, opened in 1995. Like its younger brothers (and just about every other design by the architect), Snow Mountain is a sprawling, sand-and-water-strewn test of nerves. Pick your tees wisely; out here in the open, wind can be a huge factor and many holes may play longer even from the shorter tees. From the tips, Snow Mountain measures a strong 7,146 yards. Slightly shorter at 7,112 yards from the back markers - but just as demanding - is Sun Mountain, the second course to be built at Paiute (1996). It, too, is a tough layout and it will require every skill you possess to avoid big numbers - and then some. Bunkers abound, many of them small but deep. Expect forced carries, too, on either the drive or the approach. What you shouldn't expect is a break from the architect just because you're facing a long par 4 (no one has ever accused Pete Dye of going easy on golfers); the chances are good that the hole will be uphill as well. But wait. It's time now to talk about the third penal colony at Paiute: the Wolf. Perhaps never before in the history of golf has there been a more appropriate name for a course. My, what big teeth you have. Looking for a challenge, Charlie? You've found it. Opened in 2001, the Wolf is not only the longest layout in Las Vegas it's the longest in Nevada. From teeth to tail, this carnivore tips out at a staggering seven thousand, six hundred and four yards. How's that for big, bubba? Surprisingly, perhaps, it's not the par fives here that may rip you apart (the longest is only 580 yards from the back tees). The par threes and fours, however, will have you puckering before you even put your ball on the peg. Only one of the one-shotters is under 200 yards (barely) and only two of the two-shotters are under 420. Four of the Wolf's par fours, on the other hand - are you sitting down? - are over 490 yards from the tips. That's worth repeating, don't you think? Four par fours ... over ... 490 yards. Needless to say, this is one LARGE layout. Need it be said that there's lots of sand, water and wind here, too? Didn't think so. Got some game, Grace? Good, bring it on. The Snow Mountain, Sun Mountain and Wolf courses at Las Vegas Paiute Resort are waiting.

Dye-namic in a different way are two Las Vegas layouts that were designed by Pete's son Perry. Less well known to the public than his famous father, Perry Dye is a highly regarded architect with a definite flair for the dramatic - and you'll see why at Desert Pines and Royal Links. Located just ten minutes from downtown and 15 minutes from The Strip, Perry's work at Desert Pines will have you wondering how you suddenly got from Nevada to North Carolina. Often described as the "Pinehurst of Las Vegas," this gorgeous golf course incorporates four thousand pine trees to give it the distinct look and feel of the Carolinas. Opened in 1997, Desert Pines features rolling fairways, deep greenside bunkers, large, undulating putting surfaces, water on nine of the 18 holes, and a back-marker measurement of 6,810 yards. It's an unusual sight here in the desert but a treat to play. Even more unbelievable to the eye is Royal Links, a layout that not only will make you think you've left the state but "the States" altogether. Designed as a tribute to the golf courses that have hosted the British Open over its 145-year history, Royal Links provides golfers with a unique opportunity to play 18 replicas of the most revered holes in Scotland and England. You say you've always wanted to take a rip at the Road Hole at St. Andrews? Here's your chance. Never could figure out why the tiny "Postage Stamp" par three at Royal Troon is so hard? Now you'll find out. Among others, Royal Links also allows you to play holes from Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield, Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham - even Prestick, site of the very first British Open in 1860. But listen up, laddie: Royal Links is no miniature version of the great holes of Great Britain. Quite the contrary, it's a very challenging golf course with some good-sized length (7,029 yards from the tips), and it features a lot of the same kind of difficulties that British Open players have had to deal with for nearly a century and a half. Take heart, though. If and when you do get out of the replica of Hell Bunker that you'll find here, Stymie's Pub in the very cool castle-style clubhouse is a fun place to turn a testing day into a terrific one. Aye, but you're going to love Royal Links.

If you're getting the idea that teeing it up in Las Vegas can be a bit on the "different" side, you're right. But it will only add to the fun of your very exciting visit here. For more of the same (different), check out Bali Hai Golf Club. The only daily fee layout located right on The Strip, Bali Hai is a feast for the eyes in more ways than one - especially if you've always wanted to travel to the South Pacific and play golf there. Opened in 2000, Bali Hai is an amazing work by the design firm of Curley & Schmidt. Picture 2,500 swaying palms among the 4,000 trees on the property. Imagine 100,000 exotic plants of all shapes, sizes and colors. Conjure up white sand set against black volcanic rock outcroppings. See in your mind's eye seven acres of deep blue water features. Now pull it together and place in and around 7,015 yards of rolling fairways and greens. Sound gorgeous? It is. A good challenge? Oh, yeah. Worth a visit? Ab-so-tively.

Hang on, there, Tom Traditionalist. There are plenty of layouts in the Las Vegas area that are less about flash and dash and more about pure golf - just the way you like it. Las Vegas National Golf Club, for example - a 1961 design by Bert Stamps - was the site of a number of PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events over the years. Hall of Famers such as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus found this 6,815-yard tract to be a good test; you will, too. Like playing where the pros play? Then the TPC Las Vegas is for you. One of two sites used for the PGA Tour's "Michelin Championship at Las Vegas" each November, the nearly 7,100-yard TPC Las Vegas is tight, tough and terrific. Designed by Bobby Weed and Champions Tour player Ray Floyd, TPC Las Vegas opened in 1996 to excellent reviews. And they're still coming in.

But wait. While you're here, don't forget to think about the town of Henderson, too. Located less than a half hour southeast of Las Vegas, Henderson is home to a number of very fine layouts. Two good choices in the foothills of the mountains are the Concord and Lexington courses at the Revere at Anthem Golf Club. Both were designed by Greg Nash and Hall of Fame golfer Billy Casper, both measure over 7,000 yards from the back markers, and both feature fantastic views of the surrounding landscape. Other excellent picks in the area include Tuscany Golf Club and The Legacy. Tuscany is a top-notch 6,906-yard Ted Robinson design that opened in 2003. The Legacy is a bit older and a bit longer, but it's very pretty and playable, too. Among the many highlights at The Legacy (you poker players will love this) are the tee boxes for the par-three 10th hole. The black tee is in the shape of a spade, the blue tee is in the shape of a club, the white tee is diamond-shaped, and the red tee - naturally - is heart-shaped. Where else but in Las Vegas? Where the golf is great, and the fun never sets. Oh, and by the way. What you score in Las Vegas ... stays in Las Vegas.

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