Cascata Golf Club - Las Vegas Tee Times - Photo by Brian Oar
Back in the days when Congress actually engaged in more than political sniping and sabotage — a scant dozen years ago — it would take an act of that not-so-popular body to get most golfers a tee time on Cascata. Heck, even senators and the president himself would most likely have found themselves outside the gates, looking in at the tall palms and the impossibly green ribbons of fairway beyond and mumbling wistfully, “Who do I have to know to take a crack at this beauty?”
In short, you had to know a Caesars Palace casino credit manager on a first-name basis. And then you had to put up a big-bucks marker. Then you had to hope for a tee time.
Designed by Rees Jones and opened in 2000 for the highest of high-rollers, Cascata ventured beyond merely “private” into black-ops territory. It took the equivalent of a stratospheric security clearance and a stealth ’copter to find your way into those sere desert hills above Boulder City, Nev., where there awaited one hell of a challenging golf course wrapped in a man made oasis of five-star clubhouse comfort and off-the-charts service. It was Caesars’ bold answer to Steve Wynn’s Shadow Creek, which opened several years earlier on the northern reaches of Las Vegas, and once a few folks got in there and played Cascata, many came out saying it was even better than Tom Fazio’s masterpiece.
Now, a decade after Harrah’s acquired Caesars and Cascata along with it, a lot more people can repeat those words. No longer are a big bankroll and the right connections required to find your way there. It’s still not cheap at $375 in high season, but it’s doable. And given the experience — truly unlike anything else in Vegas or anywhere in the West — it’s also a relative bargain.
“Cascata starts right when you enter the gate. You buzz in, you come up the driveway, you see the tall trees. You come into the 37,000-square-foot clubhouse and see the 33-foot high foyer, and of course, the atrium, with the river that goes through the middle of the clubhouse (and begins 418 feet above the practice range). People take photos and want to show their friends that they were at Cascata.” Mark Blais – Cascata
“The difference between price and value is important,” says Mark Blais, director of golf sales and marketing for Caesars golf Las Vegas, which also includes Rio Secco in Henderson. “The value proposition a consumer has to make when they come out here is, were they blown away for $375? If they’re blown away when they come out, they see it as money well spent. In the past, where the demand was so high, there wasn’t that emphasis on providing an over-the-top experience. Now golf courses are forced to provide that experience. No matter what the price, give them that value.”
Times have indeed changed in a town that thrives on reinventing itself. Even before the economic waters got rough in 2008, the high-roller calculus began to soften and more avid golfing visitors were invited to the party, usually through staying at one of the Harrah’s-Caesars hotels — Paris, Bally’s, Rio, Planet Hollywood, Flamingo and Imperial Palace. And while even many locals don’t consider Sin City a “golf destination” like Pinehurst or Scottsdale or the Monterey Peninsula — the general consensus is that people don’t come here with golf first on their minds unless they’re part of a corporate outing or tournament, but decide to play while they’re here — the “experience” Blais mentions ranks among America’s best.
What’s most striking about Cascata to first-time visitors?
“Coming off the course, it’s the greens — and the stark reality between the harsh desert landscape and the lushness of the green grass,” Blais says of the colorful terrain. “The optimum course conditions are what we strive for, but also the clash of the desert landscape. There aren’t any homes out here, no planes or trains, nothing except desert and what we feel is a very good golf course.”
From the first round I played at Cascata back in 2004, through our most recent visit this spring, “very good” vaulted to “great” and stayed there. Jones manages to make virtually every hole a “wow” visually and strategically, moving up and down mountainsides, in and out of box canyons and around creeks and lakes that, while nowhere near native to the landscape, fit the experience perfectly. Views from most holes — including the stirring final set — stretch for a hundred miles to the south and west, with almost no civilization in sight though the bustling Las Vegas Valley is just over the hill.
And Blais is spot on about the crazy-fun greens: They’re Augusta fast to the point of brutal in spots. A four-foot sidehiller struck an eyelash too hard can turn into a 45-foot comebacker, especially in a stout desert wind. While not overly long from the middle tees, Cascata demands every ounce of attention and skill. It’s no powderpuff pushover, which makes the required caddies (who ride the back of your cart but otherwise perform all other duties to full-looper level) so vital.
“Caddies are everything,” Blais says. “With the reading of the greens, the yardages and all the standard stuff a caddie does out here, they take great pride in and provide great service. But they’re also with you for four and a half hours. The cart girl is there for only 10 minutes at a time, but a caddie makes it a lasting experience.”
Then there are those precious pre- and post-round moments in the clubhouse, an amazing spectacle in itself even by Vegas standards.
“Cascata starts right when you enter the gate. You buzz in, you come up the driveway, you see the tall trees. You come into the 37,000-square-foot clubhouse and see the 33-foot high foyer, and of course, the atrium, with the river that goes through the middle of the clubhouse (and begins 418 feet above the practice range). People take photos and want to show their friends that they were at Cascata.”
And these days, they can bring their friends back. No security clearance or monster marker required.
By Darin Bunch – August 2012 issue of Fairways + Greens Magazine