Looking for value-friendly golf? Travel to ‘old-school’ Las Vegas

Conestoga Golf Club in Mesquite, Nev.

Conestoga Golf Club in Mesquite, Nev.

Andrew Penner

On my first day, after smacking it around on a $49 golf course (it played like a track worth three times that much), I hit the casino. You know, when in Rome. (I wasn’t in Rome. I was in Nevada.)

Quick quiz: as I entered the front door of the casino I was greeted by a) a semi-penetrable wall of cigarette smoke; b) choric rows of Wonder Woman-themed penny slots and $2 blackjack tables; c) a gaggle of grey-haired couples riding souped-up wheelchairs outfitted with oxygen tanks; or d) all of the above. Here’s a little hint: there’s a pretty good chance it’s D.

If you’re a Las Vegas regular you’ve probably noticed — regardless if you’ve declared personal bankruptcy or not — that things there have gotten a tad more expensive of late. Ten and $20 blackjack tables are the norm. Show tickets are exorbitant. Why, you can’t even find a gorge-yourself-silly buffet for under $30. And the golf, well, you’ve got to sell a kidney or a kid to afford it. A whopping $1,000 for Shadow Creek? That’s a lot of dishwashing. Or an awfully good run on the roulette table.

Enter golf on the frayed, outer edges of the state; Nevada’s barren, wind-washed border towns where grassroots golf and grandpa-approved gambling joints are the bread and water of existence. Indeed, this is Vegas, like it used to be.

Laughlin Ranch Golf Club in Bullhead City, Ariz.
Laughlin Ranch Golf Club in Bullhead City, Ariz. Andrew Penner

Laughlin and Mesquite are definitely a couple of these “sinful” outposts that come to mind. These are places where glitz and glamour — and the high costs associated with worldly activity (including golf) — haven’t quite caught on.

And there are other towns in Nevada’s nether regions that, to some degree, are cut from the same cloth. West Wendover, Jackpot, and Primm are examples.

However, on my recent visit to the state, I stuck to Laughlin and Mesquite. For one main reason: they’re warm(ish) in winter. And I certainly found the key thing that I was looking for: excellent value-friendly golf.

Sitting low in the valley and near the banks of the mighty Colorado River, the Mojave Resort Golf Club is one of the best golf values I’ve come across. For $49 (after 2 p.m., price also includes cart and driving range) you can play an excellent Brian Curley-designed golf course that, in spite of the relatively flat terrain, is solid from start to finish. True, the facilities here are not top of class (the parking lot is gravel and the clubhouse is small and somewhat dated), but where it matters most — the quality of the course — Mojave delivers. You’ll find plenty of bold bunkering and creatively contoured green complexes, Curley trademarks, on the layout. Water also comes into play on half the holes.

If you like your golf with a few more bells and whistles, Laughlin Ranch Golf Club is the ticket. This is, without a doubt, the premier course in the region. (It’s actually located in Bullhead City, Ariz., 10 minutes from the casino strip in Laughlin.)

Wolf Creek Golf Club in Mesquite, Nev.
Wolf Creek Golf Club in Mesquite, Nev. Andrew Penner

In terms of bang for your buck, Laughlin Ranch also delivers. The course, which was designed by relatively unheralded architect David Druzisky, tumbles through an upscale residential area. However, super-wide playing corridors (you can expect some wind here), big elevation changes, deep arroyos, spectacular views and a thrilling finishing run make this a top-notch experience. The best part? In high season (early spring) the rate tops out at $128 (including cart) and after 3 p.m. it plummets to $68. Put it this way, I’ve played $250 golf courses that weren’t half as good as Laughlin Ranch.

If Wonder Woman keeps doling out the dimes like there’s no tomorrow and you need to extend your stay in Laughlin, you can also play El Rio, which is a quality Matt Dye design that’s also situated near the Colorado River in Mohave Valley. At $65 (morning) and $49 (afternoon), this should also leave you with plenty of pennies to pump into slots.

Although Mesquite isn’t home to an old-school casino “strip” like Laughlin, rest assured, there are numerous places to feed starving superheroes, if you know what I mean. (There are three large casino hotels in Mesquite. I stayed at the CasaBlanca, the largest of the three.)

And when it comes to golf, Mesquite is an overachiever. In fact, when you consider there are eight quality courses in Mesquite — and all within 15 minutes of each other — a strong case can be made that this is Nevada’s best golf destination.

Falcon Ridge Golf Course in Mesquite, Ariz.
Falcon Ridge Golf Course in Mesquite, Ariz. Andrew Penner

In terms of pricing, by far the best deal I came across was the $99 stay-and-play package at the CasaBlanca. The other courses range from $125 to $330 (Wolf Creek) during high season, which is in April and May. Prices come down considerably during summer.

Unquestionably, most visitors would say that Wolf Creek is the ace of spades in Mesquite. However, there is a faction — and I’m in it — that find this wild canyonlands romp a little overwrought. Driving it is dizzying. And the quirky holes just come a little too fast and furious for my liking. However, undeniably, this is an eye-popping, one-of-a-kind layout. And it should definitely be on your list.

Personally, I’d count Conestoga, a slightly more subdued “badlands” course, a fairer test. Designed by Gary Panks and routed through the dramatic landforms found in the Sun City development, Conestoga exudes a smooth, contemporary and upscale vibe. And right from the get-go the layout capitalizes on the rock outcroppings, the water-gouged arroyos and the desert’s raw and stunning beauty.

Sand Hollow Resort in Hurricane, Utah.
Sand Hollow Resort in Hurricane, Utah. Andrew Penner

Although the residential aspect of Falcon Ridge is not a virtue, it, too, is an exciting experience with huge elevation drops and a number of mesa-framed holes that traverse along an aerie bench. In terms of the views and the variety, Falcon Ridge is definitely another one you don’t want to miss.

The 36-hole Oasis Golf Club and the Cal Olson-designed CasaBlanca Golf Club, which hosts the Nevada Open every year, are also worthwhile places to play. And, of course, if you’re looking for “Las Vegas like it used to be” pricing, the CasaBlanca and The Palms are where you want to book. Just $99 for a room and a round in high season? Can’t beat that.

If you’re hunkering down in Mesquite for the long haul, you can also head 40 minutes up the road to St. George, Utah, where you’ll find another grouping of great courses. The only issue there? Due to state laws, Wonder Woman has yet to fly her invisible jet into those parts.

Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. You can follow him on Instagram at @andrewpennerphotography.

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