A day at Shadow Creek: Why the experience is worth the hefty price tag

Shadow Creek Golf Course is the host of this week's CJ Cup.

Nick Piastowski

The pros? They love Shadow Creek.

“It’s the first time ever at Shadow Creek, and I think everyone else that’s probably come in here before me is probably singing its praises. It’s such a cool place. It’s a great golf course,” Rory McIlroy said Wednesday. “I wouldn’t mind if we got to play a Tour event here every year. It’s really cool.” 

“Obviously I knew Shadow was kind of a prestigious course here. I expected it to be more of a resort golf course, if I’m honest — a little wider, a little easier — and I was blown away by the conditioning of it,” Justin Rose said Wednesday. “To have firm, bentgrass greens in the heat is just unbelievable. They’re the best greens I’ve played on outside of Augusta and potentially Muirfield Village, Jack’s tournament. By far the best greens that I’ve seen on Tour.”

“The course this week might be the best manicured course I’ve ever played… it is PURE!” Justin Thomas wrote on Instagram on Wednesday. 

The celebs? They, too, love Shadow Creek. 

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“Shadow Creek is the place I would like to be buried when my days are done,” former NBA star Julius Irving said via Shadow’s website. “It’s my favorite place on the planet.”  

“If they blindfold you, flew you and then dropped you in the middle of Shadow Creek, you’d feel like you’re in a picture,” former MLB star John Smoltz said via Shadow’s website. 

“Shadow Creek doesn’t feel like Las Vegas,” NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on the website. “It is the toughest and prettiest I’ve ever played.”


I’m neither a pro (I’m loosely a 13 handicap), nor a celebrity. (Piastowski doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like Hemsworth, and, yes, that is the only reason I wasn’t cast as Thor.) Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas, site of this week’s CJ Cup, costs somewhere around $600 to play a round. Or the cost of about 60 rounds at my regular haunts. Shadow is filet. I’m a ham-and-egger. 


I’ve played Shadow. Five years ago, through the graciousness of a friend, and the graciousness of my friend’s employer, I rode the limo in. I changed my shoes in the celeb-tested locker room. I drank the whiskey in the clubhouse. Two of them. And I played all 18.  


Let’s play Shadow Creek again. 

The limo drive 

shadow creek
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Shadow is Vegas. In the late 80s, designer Tom Fazio and casino magnate Steve Wynn turned a dirt pile in the desert into a diamond, not unlike how Sin City’s casinos rose from the rocks. And the course is as much the experience as it is the golf, not unlike, too, how a casino is as much the restaurants, bars and shows as it is the nickel slots. 

The experience starts with a black stretch limo ride. Of course it does. You think the Shadow parking lot is going to be filled with rentals and minivans? We were picked up at the Mirage (Shadow is playable only if you stay at an MGM property) and gave our bags to the driver, and we were there in about a half-hour. 

I had been in a limo one time before. This was the second. And it was to play golf. 

The locker room

The Shadow Creek locker room. Nick Piastowski
The Shadow Creek locker room. Nick Piastowski
The Shadow Creek course record after the redesign. Nick Piastowski
The Shadow Creek course record before the redesign, with Fred Couples trash talk of Tiger Woods at the bottom right. Nick Piastowski

We checked in. 

“You have access to anything you need in the locker room, the clubhouse or the restaurant,” the attendant said. 

Any. Thing. 

It’s been five years, so those might not be the exact words, but anything definitely was. You remember that. Your mind does race for a sec. Anything anything? Like, what are we talking here? But I’m a modest man. I asked for just a beer — a craft one, though! — and went to the locker room. 

I was assigned a locker, all of which were wooden, with golden name plates. Some are reserved. Mine was next to poker-playing legend Phil Hellmuth. A few doors down was one for MJ. Michael Jordan! Across the way was one for Barack Obama. Barack Obama! Who had played Shadow the week before. 

I had been that close to a president once before. My family went to Washington when I was a kid. This was the second. And it was to play golf. 

The caddie 

We were assigned a forecaddie. He would ride on the back of our cart.     

“Let me see you guys hit about a dozen balls,” he said as we all walked to the range. 

Poor guy. 

He was checking our yardages. And our ball flight. He had our games sized up after five minutes. Of course, the joke would be that he could probably tell that when we opened the limo door, but he kept a straight face throughout.

It was also the first time I had played with a caddie. It helped on my second shot. I found the fairway on 1. I had an iron in to a flag in the back-left portion of the green. 

“Don’t aim at the pin. Hit it short right, and it’ll feed in,” he said. 

I did. And the ball did. I parred it. 

The course 

Shadow Creek Golf Course. Nick Piastowski
Shadow Creek Golf Course. Nick Piastowski
Shadow Creek Golf Course. Nick Piastowski
Shadow Creek Golf Course. Nick Piastowski
Shadow Creek Golf Course. Nick Piastowski
Shadow Creek Golf Course. Nick Piastowski
Shadow Creek Golf Course. Nick Piastowski
Shadow Creek Golf Course. Nick Piastowski
Shadow Creek Golf Course. Nick Piastowski

Shadow, with its pine trees and streams and waterfalls and immaculate greens, is as beautiful and pure as seeing Ace-10 in front of you. Blackjack! 

Smoltz said above that it feels as if you are dropped in a photo. I took several. Which you can. Shadow books only a handful of groups a day and spreads them out. And the holes are shaped such that you never really see another hole. So for the four hours we were out there, the only people we saw were each other. And an attendant with another beer. It feels like it is completely your course. 

I shot a 15-over 87, my friend a 17-over 89. In the ballpark of our averages. My caddie told me where to hit it nearly every shot. And I tried to. Someone did my thinking for me, which, despite what you may believe after reading this story, is no small task. I tipped him every dollar I had. 

The clubhouse 

The Shadow Creek Golf Course scorecard. Nick Piastowski

We ate lunch in the clubhouse afterward. A whiskey before and a whiskey after. And a burger and fries. (I know, I know, but, hey, you have to act like you’ve been there before. When you score your first touchdown, you don’t do a five-minute dance and a 10-minute speech. You hand the ball to the ref, and say you’ll be back several times more.) 

We saw our first people here, too. Two other guys, a bit older. Immediately, my friend and I began texting about their potential backgrounds. Businessmen? Lawyers? Hollywood execs? They were likely not texting about us.  

We hopped in the limo and drove back. 

I felt like I was stealing. A full-on, Danny Ocean Vegas robbery. I was picked up and dropped off by a limo. I put my shoes in a locker next to MJ’s and Obama’s. I drank the whiskey in the clubhouse. I played on what felt like my own course, with my own caddie. Somebody stop that man! 


Let’s play Shadow Creek again. 

Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.