MESQUITE, Nev. — I stood on a patch of turf 11 stories above the desert floor. The crisp, thin air was silent. My heart raced as I peeked below.
The panorama of colors brightened by the morning sun was breathtaking: giant puffs of cottony clouds. Red-rock canyon walls. Lush green fairways. Sparkling blue ponds.
Wow. This is what it must feel like to stand on top of the world. Soaking in the landscape, I almost forgot why I was at the second tee.
I have played some of the most scenic and challenging golf courses in the country--Cypress Point overlooking Spanish Bay on the Monterey Peninsula, Pinehurst No. 2 nestled in the North Carolina sand hills, Ocean Trails on the bluffs of Rancho Palos Verdes and Isleworth Country Club in Windermere, Fla., home to Tiger Woods.
Put Wolf Creek at Paradise Canyon near the top of that list. To get a sense of the sheer natural beauty, imagine laying down 18 holes inside the Grand Canyon. "It's as dramatic and spectacular as they come, and if there's any golf on a grander scale, we haven't seen it," raved Links magazine.
I had never heard of Wolf Creek before planning a weekend in Mesquite, an hour's drive northeast of Las Vegas. A small town that didn't install its first stoplight until 1998, Mesquite is fast becoming a popular golf destination. Within minutes of one another are five courses, including the Oasis, designed by Arnold Palmer. A sixth course is to open later this year.
Brochures promote Mesquite's camping, fishing, hayrides, skeet and trap shooting, access to nearby Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks and "the nightlife of the casino adventure," all at low prices. Last month my wife, Willow, and I took advantage of Presidents Day and spent a three-day weekend checking the place out.
The standard Mesquite stay-and-play package offers three rounds of golf and three nights' lodging starting at $330. I signed up for a two-night, two-round package with surcharges for playing Wolf Creek at peak season. With a third night of accommodations, we paid $421, including taxes. Considering that Wolf Creek greens fees run $150, the package seemed like a bargain.
Willow recently began taking golf lessons but chose spa treatments and extra sleep while I played Saturday and Sunday mornings. We filled out the weekend with an afternoon drive to scenic St. George, Utah, and time at the blackjack tables--but more on that later.
We arrived late Friday night after clogged freeways tacked on two hours to an expected five-hour drive from Los Angeles. The two hotels available with our package, the CasaBlanca and the Oasis, are across the street from each other. We wanted to stay at the CasaBlanca, the newer and nicer property, but it was booked.
At the Oasis, the voucher for my Saturday morning round of golf had mysteriously vanished, and the computer showed my Sunday morning round scheduled for 3:17 p.m. The desk clerk assured me that the hotel manager would fix everything by morning.
Our third-floor room was cramped and spartan. No coffee maker. No hair dryer. Not even a box of tissue. The view outside our window consisted of murky ponds surrounded by litter.
Saturday morning, after the hotel manager failed to produce a golf voucher, I headed out to the Palms Golf Club for a 9:20 tee time. The pro shop had no record of my golf package and demanded the $95 greens fee.
My "stay and play" package had suddenly been converted to "pay, then play." I pulled out the credit card and headed for the first tee, ready to swing my Callaway driver at anything and anyone.
On the fourth tee, a pro shop attendant drove up to explain that golf packages were not available on a holiday weekend, the clerk who had issued my reservation had been fired and management had wanted to stick me with the bill. But he had appealed on my behalf and gotten my $95 refunded.
Two holes later, a woman in a beer cart informed me that the head golf pro had approved free beverages for me and my assigned playing partner, Mark Dillard. It wasn't yet 11 a.m., but Dillard, a strapping Nevada fire captain, and I weren't about to pass up this opportunity. Besides, my game and my nerves needed a drink.
We ordered a couple of beers, kicked back and enjoyed the round. By the time Dillard ran into the beer lady on the 17th hole, we had consumed three complimentary beers apiece. When he ordered a fourth round, she said the golf pro had rescinded the offer. "It's not like we were drinking double scotches," he cracked.
The Palms is the oldest course in Mesquite, and it shows. The front nine is flat and boring, while the back nine has elevated tee boxes and is a bit more challenging. Patches of dead grass dotted the fairways, and brown spots marred the greens.
Back at the hotel's spa, Willow had a better time with a massage and a facial. She gave the hotel high marks for a soothing couple of hours. The staff was friendly, the robes were fluffy and the masseuse hit all the pressure points.