Callaway Golf Center and famous Las Vegas lights
Golf has gained a reputation of being an exclusive sport, a sport for the privileged few, and a Golf Vacation goes hand in hand with a Luxury Resort, Five-Star Accommodation, Spa and Gourmet Restaurants. But what about the rest of us?
Glen Oaks Club, New York
I am a Golfer, I love golf, I love to travel and I love to play golf when I travel, but there is unfortunately no way I can afford an all inclusive Golf Package at Sun City or even a tee-time at Fancourt, two of South Africa’s premier golfing destinations. This hasn’t stopped me though from traveling, or from playing golf, but I have had to find a way to do them both on a limited budget. This being said, in the last five years, I have played golf at more than 35 different golf courses, in 25 cities, covering 8 countries and on 4 continents.
My goal was never to golf around the world, but when you love the game, you make a plan.
I started out like many young South Africans, working in the Pro Shop at a Country Club in Florida for six months, playing golf as often as I could, which worked out to 4 or 5 times a week on one of the two championship 18-Hole courses. Six months turned into twelve months, with a summer job at a Private Country Club on New York’s Long Island. Time for golf was harder to come by as the frantic pace of ‘The Big Apple’ pulsed all the way out to the North Shore and kept us working long hours and long weeks.
Soon enough, the summer was over and the changing season brought about yet another change of scenery, more drastically this time moving away from the East Coast to the towering Colorado Rockies. The move meant two things; One – I was going to be living in snow for the first time; and Two – I was going to have to wait six months before I could play golf again, a thought more daunting than that of having to shovel snow every morning at twenty degrees below zero!
After three months of swinging an inverted ski pole at chunks of ice and talking golf with whomever would listen, I couldn’t take it any more….I had to play!!!
Looking at a map of the South Western States, I had to find somewhere close enough to take a short (cheap) holiday, but far away enough not to be blanketed in snow. Texas, “No”; California, “Too far”; Arizona, “Maybe”; Vegas, “Hmmm, Vegas” and so the seed was planted, Vegas it would have to be!
Working and studying in the Tourism Industry in South Africa, tour planning was always one of my favourite tasks, even more so if it was my own holiday I was planning. A few weeks of planning later, I was ready to go. It was St. Paddy’s Day, so after a quick stop at the pub, I headed over to the Bus Stop, standing there in the snow, backpack on my back and golf clubs at my side, my next stop would be the famous ‘Sin City’.
After 12 hours on the Greyhound, we arrived in Vegas. It was 8:00 in the morning, the weather was hot, the sky was blue and I was on holiday. They say New York is ”The City That Never Sleeps”, but I think Las Vegas is “The City That Never Stops Playing”! This proved fortunate for me as I only had two days to get in four rounds of golf.
The Backpacker Hostel I was staying at was right on the main strip, so after dropping my bags I set out exploring. By noon I was enjoying my first Frozen Margarita while cruising the side walks, passing New York New York, Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand and the Luxor, sipping my cocktail and people-watching.
My first tee-time was that evening and would be my first time playing golf under lights. The Callaway Golf Centre was the perfect way for me to start my trip, I hadn’t played in a while and the 9-hole Par 27 course would be a great way to find my game again. Which I might have done, had I not been so busy taking photos of the famous Las Vegas lights, I did manage to sink a couple of pars and came out smiling with a 36.
The rest of the evening I explored Downtown Vegas and Fremont Street, my tee-time for Friday was at 8:45, so I needed to be home before then.
Craig Ranch Golf Course
By 8:30 I found my way in a rental car to North Las Vegas and to the Craig Ranch Golf Course. At $19 for 18 Holes it was the best deal I could find, I didn’t think it was going to get much better, or should I say cheaper, than that. Craig Ranch was a basic Par 71 parklands style course, I joined up with a threesome who were also in town for a golf holiday from New Jersey. I was still struggling to come to terms with the borrowed clubs, but was managing to get around the course quite reasonably and without embarrassing myself too much.
Midday in Las Vegas (read: the desert) is scorching hot, it was late winter but the temperature was still above 30 degrees (90F). Fortunately we finished our round before the worst of it and I came off with an 82 and was pleased with my morning.
North Las Vegas Golf Club was on the agenda for the afternoon, but I had some time to kill. Making use of the rental car, I managed to get stuck in a Vegas style traffic jam on my way back from an Outlet Mall on the other side of town.
I decided to play the 9-Hole North Las Vegas GC twice, once in the twilight of the evening and then again once the floodlights had come on. Waiting for it to get dark I had a good chat with the guy in the Pro Shop, correcting the usual African misconceptions of lions roaming the streets and riding elephants to school. The second nine holes under lights were made a little tougher by missing light bulbs and a few errant shots, but I still managed to improve my score by 4 shots.
Back at the Sin City Hostel, a quick shower and change was all I had time for, before heading off to the strip again, this time in the lounge of the newest hotel in Vegas, The Wynn. I was meeting a friend of mine, Jess, and her mom who were in town for a few days. Walking in through the grand entrance, the waterfalls, valet and marble columns reminded me I was no longer in Hostel territory, luckily they paid for the drinks!
Par 3 3rd at Las Vegas Golf Club
Day Three, Round Four, Las Vegas Golf Club, the oldest club in the valley and the crown jewels of my whirlwind golf tour of Vegas. I had returned the rental car early and asked them to give me a ride to the Club in time to meet up with the rest of my four ball. My $69 included a golf cart, so I fastened my bag and off we went.
Playing as a single golfer, you never know who you are going to get paired with and I am sure they weren’t expecting to play with a roaming South African on holiday from Colorado. All three of my playing partners had retired to Las Vegas to live the dream of year round golf. This wasn’t new to me, as most of the members in Florida were doing the exact same thing. Another thing they shared with the Florida members was their playing style. Their bag was made up of; a Driver; seven Fairway Woods; a Wedge; a Putter; and a Ball Retriever and playing from the front tees, they avoided having to carry any water hazards. Each shot straight down the middle of the fairway, running the ball up onto the green and putting in like Pros. I was thinking of changing my game plan, but still managed to come out with an 88, and on the tougher course, I was still happy.
My cart partner gave me a ride back to the Hostel in his huge Cadillac, saving me at least an hour trying to connect on public transport with my golf bag, a task I had become all too familiar with.
Having saved some time in getting there, I found a dodgy Mexican Restaurant on the edge of town for a Burrito and bought a novelty pair of Elvis sunglasses, including fake sideburns, before heading back to the bus station for my 7pm Greyhound back to Vail.
Before leaving though, I was frisked and questioned by the Las Vegas Police Department. I hope I didn’t look as suspicious as the other passengers on the bus, but I guess I must have.
I made it back to Vail in time to get home, drop my bags off, have a shower and get in to work by 11:00.
And so the holiday was over, after four days; 24 hours on the bus; 63 Holes of Golf; a dozen Margaritas and a dodgy Burrito later, the itch was scratched and the need satisfied. In total, it had cost me less than $400, a very different golf vacation from those staying at the Wynn for $300 per night, but no less enjoyable for me.
I would get to play golf one more time before leaving Colorado in the spring. The Ultimate Day we called it, 18 Holes at Eagle Ranch Golf Club in the morning, followed by snowboarding and skiing in the afternoon. It doesn’t get much better!
Another summer in New York was on the cards, but visa problems meant I was going to have to head home. I had two options, JFK to Jo’burg and I would be home by the end of the week, or the long way around, what I was saving for…..My Trip Around the World.
There was really only one option, it had chosen itself.
A birdie putt on the 122 yard 7th/16th at the North Las Vegas Golf Club