Wynn Golf Club is undeniably top-notch, but the player experience sets it apart from even the world’s best.
Travelers love accolades, and when Forbes Travel Guide’s 2015 Star Ratings came out, Wynn and Encore officially became the most stellar property in Forbes history, amassing a staggering 60 stars, including an unprecedented four five-star and 10 four-star awards for its lodging, dining, and spa. Now combine that five-star quality with a golf course co-designed by Tom Fazio—whom Golf Digest has called “the country’s preeminent modern-day designer”—and Steve Wynn himself, and you end up with a place like no other on earth: Wynn Golf Club.
Fazio’s name is reason enough for avid golfers to seek out this course, but Wynn adds even more appeal, with an unparalleled setting and a staff so friendly and solicitous that even guests who have never played a round of golf in their lives are often inspired to tee it up here for the first time. When they do, they find themselves welcomed as warmly as the veterans, and with just four tee times per hour—half the industry average—each group feels as if they have the course to themselves.
“It is one of a few courses in Las Vegas that golfers should try to play when they visit,” says John Reger, a longtime golf journalist and founder of the online Las Vegas Golf magazine. “I always recommend it when people ask me where they should play. Steve Wynn has a philosophy of providing five-star service to his guests, and it also applies to the golf course. The staff is incredibly attentive, and golfers really like being able to walk from their hotel room to the pro shop.”
There are plenty of well-designed courses around the world, but from a hospitality perspective, there is nothing like Wynn Golf Club, especially at a resort. As Reger rightly points out, it all begins with the truly one-of-a-kind setting, the only resort on the Las Vegas Strip with an attached course and a pro shop. On any given morning, all across the city, hotel guests can be seen shouldering golf clubs from their rooms to the taxi stand or valet en route to distant suburban courses. In contrast, when you check in at Wynn, your golf bags go straight from the front door to the club’s locker rooms, which operate more like those at the world’s finest private clubs than at a public facility. Attendants unpack travel cases, hang guest outfits in the lockers, clean clubs, polish and respike shoes, affix engraved gold bag tags, and take the “member for a day” concept to new extremes.
“We get guests who belong to the premier private clubs around the world, and we want them to feel like they’re in their home locker room— except this is Vegas, so some players want a lucky locker number, and we do that,” says one of the service-oriented locker room attendants. “We do such a good job on shoes that we had one guest who literally didn’t believe they were the same pair he arrived with after we cleaned them up.” For guests who like to travel light, Wynn has a special partnership with Callaway, continuously replacing its rental clubs with new top-of-the-line models and stocking regular, women’s, stiff, and senior shafts, something that few facilities do. Even rarer is the facility that carries two completely different styles of loaner shoes, all black or white and brown saddle—all the better to match the outfits of fashion-conscious guests.
The locker rooms are stocked with fresh fruit, coffee, and bottled water, and at the end of a stay, a guest’s bags are repacked and sent to the bell desk for checkout. Service at the golf club is the same as at the five-star hotel above it, and while much occurs before guests even set foot on the 18-hole, 7,042-yard, par-70 course, when they do, they’ll notice the attention to detail. The carts have phone chargers and come stocked with a variety of soft drinks, sports drinks, and bottled water, all complimentary. Every round includes a caddie, and more of them are PGA-certified pros than at any other resort in the world—17 in all, including Class-A professionals like Brad Church, who can offer lessons, on-the-fly instruction, and years of expertise. “Sometimes we get guests from up north shaking off the winter rust here, and they just need a tip or two,” Church says. “And where else besides Las Vegas am I going to be able to tell a player to fade his tee shot off the Empire State Building?”
The attention to detail extends to the course itself, and while the huge hawk circling over the 15th green has probably never heard of Audubon International’s Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf, it seems happy to live on one of the few courses in the nation with such certification. “Steve Wynn has always been a conservation guy, especially when it comes to animals,” says Fazio. The program involves identifying and preserving wildlife corridors and habitat on golf courses, maintaining wetlands, reclaiming water, and greatly reducing the use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Although it adds to the cost of operations, “it’s just the right thing to do,” he says. “Steve loves animals, and he’s going to do it even if people don’t care. It’s like the course itself: At one point, everyone was asking, ‘Why would he build a golf course on such valuable land?’ But he’s a golf nut, and it’s a great and unique amenity for the hotel and a wonderful green space for Las Vegas.”
Given the improbable setting—amidst 40 million annual tourists in the heart of the Strip—it’s hard to talk about Wynn Golf Club and not use the word “oasis.” “Picking Fazio was a really smart decision,” says Reger. “He kept trees and added even more, so when you’re playing you really don’t even think you’re in a desert.” Both parklike and environmentally friendly, the course is obsessively and immaculately maintained—to the point that the garbage receptacles have been buried so as not to be eyesores and approaches to the greens are hand-mowed in elaborate checkerboard patterns, just for visual appeal. “A lot of the things we do for the guest experience are very labor-intensive,” says Brian Hawthorne, Wynn’s Director of Golf. “Steve Wynn is famous for saying, ‘Things don’t make people happy; people make people happy,’ and that philosophy extends to our golf staff.”
Overlooking the 18th green and its signature waterfall is the indoor/ outdoor restaurant The Country Club, a hidden gem known locally as a power-lunch spot and, like the course itself, a surprising oasis in a desert theme park. The space is decorated with old black-and-white photos from when the Desert Inn golf club stood on this spot, home to a PGA Tour event known as the Tournament of Champions and past golf luminaries like Slammin’ Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer. The Country Club replicates the masculine, dark-wood aesthetic of the Desert Inn club, and the photos are a reminder of how Wynn and Fazio respected the site’s long golf tradition. Even the koi from the original course (kept in holding tanks during years of construction) now live happily in streams like the one along the third hole. More than 1,200 mature trees from the old course were replanted—along with 7,000 new ones—except for a few ancient Aleppo and stone pines too big to move, like the giant now shadowing the second tee. While its history was preserved, the site was also vastly improved. The holes that originally ran east–west, into either shadow or blinding sun, are now a more player-friendly north–south. Massive amounts of earth—800,000 cubic yards—were moved, creating elevation changes that are stunning by desert standards and sunken fairways flanked by ridges separating each hole. The precisely designed course with views to the horizon feels like 18 separate private holes divided by slopes and forests, all near one of the busiest intersections in the country.
“Everything Steve does is second to none, and this was no exception,” says Fazio. “When you work for a guy who has done a golf course before, there are high expectations, and he said, ‘Tom, how do we make this site exciting?’ Usually what we do is showcase long-range views, like mountains, but this is the middle of the city. So what we did was frame the holes with trees to give golfers great views. We dug up the trees on-site, put them in nurseries, and then brought them back. We isolated each hole and created a lot of close visual interest to keep the golfer focused on the hole itself. Finally, we added wow-factor features like the elevation changes and the waterfall on 18 that you finish by driving your cart behind. Why put a tunnel inside a waterfall? What I learned from Steve Wynn is to think outside the box. It’s always about doing things that have never been done before.”