In 1952 The Desert Inn became the only hotel on the strip with its own golf course, and the site has steadily attracted a long list of celebrity and professional golfers. Frank Sinatra, who performed in Las Vegas for the very first time at the hotel, loved it, and the color barrier at the city's country clubs was broken when fellow Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. teed it up. The course hosted the PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions for 13 years, and in 1958 held the Golf Cup, the largest amateur event in the world. The PGA tournament would return in 1983 as the Panasonic Las Vegas Invitational, with the largest purse in golf, and the course achieved fame as the only one to host three annual championships events-the PGA Tour's Las Vegas Invitational, the Las Vegas Senior Classic, and the Las Vegas LPGA International. A celebrity magnet in its own right, stars who won on Las Vegas Boulevard include Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Curtis Strange, Greg Norman, and the Golden Bear himself, Jack Nicklaus.
Five years after the Desert Inn closed, this rich tradition of golf on the strip was received when Wynn Las Vegas opened in 2005, with the entirely new Wynn Fold Club on the same storied terrain. It was designed by Tom Fazio, often acclaimed as the game's greatest living architect, and especially renowned as a masterful earth mover and shaper who was able to bring almost unbelievable contour and elevation to a site previously as flat as a parking lot. For the next 12 years, Wynn continued the tradition of being the only hotel with a golf course right on the Strip, offering turnkey access to guests, and a luxurious, bucolic escape from the surrounding metropolis, complete with mature trees, tumbling streams, and its iconic grand finale, a closing hole with a huge waterfall.
Now history has been made here once again, with the return of Fazio, his son Logan, and the rest of the ream at Fazio Designs, who have imagined a new Wynn Golf Club for the coming decades. "All of us who were involved, we stick our chests out because we're so proud and we did a great job, a lot of work, but we also tried to keep it like it was before. If you played it in the past you might ask, 'Did it really ever close?' It's so ready for play and in such good shape that it is hard to believe it changed," explains Tom Fazio. "We did so much underground, change you cannot see, but things that make your golf experience better: better irrigation, better drainage, better grasses."
But Fazio also tends to be humble, and when pressed, admits this is a fully reinvented 18 holes, with a new routing and eight entirely new hole designs. The other 10 have been significantly changed, and all the bunkers were redone, reshaped, and in some cases relocated or eliminated. Over 300 fully mature trees were strategically moved around the property, widening landing areas to increase playability, while separating holes from each other further for a lusher, more exclusive experience. The entire layout shifted away from the site's southwest corner, expanding into previously unused acreage in the northwest. Fazio's team moved more than 400,000 cubic yards of earth to add increased dimensionality to the desert topography, with even more dramatic elevation changes than ever before. An entirely new set of forward tees was added throughout, giving a fourth, shorter and more playable option for less experienced golfers.
One of the less visible changes that will greatly increase guest enjoyment was the redesign of every single gree, replanted with a new high-temperature tolerant breed of Bentgrass, replacing the old Bermuda. Bentgrass is widely considered the finest putting surface, found on the world's highest-ranking courses, from Pine Valley to Shinnecock to Pebble Beach, but until now generally could not be used in hotter climates like Las Vegas.
The most obvious change for returning guests is the finale, 18, which has been redesigned as a par-3, a rare and unusual closer, but one that creates a memorable finish and allowed Fazio to best utilize the course's original showpiece, the 35-foot-high, 100 foot-wide waterfall. "The work on the Convention Center took away the whole first third of the 18th fairway, which was arguably the signature hole with the dramatic, expansive landform and green complex and the massive waterfall. We wanted to keep that drama but still give guests a high-quality golf hole. I think 18 will still be regarded as the signature hole, but you could also make arguments for 12, 15, and 17 - they are that good." Sure to settle bets for players of all abilities, the impressive par-3 can play at a great variety of lengths: 140, 16, 200, and a whopping 249 yards from the back tee.
"When you go to Wynn, you expect higher than five stars, as many stars as you can possibly get, and the same is true of the golf experience," Fazio says. But of course, he is not just talking bout his course, but the entire first-class golf operation, with locker rooms and services more reminiscent of an exclusive private club.
Meticulous attendants and an array of above-and-beyond service, from fold club packing, unpacking and shipping to rental shoes in a wide enough range of sizes to cater to the many visiting and ofter larger-than-life professional athletes, and multiple options of top-tier renal sets, are just a few of the amenities the courses regular players have come to expect.
The former Country Cub restaurant was always a standout, but the final touch in the Wynn Gold Club rebirth will be the opening of a new eatery by acclaimed three-Michelin-starred chef and French Laundry owner Thomas Keller, coming next fall.
Tom and Logan Fazio accomplished two important things in the renovation: giving returning golfers an even better experience than the one they fondly remember, while wowing newcomers to the only resort course on the Strip. "If you had the first-generation iPhone, and you loved it, and you had it for years, and then you got the newest one, with a better camera, better screen, more apps, and longer battery life, you'll love it even more. That's how we feel about the new golf course."