Even when my muscles are sore after a round of golf, or I see my handicap slowly creep upward with advancing years, I don’t really lament the fact that I’m getting old. But I’m certainly feeling that way right now, as I’ve just read that the Wynn Golf Course on the Las Vegas Strip is about to close down. In fact, it will cease operations on December 17, eventually to make way for yet another theme park that, apparently, the world desperately needs.
As I read this news, it occurred to me that there are now three golf courses in Las Vegas that I’ve played in my lifetime that have ceased to exist. How can that not make me feel old?
The first I ever played, and the first of the three to disappear, was the golf course owned by the Tropicana Hotel, in which I stayed on my first Vegas visit in 1980. The hotel still exists, although I might have suggested to you 37 years ago that it needed some work. I don’t remember much about the course, I think it was a pretty fair layout. I do remember that I had to walk through a long tunnel under East Tropicana Avenue to get to the first tee, and the echo of my spikes on the pavement was really cool.
But by the late 1980s, it was becoming clear that Vegas was moving into a new era of mega hotels, and golf courses took up a lot of prime property. The Tropicana golf course closed in 1990, to make way for what was, for a time, the largest hotel in the world, the MGM Grand.
During that same 1980 trip, I took a cab for about a mile down the strip to play the renowned Desert Inn Golf Club. Even then, the D.I. as it was known wasn’t easy to get on. It was already well known as a PGA Tour course, having most famously hosted the annual PGA Tour Tournament of Champions. (One of my very first television golf memories is seeing Arnold Palmer standing in front of a wheelbarrow full of ten thousand silver dollars, for winning the 1962 TofC.)
To play the D.I., you had to be a guest of the Desert Inn Hotel, which was considered the most expensive establishment in Vegas even after Caesar’s Palace came along in the late 60s. Or you had to know someone, and I can’t remember who I knew, but I got on, once. I remember vividly that I was paired with a nice young couple on their honeymoon, from the lovely metropolis of Mule Shoe, Texas. They didn’t play golf very well, and seemed to be in a hurry to get back to their hotel room.
The D.I. course was beautiful, as I remember, and quite challenging, but flat as a pancake, and surrounded by tall buildings. When Steve Wynn bought the D.I. in 2000, it was expected that the golf course would give way to redevelopment. The hotel was destroyed, replaced by the opulent Wynn Hotel, but the owner decided to work with Tom Fazio and re-do the course. It became even more exclusive, but friends also tell me it was a super course to play, and a vast improvement over the old D.I. layout that I played in 1980. And now it’s going buh-bye.
The other Vegas Strip course that I played, at least twice over the years, was the Dunes. The golf course was part of the hotel of the same name that opened in 1955 and was demolished in 1993, to give way to what is now the lovely Bellagio. The golf course hung on by itself for a couple more years, because I remember playing it one last time in ’95. Of the three Strip courses I played, I actually liked this one best. It seemed to have more variety, more water, and a few elevated tees – or at least, maybe a six-foot rise which was a major mountain in Las Vegas in those days.
That last time I played the Dunes, alone on a beautiful weekday morning, I remember I was the only person on the course, and thinking how sad this was. I remember walking back to the Flamingo, where I was staying, carrying my bag and wearing spiked shoes along the Strip, because there were no changing facilities at the club anymore. I think it was closed a few weeks later.
There’s still lots of golf in the suburbs of Las Vegas, and surrounding country, so Vegas visitors have lots of options if they’re willing to hop in a cab, and not step outside the back door of the hotel to the first tee anymore.
And I suppose I can’t shed too many tears about the loss of these old courses. I haven’t been back to Vegas in a decade, and doubt I’ll ever return. The city, and the attraction, have passed me by because, frankly, I AM getting old.
As Tony Bennett sang, “the glory that was Rome is of another day.”