When I finished drafting my book on playing America's best courses I described Cascata in Las Vegas as a “hidden gem”. More specifically I said “If you want to see how a course should be run, Cascata is the place”. Since it had been more than five years since I was last there, I thought my recent trip to Las Vegas would be a good opportunity to go back and see if anything has changed.
It has….for the better. This is saying something, since I raved about the operation last time. Once you make your way through the gated entry, you are met with a friendly staff of valet/bag boys that make you feel extremely welcome. At this time, you are also introduced to your forecaddie (required). We arrived more than an hour before our tee time, and were pleasantly surprised that Dave was already there. This is a huge advantage relative to many facilities where the caddie comes out 15 minutes before your time; primarily to tell you your bag is too heavy and he is going to be transferring only the essentials to a lighter carry bag.
You are then directed to the pro shop where the staff is absolutely terrific. The clubhouse is exceptional, with the unique feature of a river running through. From the muffins and coffee before the round to the cookies and lemonade following, there are numerous small touches that enrich the experience. Next you are assigned a locker which has your name pre-printed. Having checked in, you go downstairs to your cart, where the forecaddie rejoins your group. A very cool double door swings open providing a first exposure to the course, and the large waterfall behind the driving range.
The driving range is well above average in terms of condition with newer, good quality golf balls. The forecaddie is there to evaluate your capabilities for later in the round and clean your clubs. Dave was able to refrain from laughing at my first couple of swings…always a plus. Some time at the putting green is recommended since the greens are challenging. Again, this practice area is in first class condition. Ultimately, the experience is so inviting that you are ready to tackle the Rees Jones design with a positive mental attitude. I cannot imagine how the experience could be improved upon.
By the way, the golf course is no slouch either. There are no parallel fairways, topographical changes are extreme for the desert, with a slew of elevated tees. The fairways are well manicured and there are rivers running throughout. Stray from the fairway, however, and you are in the desert. The course plays difficult under any circumstance, but wind is common, and can make the round even more challenging. The greens are hard, but putt true. The forecaddie is a must in reading your lines and speed. Check out the photo gallery tab.
There are a slew of great golf holes. My favorite remains 14, an elevated par 4 that requires a precise drive to avoid the creek. Each hole is unique and many are memorable. At the end of the round I was asking myself why it has taken so long to return.
The answer is probably the price. Cascata is not cheap by Las Vegas standards, although it is a bargain when compared to Shadow Creek or Wynn. I paid $295 for a prime slot. I like the fact that Cascata has a measure of exclusivity. So long as the golf operation remains first class and the course continues to be well maintained, I think there is decent value. Note: you can probably get comped if you drop enough coin at one of the Caesar’s resorts.
Cascata does not offer the surreal experience of Shadow Creek, but in combination, gives Las Vegas a 1-2 punch nearly on the order of Pebble Beach/Spyglass Hill or Whistling Straits/Blackwolf Run River. I have seen golfers lose a lot more than the cost of a round at the Blackjack table in less than an hour. Golfing Cascata is surely more enjoyable. There is no excuse to shortchange yourself when in Sin City.
Absolutely Must Play? YES, go for the golf, but take the opportunity to see how a first class golf course should be run. There may be other great operations across the country, but no one can claim to be superior.
My Rating: 9 for the excellent golf and superior operation.
Weekly Observation: It was absolutely no surprise to see Dustin Johnson win last week at Riviera. His game looks to be other worldly at the moment. Look for DJ to hold his number 1 World Ranking for the foreseeable future.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.