Several years ago, I was playing Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s Royal Westmoreland Golf Course in Barbados with the architect himself. On one hole, Jones faced an impossible sidehill putt. After studying the slick, sloping green from various angles, and frowning his displeasure, he looked up from his ball and said, “I designed it, so I’ll have to play it.”
I thought of this recently while playing the eleventh hole at the Revere at Anthem Golf Course, which opened just outside of Las Vegas in April. Jones’ words came back to me not because I faced a tough putt, but because I’d designed the hole (with the help of course architect Greg Nash, Billy Casper’s partner)– an experience I wrote about in the March issue of this magazine. Although I’d spent many hours thinking about the routing, sketching possible hazards, and happily envisioning frustrated golfers taking penalty drops and cursing my name, I hadn’t actually played my hole– (or even seen it covered with grass) until now.
Upon arriving at the spectacular site in Henderson, I jumped in a golf cart and floored it straight to number eleven, anticipating an emotional reunion. As I crested a hill, the object of my affections stretched out before me: 625 yards of pure green dream.
I played my hole from four of the nine tee boxes, launching a quartet of great shots high into the desert air from 625, 580, 528, and 465 yards. The balls appeared to soar above distant mountains before fluttering back down into the canyon that cradled the fairway. On my four second shots, I faced several choices: hit left through a narrow gap of grassed fairway; launch straight over an island of desert and yuccas floating in the middle of the perfect, verticut expanse; or take the weenie route to a wide platform on the right that would leave a brutal approach over a waste area and my own Zen bunker. This was the first time I’d ever played a risk-reward golf hole where I clearly understood all the dangers because I’d created them myself.
For the sake of testing my work, I tried all the shots– threading the gap, flying the island, and bailing out to the right. Boy, was this fun! My third shots all landed on or near the tiered amphitheater green. I carded two bogeys from the two longest tees, and made two pars from the shorter tees. I’m not sure which numbers made me happier– while as a golfer I was content with the pars, as a designer I was thrilled to see myself struggle to make six.
Later, I played the entire Revere at Anthem Golf Course, which climbs in and out of canyons, clings to cliffs, scoots over lakes and waterfalls, and showcases the talents of Greg Nash, one of the most under-rated course architects working today. During a modified scramble, I was partnered with a local newspaper editor and an executive for Del Webb Corporation, which owns the golf course development. I’m happy to report that although our A player pounded his drive to nearly within a three-wood of the green on my hole from a set of forward tees, another player in our group whose name I won’t mention (you’re welcome, Frank) knocked two fairway shots onto the desert island. And while I probably would have preferred to sink the short birdie putt that I yipped, something else may have been at work in my subconscious: I didn’t want anyone carping that my hole gave up good scores without a fight.
At day’s end, many of the media on hand to play in the scramble told me that they loved the hole I’d designed. In my own career, I’ve uttered similar compliments without entirely meaning them, but on this occasion I chose to believe that everyone was being extremely honest and sincere.
If you decide to go play the newest great golf course in Las Vegas (call the Revere at Anthem at 702-259-4653), consider staying at the greatest new hotel: the Four Seasons (877-632-5200) offers unparalleled luxury and privacy (a Vegas commodity) on four floors located atop the Mandalay Bay Hotel on the south end of the strip. I’m hoping that someone at the Four Seasons might read this and offer me a chance to design one of their suites. I’ve already got some great ideas, assuming they can grow grass indoors on the 37th floor.