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Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Falls G.C. - Henderson, NV - for Las Vegas, it's good

101 Via Vin Santo
Henderson, NV

Architect: Tom Weiskopf
Par - 72
Excitement Level – 7/12
Difficulty – 7/12
Conditioning – Three and 1/2 stars (NOTE: Played in dormant season. The conditioning was fine, just dormant. Greens are five stars.)
Cost - $275 Peak, $100-$150 for off season packages
Yearly memberships – No
Value – Three Stars (depending heavily on season and package)
Overall rating – Three Stars

Everything in Las Vegas is calculated within a micron to seperate you from your cash. In general, the golf is potentially just as much of a poor value. When you start with that premise, you realize that you have to be particularly vigilant in shopping for a place to spend your hard earned golf fund. Most courses are grossly overpriced, over marketed and underdesigned. To that end your best choices in Vegas are still a step below North Carolina, Colorado, Boston, Arizona (stop me anytime)...

Nevertheless, Las Vegas is America's playground, so if you're coming you probably have resigned yourself to spending more than you should. Just do yourself a favor and avoid the "theme" golf courses that are more a casino-like amusement park rathyer than a serious attempt at golf architecture.

Now that that's out of the way your best choices are The Revere at Anthem and, even though the prices are high, Wolf Creek (in Mesquite) and The Falls.

As I always say, anything over $200 is too much for golf, so if you come to the Falls, come either on a less expensive resort package or in off season. Rack rates of $275 are just not worth it, but the $100-150 rate is respectable for Vegas and comperable
to other Weiskopf courses.

Similarly the architecture is good. Remember, my goal is two-fold: 1) help readers distinguish between the "truly great" and the merely "very good" and 2) show you good golf values. For Vegas, at the right time, The Falls one of the better values. One problem is that houses are being built and large portions of the course may become crowded with homes, although not so close as to cause many broken windows. Power lines also remain to clutter the otherwise excellent vistas of the mountains and Vegas strip

Tom Weiskopf is a solid designer who has turned out an excellent body of work. I thnk once he embraces the Mackenzie doctrine of the line of charm (putting hazards DIRECTLY in the line of play between the tee box and green), he will ascend to the highest echelon fo the pantheon of great designers. He showed flashes of brilliance at Forest Dunes for example, where he really let his hair down on the back nine. It's true...when you push yourself further than you think you can go, then go further and
make moves spontaneously, completely forgetting the mechanics and rules, that's when you produce something really brilliant. he had a few moments here, but also a few mundane moments as well.

His work at the Falls is remarkably similar to his work at Castle Pines North, (see this article) but without CPN's terrible 15th and 16th holes. Speaking broadly, I still think Troon North is his best work and Forest Dunes in Michigan is his boldest and most original, but The Falls is still solid golf.

Just like at CPN and Forest Dunes, Weiskopf insists on giving us five mild warmup holes. I know this was a staple of Robert Trent Jones who championed easy first holes and building a course to crescendo, but those days have past and it's time to put aside some of Jones' more questionable. If people are paying $100 a round at a resort 1) they are not just rolling up and strapping on spikes without practice like Jones said - they have hit all the premium balls on an amenity-laden range for an hour and 2) they deserve to play 18 great holes, not 12. In tha regard
sometimes Weiskopf builds some of the best 12 holes courses in America. (again see "Dunes, Forest")

The first two holes feature cross hazards, but more to limit the length of drives rather than to offer risk-reward options.

The best holes on the front are 4,6, and 8. The short par-4 fourth has a nice semi-blind green setting. The par-5 7th is interesting as it winds through a narrow valley than ends with a bifurcated fairway. 8 is pretty drop shot par-3.

The teeth and backbone of the golf course appear at 12-14 and are well worth the price of admission. Twelve features TWO blind shots, one through a notch in the craggy mountaintop before finishing on a cliffedge at a picture window green. (SEE PICTURE) Thirteen is a short but dangerous driveable par-4 (Weiskopf always gives you one...) that Tiger hit from the back tee at 378 yards. Man, those Wheaties must really work...or maybe it's the altitude. Miss the green and...welljust look at poor Bennie Perez here. The Good Reverend has a friend in high places though as he got
up and down form there (see pic).

Unfortunately, the finish fizzles a bit. 16 is as unplayable and unecessary as the 16th at the TPC Scottsdale. Ranging from 220-180, water guards the entire left side, but the green is also surrounded by bunkers, which precludes hitting a draw. The hole just doesn't work because you can't risk a fade over the water and a draw risks the bunkers. Give us one or the other. The only option is dead straight and as golf writer Art Spander once wrote, "Only straight is not so great." 17 is similarly unecessarily watery. To play devil's advocate, at least when he gives you a water hole at the Falls, the fairway is MUCH wider than the other more narrow fairways that run through the canyonlands.

18, a short par 5, is an excellent finishing hole as the water is really out of play, far to the left.

All in all the course has an awful lot of water for a Weiskopf design and has too many "resorty" moments that detract from the many excellent holes early on the back. Strangely, even the resort seems to acknowledge in its marketing materials that it "builds to a crescendo on the back nine." Nevertheless, it remains one of the only real choices in the Las Vegas area and the Hyatt is an excellent alternative to the strip. Caddies will be available in 2006...good thing, because with no walking paths on the back nine it's pretty much unwalkable by everyone except hardcore purists and Bighorn Sheep.

One last thing about the design - the greens were perfect. They rolled as true and smooth as any tour facility. They were slick without being over done. Excellent job by the superintendent and staff.

The clubhouse is an attractive mission style building and the food was excellent. Try the tuna burger...outstanding choice.

All in all you should play The Falls. The staff are some of the most knowledgeable about golf design I have met and serious players congregate here, so you'll have solid playing partners with which to enjoy your round. Just plan your trip so as tom maximize your dollar.


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