Tuesday, June 29, 2010

COURSE REVIEW: Bali Hai; Las Vegas, NV

Both Bali Hai and Royal Links (as well as Desert Pines) are part of the Walters Golf empire in Las Vegas. Both are some of the more highly renowned courses in the area, but outside of that these corporate cousins couldn't be more different. While Royal Links is demure and conservative in appearance, Bali Hai is flashy and tropical. The bunkers at Royal Links are sometimes as deep as they are wide, and strategically located, while Bali Hai's sand traps sprawl for hundreds of yards and take on a beach like appearance. They're as different as, well, Scotland and Bali themselves are.
Bali Hai plays to par 71. It's over 7,000 yards from the black tees, about 6,600 from the gold, 6,156 from the white tees, and 5,535 from the reds. At my 14 handicap I played from the gold, and found it to be quite challenging. The holes vary greatly in length, and you're forced to use many different parts of your game to score well.
From the gold tees par 3 holes vary from 123 to 224 yards, par 4 holes range from 305 yards to 466 yards (with four being over 450 yards long), and the par 5s are between 495 yards and 539 yards. Water is in play on 8 holes.
For convenience from the strip in Vegas you can't beat Bali Hai. It's located less than a mile south of Mandalay Bay, right on the strip itself. In some ways this is very cool. The Vegas skyline glitters in the distance, and it's not every day you get to line up your tee shot by aiming for the Luxor Pyramid. You can even see the famous Las Vegas sign on a few of the holes.
However, this location comes with a few drawbacks. It's located right across from the airport, so flights thunder overhead every couple of minutes. Several holes also butt up against I-15, so on those holes you have significant traffic noise as well.
Visually you couldn't ask for more out of any land locked golf course. It's a truly beautiful golf course. Over 4,000 palm trees line the fairways. Water is arranged in ponds, streams, and little water falls. The large, sprawling bunkers look like they were always there, and they just built the course around them. Rocks and native plants are used strategically, and all in all the design elements create a very consistent feel throughout the course. The gorgeous clubhouse is the visual centerpiece for three of the holes.
There is one design element that's in place at Bali Hai that I have not seen anywhere else, and that's sand bunkers that transition seamlessly into the water hazard. There is no rock wall or platform of railroad ties or anything. With the size of these bunkers, it looks very much like a really nice, really private beach. If you don't think about how difficult it must be to maintain such an arrangement it's quite natural looking.
I believe they had just sanded the greens when I played, so they were not as good as one would expect. I found them sluggish and inconsistent, and I putted worse than I have in several months.
Sand hazards take up a lot of space on this course, and as if this is not a challenge enough I found the sand to be quite inconsistent. It's very fine grain stuff, but the playability varied greatly depending on whether it was dry, wet and raked, or just wet. I'm by no means a good bunker player, but I lost several shots because I had a hard time predicting how it was going to play.
The fairways were great, very consistent and you just knew you were going to have a good lie anytime you could find the fairways with your tee shot.
I don't know if it's the official signature hole or not, but the short par 3 16:th hole (pictured) is the one I will think of first when someone brings up Bali Hai. Only 123 yards from the gold tees, it's slightly downhill to an island green with the clubhouse behind the water. It's didn't hurt that I was able to hit the green.
The clubhouse is centrally located, and large without being austentatious. It's Polynesian design fits very nicely into the tropical theme of the course. The pro shop is well stocked with logo merchandise. Food is provided by their award winning restaurant, Cili, and the facilties have sufficient space for both banquets and small weddings. I had a burger after my round, and it was spectacularly good.
There is a driving range of sorts. It's one of these systems that automatically tee up the next ball for you. I don't know if these systems use a heavier ball than the normal golf ball, but it sure felt like I was hitting concrete. Also, the range hits into a net about 30 yards away, AND the range faces into the morning sun so there's very little chance of seeing even which direction your ball goes.
A challenging and diverse layout, beautifully architected, in a truly unique location. The service was spectacular overall, and the weaknesses I found were by no means show-stoppers.

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