Renowned architect Tom Fazio created two gorgeous courses in the middle of the desert at Primm Valley Golf Club, about 45 miles west of Las Vegas. The courses are actually just across the state line in California, but have an address from Primm, Nev., population less than 500.
So why would one of the world's best architects build in a tiny town off the beaten path? Well, the story goes like this ...
After designing extravagant Shadow Creek in Vegas for casino baron Steve Wynn, Fazio allegedly agreed not to create another course in southern Nevada. That was to ensure Wynn would always have Sin City's only Fazio course. But since Primm Valley's courses are technically in California, they don't violate the deal, assuming the story is true.
Either way, MGM Mirage had Fazio build the Lakes Course and Desert Course at Primm Valley, and they appear out of nowhere as you drive a barren road northeast of I-15. It takes two things to build golf courses in no man's land -- a creative architect and a ton of money. Fazio brought the mojo, and MGM ponied up the dough.
The Lakes Course, which I played, is darn good ... a parkland oasis in a desert. A few thousand trees were hauled in and a lot of dirt was moved to craft a great course. Several holes have tee boxes elevated above lush fairways. Most of the perimeter is raised, creating a bowl effect. There's such contrast between the green hues of the course and the brown desert. Another scenic treat is a huge mountain range always in full view.
The first two holes are doglegs left and both play along the perimeter. Since the perimeter is raised, the holes are visually impressive, like teeing into the banking of a grassy NASCAR speedway. Fazio was conservative in the number of bunkers, and the ones he did build are positioned well. They route you properly off the tees or nestle in strategic places near greens.
The 10th is another dogleg left with steep banking and a pond in the dogleg. It's short, measuring 318 yards from the blue tees and 297 from the whites. You can go for the green, but you must carry the water! Growing up in the Carolina mountains, I never thought I'ld see a waterfall in the desert, but there's one lurking in the (man-made) stream beside the 12th green, a par-3. The sound of the waterfall is soothing, but the hole isn't. It is 190 yards from the white tees and 218 from the blues ... we won't talk about the black tees.
More waterfalls are visible from the elevated tees of the 16th hole. The finishing hole is long par-4 framed by the Spanish-style mission clubhouse.
Best I could tell, the desert course is just that -- an open, flatter layout with large waste bunkers of native desert. Whispy grasses and heather border the holes, and there's little in the way of water hazards. Just lots of sandy, scruffy desert if you miss the fairway.