4 Days of winter golf in Mesquite, Nev.

Coral Canyon par-3, 6th
December 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
If you have driven Interstate 15 northeast of Las Vegas, you have passed through Mesquite, Nev. "Pass through" would be the operative words. Unless you stop for gas, coffee, or a first/last chance at the casino gambling tables, your Mesquite experience lasts two minutes and then it's over. The city is that small. According to the 2010 United States census, 15,000 people live in Mesquite, which boomed with new homes and retirees before the bubble burst. Many of those who remain are golfers.

Mesquite provides relatively lower cost alternatives to that golfing green fee gouge-fest also known as Las Vegas. The Remax National Long Drive Contest takes place there every year. The Golf Channel's Big Break spent a season in Mesquite at the Oasis Golf Club. Mesquite has eight courses, plus others within easy driving distance. Casinos like the Casa Blanca, the recently remodeled Eureka Hotel, and Virgin River Hotel offer comprehensive golf packages.

And most of those courses are as spectacular as the landscape.

I joined a group of golf writers who played four regional courses in early December 2011. The air remained clear and uncharacteristically brisk. We ranged from Coyote Springs, 45 minutes out of Las Vegas, to Coral Springs, just past St. George Utah.

Here are the details and reviews:

Coyote Springs Golf Club
Midway between Las Vegas and Mesquite, Nevada
Par 72
5288 - 7471 yards
Course Ratings: 69.3 - 75.8
Slope Ratings: 127 - 142
www.coyotesprings.com

In 2010, Golfweek described Coyote Springs as one of its 'Top 100 Residential Courses', which seems more than a little strange considering that when we visited, there was not one house on the golf course. Infrastructure? Yes. Promises of them? "On hold, but someday," said management.

Doesn't matter. The Jack Nicklaus Signature course, 45 minutes from Las Vegas or Mesquite, is challenging, and extremely well maintained. It's a value. Green fees range from $110 to $125, depending on the time of day and the season. As of December 2011, Coyote Springs had only a temporary clubhouse with an optimistic, friendly staff. Construction will follow soon.

This is a golf course with drama. Two of the four par-3s require forced carries over water. Water, in fact, dictates strategy around the course. Players must drive over it, next to it, around it. Water takes the forms of lakes, streams, and even tumbles down from several manufactured waterfalls that are pleasing to look at, but about as natural in this landscape as holiday snow piled in a Southern California parking lot. Then again, neither do golf courses look natural in such environs, but they are certainly pretty.

Coyote Springs is a links-style desert course, with fast running, undulating fairways, and perfectly placed bunkers. Even the desert waste areas have softer ground, allowing recovery shots without badly scratching your precious irons.

If Nicklaus erred at all, he did so in designing some of the most befuddling and difficult greens we have ever seen. The day I played with a group of golf writers, the superintendent cut many of those holes on small mounds, leaving little margin for error. When some seemingly simple putts finish as far from holes as they began, then either the guy with the putter needs work, or else the pin placements may be slightly suspect.

That's a minor quibble, however, about a fun and unique golf course. Coyote Springs is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and it is a very good test of golf.

Coral Canyon Golf Club
Washington, Utah
5052 - 7200 yards
Par 72
Course Rating: 68.3 - 73.5
Slope Rating: 118 - 142
www.coralcanyongolf.com

The drive from Mesquite, Nev., to Coral Canyon Golf Club in Washington, Utah, takes about one hour. You'll remember the scenery because Interstate 15 passes through a small section of Arizona along the way, and that takes you through the awesomely vertical Virgin River Gorge, which is the most expensive stretch of highway in the United States. Nature carved it and man expanded it by moving a lot of rock.

Coral Canyon Golf Course lies just past St. George, Utah. You can see it from the highway. This Keith Foster design through high desert and spectacular rock formations is splendid. It has lava. It has large, sandstone boulders. Its naturally broken ground exposes layers of primordial geologic history. The course is well-paced, demanding, and yet forgiving. I played it on a cold December day with a group of skeptical golf writers and all of them raved.

"Just plain fun," said one.

"More than enough," commented another.

"Balanced," said a third. "It has many fine holes, no bad ones."

Indeed, Coral Canyon succeeds as a sum of its parts. It was the most pleasant course we played in our four days. Foster didn't squeeze these holes into the land. He appears to have used what he found, and disguised what he made. Coral Canyon has no goofy waterfalls, no man-made streams. Birds, rabbits, and native plants abound. The course has houses and traffic nearby, but not egregiously so.

Coral Canyon's single most memorable hole may be its shortest. The par-3, 6th, ranges from 70-163 yards. Its postage stamp green has large boulders behind, and a deep, ancient rock riverbed below to the left. One swing can make the difference between an easy par or birdie, or a big number disaster.

Coral Canyon commonly ranks among the top public golf courses in Utah. Green fees range from $50-100, depending on the season. If you're staying in Mesquite, or even in Las Vegas, it is worth the trip.

We loved it.

Conestoga Golf Club
Mesquite, Nevada
5017-7232 yards
Par 72
Course Rating: 68.8 - 74.9
Slope: 111 - 147
www.conestogagolf.com

After a fairly benign opening par-4, 1st, the 2nd through 6th holes at Conestoga Golf Club tend to polarize people. You will either love them or hate them. They may befuddle first-time players. They will thrill those who return, assuming they hit the ball straight. The scenery surrounding those target holes will mesmerize you.

This Gary Panks design capitalizes on the region's 'badlands' topography of red, sandstone cliffs, canyons, and high desert washes. Conestoga's 2nd through 6th holes rank as some of the most rugged and visually stunning anywhere on the planet. If Panks hadn't laid a golf course through these environs, you might expect to see cowboys, Indians, bandits, and John Wayne carrying a Winchester rifle. It's the Wild West on steroids.

Even the cart paths are minor fears of engineering. They twist, climb, and drop. For parts of the route, those carts should have seatbelts. Pragmatically, the course would be extremely difficult to walk without a llama.

The 94-188 yard, par-3, 2nd is part golf hole, part bombing run. From any of the seven teeing grounds high above, it looks like a tiny oasis of green surrounded a no-man's land of rock and sandstone. The green complex is, in fact, plenty big, but it sits atop a moat of steep boulders. There is no transition area. A player who misjudges the distance long or short must flop out of desert, and somehow get the ball over those high walls, onto the green. I picked up after missing my putt for a seven.

The 315-394 yard, par-4, 4th, provides options, vistas, and more drama from its first two shots than any hole in memory. From the tips, conservative players shouldn't hit more than 220 yards for their tee shots. Beyond, the fairway drops 75-100 feet off a cliff to another fairway below. If that is your target, it is a completely blind shot. I took that route, of course, blasting away over the cliff. Find the fairway below and the hole will reward you with a simple wedge into the green. Miss, however, you may find yourself astride a steep hill to the right, or more waste to the left, or dribbled into a barranca with a bad lie in badlands.

From the 8th through the 16th, the course settles into more traditional desert form with water, clever bunkering, more flatlands, and ample fairways. These holes provide a respite by comparison. After playing the first six, they're almost forgettable, but only by comparison. Actually, they are quite good.

Conestoga changes again with the short-but-menacing. And extremely picturesque 297-423 yard, par-4, 17th, it's the wild west all over again. Like every other extreme hole at Conestoga, this downhill, dogleg left requires simple shots and course management. Visualize an island green tucked behind a mountain, seemingly floating atop a wash. As with so many other holes at Conestoga, the hazards magnify in a player's brain.

Troon Golf manages Conestoga, which pretty much assures a quality golf experience. It is part of a Del Web retirement development, so expect to see homes built there, eventually. How those retirees will navigate some of the steep bunkers and terrain baffles me. Let's assume they will be healthy and fit retirees.

When visiting the Mesquite area, Conestoga is a must-play. Just be certain to pack plenty of extra golf balls, and divorce yourself from them in advance.

Falcon Ridge Golf Club
Mesquite, Nevada
Course Rating: 66.2-71.6
Slope: 112-135
4423-6546 yards
Par 71
www.golffalcon.com

Falcon Ridge Gold Club has a reputation among locals and visitors as the most-played course in Mesquite. The design by Kelby Hughes and Crescent Hardy is quirky and scenic in places, with spectacular elevation changes, canyons, blind tee shots, and sprawling desert vistas. Much of the course winds through a housing development, but after awhile, those homes blend into the background.

Three holes stand out in particular.

The 101-144 par-3, 2nd sets an early tone for the uniqueness of this course. It plays across a lake into a green surrounded by an amphitheater of vertical sandstone cliffs. How many golfers have bounced balls off those walls onto the putting surface, or into the hole? We don't know, but the mere prospect is entertaining enough.

The par-4, 281-410 yard, par-4, 6th, will confront you with an intimidating elevation change. The fairway is actually quite large, but when viewed from a teeing ground on a hill high above, it can put even the best player into an imaginary straight jacket. The hole has water right, and a line of tees left. Swing hard and trust it. We played the hole downwind that day. I had 85 yards to a front flag and still made bogey due to a miscalculation of that wind. My shot landed on the upper level of a two-tiered green. The lag never came close. It is a very challenging hole.

Our favorite, however, is the 406-526 yard, par 5, 12th. Some of us loved it. Others just shook their heads and swore under their breath. This visually and emotionally stunning hole is world class in terms of making golf memories. Golfers play into a canyon from a tee perched high above. The small looking first section of fairway has water and sand left, a second lake long, and steep rock walls sloping down from the right. A tempting ribbon of fairway runs beyond that second lake, forming a gentle dogleg right into the hole. Players can easily reach the green with a conservative hybrid, 5-iron, and wedge. Or, they can challenge the second lake, and then try to carry it to reach the green in two. I like holes that make demands and reward good shots with options. The 12th at Falcon Ridge is one of them. It's not difficult, just interesting.

Falcon Ridge is not likely to ever become a Top 100 course. The holes lie too far apart for walking. First-timers may need a TomTom GPS to find some of them in their cart. And, the course suffers from more of those artificial looking, man-made streams, including one bisecting the fairway of the uphill, upwind, 311-462 yard, par-4, 10th. This is hardly the best hole at Falcon Ridge. In full disclosure, that's putting it nicely. Just get the damn thing over with, keep your wits about you, and enjoy seventeen other splendid tests of golf.

When visiting Mesquite, Falcon Ridge is a must play. Green fees range from $25-110, depending on time of day and season, making it an excellent value most of the time.


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