TPC Las Vegas offers casual players a PGA experience


In the aftermath of a scintillating PGA Championship at which a journeyman pro from Korea became the first man to knock Tiger Woods off his throne during the final round of a major, it is only fitting to profile the TPC Las Vegas -- known by many locals simply as "The Canyons."

The allure of a TPC course is its link to the PGA, which allows casual golfers to walk in the footsteps of giants. And to be sure, TPC Las Vegas offers up manicured fairways, pristine greens and beautiful vistas reminiscent of courses that the pros play.

However, amid the excitement of playing a TPC course, it is easy to lose track of the exacting standards professionals face week in and week out. Just as on tour, only the strong make the cut at TPC Las Vegas.

This course is not the type that overwhelms golfers through brute force. Several of the par 4s play less than 400 yards from the tips, and there are only a few instances in which a carry of significant distance is required. In fact, the par-71 TPC Las Vegas plays only 7,080 yards from the tips.

However, within a few holes, it becomes abundantly clear that the wayward will be severely disciplined. The course designers -- Bobby Weed and Raymond Floyd -- describe the layout as "stern," which isn't quite fair to things that are merely unsparing, such as Nurse Ratched of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" fame.

TPC Las Vegas opens by offering players a false sense of security in the form of a 359-yard par 4. While the starter dutifully cautions double-digit handicappers to consider playing from the white tees, this seemingly innocuous hole entices many to play from farther back, a decision that most regret soon thereafter.

From the tee, a drive straight at the bunker short of the green is optimal, as only the longest hitters can reach it. The wedge approach requires accuracy, because anything short or left will trickle well off the surface of the slender green.

Immediately thereafter, the course foreshadows the day to come with a 196-yard par 3 that requires a tee-to-green carry over a canyon. In a nutshell, this hole sums up a round at TPC Las Vegas. Those who can strike their irons precisely will prosper; those who can't ... well, bring a lot of extra balls.

After another canyon carry on No. 3 and a pair of more lenient holes comes the 604-yard par 5 sixth hole, which is everything you want and a side of fries. While it plays straightaway, it certainly doesn't appear that way from the tee box.

A trio of bunkers juts in from the left side of the fairway, while another lurks deeper in the zone along the right to capture second shots. Two precise and well-struck balls later, all that remains is a long approach to a green defended front and left by a pair of slender bunkers.

The front side closes with a short but cleverly designed par 4. While a powerful drive will carry the left fairway bunker and set up an easy pitch approach, most players select the more conservative target to the right.

However, the bill for a stress-free drive arrives on the approach, which from that angle must carry both desert and sand. With the elevated putting surface invisible from the fairway, golfers must trust their yardage and hope for a good result.

After the turn, a pair of relatively benign par 4s opens the back side to restore frazzled nerves. The key to the 444-yard 11th is the drive, which should skirt just inside the left fairway bunker and carry deep into the zone for an approach of reasonable length. This is followed by the most intimidating pushover most players will ever face, a 145-yard par 3 that requires a dramatic canyon carry but provides a wide, inviting target.

While Raymond Floyd claims that TPC Las Vegas has no "signature" hole, most designers would proudly stamp No. 14 with that seal. This severe dogleg right plays only 365 yards but demands two precise swings, the first of which is daunting.

With a ravine bordering the fairway's right edge from tee to green, the size of the bite depends on the appetite of the golfer for risk. Most players aim at the steeple in the distance, which allows for a little leakage to the right but doesn't create an obscenely long approach. This is critical, because the second shot to a green fronted and flanked by desert is even tougher than the drive.

The closing hole at TPC Las Vegas is a final exam of sorts, a par 4 stretching 448 yards and the only one involving a water hazard. The ideal tee shot will either carry or slide just past the inside edge of the right fairway bunker. With no margin for error on a run-up approach to a green protected by water left and an abundance of bunkers, a long, accurate drive is essential.

While few are likely to heed the starter's warning, the difference between a challenging day on the links and a confidence-crushing beatdown is likely a function of tee selection. But for those who accept their limitations and want to take on a professional-caliber challenge, TPC Las Vegas offers just the ticket.

TPC Las Vegas is located at 9851 Canyon Run Drive, just off the Summerlin Parkway. For tee times or additional information, call 256-2000 or visit www.tpc.com/lasvegas.

 

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