It is the dawn of spring in Southern Nevada, the time of year when golfers begin retrieving golf bags from the recesses of the garage and taking practice cuts with invisible clubs to the amusement of their co-workers.
The first round during this period of emergence warrants a gentle re-entry, a golf course that offers forgiveness for an understandably rusty game. Unfortunately, there are surprisingly few courses in the Las Vegas Valley that fit the bill; because most of Southern Nevada's resort courses are designed around accomplished -- or mildly delusional -- golfers who want to test their mettle, absurdly long par 4s and canyon-lined fairways are the rule rather than the exception. While that type of track is perfect for a midseason challenge, it doesn't exactly qualify as a confidence-builder.
Enter the city of Henderson's Wildhorse Golf Club. Although the course is approaching its golden anniversary, a recent redesign has given it a fresh look without undermining its inherent playability. With a few notable exceptions -- especially the daunting ninth hole -- the par-70 Wildhorse evokes more pleasure than pain.
In the interest of fairness, the round opens with an easy par 4 that measures only 316 yards from the tips and plays downhill to boot. Long hitters can cut the dogleg left and land greenside for a chip approach, while even the more conservative approach sets up an easy wedge to the defenseless green.
After an easy par 3 and a 4 par of more traditional length comes the first hole with any fear factor. Playing 205 yards from the back, this par 3 is flanked on the right by water, making any push or slice (for right-handers) an almost-guaranteed drop.
Anyone whose ball flight tends to drift that direction should play the tee shot toward the left edge of the putting surface. As is the case with almost every hole on Wildhorse, avoiding a meltdown hole is entirely a function of self-discipline.
Then again, every rule has an exception. On this course, that would be the 398-yard par-4 ninth hole, which is the toughest on this track and among the most challenging in the valley. The fairway is generous initially but narrows considerably deep in the zone, with water coming into play along the right.
Laying back isn't really an option, because the second shot is the real knee-knocker. A lake fronts the small peninsular green and wraps around the left edge all the way to the back, making the only dry miss deep right. Par is a fine score on this hole.
The course eases up for a while following the turn before challenging golfers with a 441-yard par 4. With knolls on the left edge of the fairway and desert on the right, an accurate drive is essential for any chance at a green in regulation.
The undulating putting surface -- rather unusual amid the course's otherwise benign greens -- is guarded by a bunker along the front right portion. Because most players will be facing a long approach, the prudent play is toward the left center of the green, regardless of pin location.
No. 16, by far the longest hole on the course at 603 yards, is ranked among Wildhorse's most difficult challenges but can be a birdie opportunity for accurate drivers. The par-5 hole bends slightly to the left, so favoring that side off the tee shaves some yardage. It is more important to target the fairway's left edge with the second shot to set up an unobstructed approach, as a small lake fronts the green's right quarter.
Ending as it began, Wildhorse sends golfers home with some pep in their step, courtesy of a 371-yard par 4 that doglegs left and offers plenty of margin for error off the tee. Long hitters can drive straight through the waste area that juts in from the left, setting up a very short approach to a slightly elevated green.
The only trick to this closing hole is gauging the depth of the pin, which is obscured slightly by the elevation change.
For an early season round, it's hard to beat the combination of forgiveness and value that this course offers. After all, spring golf is supposed to be enjoyable.
The Wildhorse Golf Club is located at 2100 W. Warm Springs Road in Henderson. For more information or to make a tee time, call 434-9000 or visit golfwildhorse.com.