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Rio Secco in Henderson a classic Las Vegas course

Gad, I love Las Vegas.

There are a lot of reasons why I love living in Las Vegas. Sure, the obvious ones: the temptation of winning big at the gaming tables, the do-anything attitude the city exudes, the temperate weather (most of the time), the beautiful women of the city, the celebrity vibe of the city and the myriad golf challenges in the valley.

There are a lot of reasons why I love playing golf in Las Vegas, the latest being the recent round I played at Rio Secco Golf Club, 2851 Grand Hills Ave., Henderson. I say this because the folks at Rio Secco have managed to include everything I love about Vegas into their golf club.

Eric Dutt, vice president Las Vegas golf operations for Harrah’s Las Vegas, invited me to experience Rio Secco.

“Come on out and play,” he said. “I’ll have a few surprises for you, too.”

Rio Secco was opened in 1997 at the base of the Black Mountains near the Seven Hills community. Designed by award-winning architect Rees Jones, Rio Secco is one long course. It can play to more than 7,300 yards, with a course rating of 75 and a staggering slope rating of 153 (maximum slope is 155). That track is recommended only for those whose handicap is 6 or less. Even from the white tees, the slope rating is 136 (average slope rating is 113). So check off the challenging part of Vegas golf that I like.

Surprise No. 1. It was one of those windy days as I arrived at the course. Eric extended a warm welcome and took me up the hill for a quick lesson with Vic Wilk of the Butch Harmon School of Golf, 2651 Grand Hills Ave. Harmon, of course, was Tiger Woods’ swing coach and now instructs Phil Mickelson, among others. Harmon also was voted Best Golf Instructor in the World by GolfDigest in 2007. Wilk is a winner on the PGA’s Nationwide Tour and has won three junior world championships. We clicked, Wilk also being left-handed and a fellow graduate of California State University, Northridge. After a quick lesson in alignment and posture, it was time to hit the course. Check off the celebrity vibe.

Surprise No. 2. I thought Kelly Cunningham witnessed my sweet golf swing and wanted to meet me. Yeah, right. Cunningham is actually a caddie with the world-famous T-Mates at Rio Secco, a women’s caddie program. Cunningham was going to be our home course advantage for our foursome as we navigated the course, filling us in on all the trouble spots that lay ahead. In addition to course knowledge, Cunningham helps with yardage, cleans clubs and balls, fixes divots, marks balls and even rakes the traps. The caddies are available for $200 per round and add a lot of energy, enthusiasm and competition to the group. Check off the beautiful women marker.

I didn’t have to wait long to mark off another reason for liking Rio Secco — the chance to hit it big. Hole 7 is a 166-yard, par-3, rated the seventh-most difficult on the course. It’s named the Million Dollar Hole for your chance to win $1 million. This is pure Vegas. Make a hole-in-one and you’re automatically entered into the main event. Monthly drawings will select the remainder of the field of 12 for the finals. These lucky golfers competing for the prize will get three shots at the par-3 seventh hole. An ace on any or all of these shots gets the lucky player a cool $1 million. Check off the hit-it-big reason, too.

What’s left? The course itself. It’s laid out with six holes through steep canyons, six holes on a plateau with gorgeous views of the Strip and six holes in a desert-like tundra.

You’ll notice that the greens are extremely quick very soon. It wasn’t unusual to see putts dart past the hole and leave you a longer second putt. It’s also a challenge to read the greens. Not always can you bank on the putt dropping toward the Strip.

Rio Secco has a quartet of long par-5s. From the tips, you’re looking at more than 2,300 yards of ground to cover. You’d better be a long hitter. Another pair of interesting holes are Nos. 16 and 18. Hole 16, a 398 yard, par-4, sits beneath Harmon’s home. He probably chuckles with delight when watching us try to score on this hole. And the finishing hole 18, the 634-yard, par-5, offers the best views of the valley on the course as you try to reach the green in three.

Interesting also is that posted on the bottom of the scorecard is the hole-by-hole score of the course record: a 64 by Tiger Woods. I realized my chance to equal his round was gone with a triple on the opening hole. Next time, I’m sure.

A relaxing cocktail in the lounge while watching a first-round NBA playoff game was a perfect ending to a perfect Las Vegas experience.

Gad, I love Las Vegas.

John Asay is a longtime golfer and local freelance writer. Contact him at jasay@reviewjournal.com.

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