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Badlands’ challenging layout key to player’s fulfillment

Badlands Las Vegas looks at first glance like an architectural exercise befitting the Marquis de Sade. With omnipresent desert areas lapping at the edge of virtually every fairway and a number of do-or-die approaches, Badlands seems like a midhandicapper’s nightmare.

However, for those who play within themselves, this 27-hole desert demon is far less daunting than it appears in the yardage book. Prodigious length is not required (when played from the appropriate set of tees), and most of the hopscotch approach shots are struck with a wedge or high iron. That is not to understate the course’s difficulty — the slope from the back tees is still 140-plus on any of the three available nine-hole combinations. It’s just that Badlands can be safely navigated by those who choose conservative shots and execute them reasonably well.

For example, the Outlaw-Desperado combination stretches just over 6,600 yards from the championship box and a very reasonable 6,195 from the more commonly played back tees. Only three of the par 4s exceed 400 yards, and none of the par 5s is particularly long. What Badlands demands is not distance but accuracy. Bombers who tend to spray the ball will be gauging their round not in terms of scoring, but rather the number of sleeves expended.

The Outlaw nine opens with a confidence-building 396-yard par 4 that plays slightly downhill. The key on this hole is to keep the drive right of the 150-marker, because the skull-shaped green is well-fortified by bunkers front left. From the fairway, this is a good birdie chance. In fact, the opening trio of holes is the easiest threesome to be found outside the grounds of the Sheen estate.

After that, however, Badlands begins to bare its teeth at No. 4, a 405-yard par 4 whose fairway drifts to the left around desert. The ideal drive will start in the fairway’s center and work its way toward that left edge, shortening the approach and providing a clean line to a putting surface pinched between two bunkers.

Following a very short but uncomfortable par 4, Outlaw dishes up the par-5 sixth hole, which spans only 535 yards but plays much tougher. The tee shot is not especially tight, although the desert guarding the inside of this dogleg left is certainly in play. The trouble here is on the second; virtually every large number posted can be traced directly to an ill-conceived decision to reach for the green in two. Bordered on both sides by water, the deep, narrow putting surface should really be approached with a wedge from the fairway’s left side.

The Outlaw nine closes with its most fearsome hombre, a short but visually intimidating par 5 that demands precision with every swing. The drive on this 515-yard hole must find a narrow fairway wedged between two rocky banks.

However, the second shot is the real killer; with trouble all around the green, going for it is a risky proposition, but even the layup is threatened by water lapping at the fairway’s left edge. The slender target narrows to a ribbon as it nears the green, so the prudent play is toward the right side of the fairway about 110 yards out. This is definitely a scoring hole, but in a bad way.

Those who struggle with the Outlaw nine are going to be really despondent when they reach Desperado. While its slope is similar and its length not significantly greater than Outlaw, this nine seems much more reminiscent of “target” golf. Its opening hole is a very short par 4 with only one simple rule: Don’t miss right. This is a hole where driver should stay in the bag; a clean strike with a hybrid or long iron will leave a wedge approach. The green is rimmed by rock but is otherwise defenseless, save a grassy knoll along its left edge.

After a vexing little par 4 featuring more water than grass, Desperado presents its toughest challenge at No. 4, a 532-yard par 5 that plays straightway down a narrow strip of grass bisected by a shallow arroyo. A long bunker guards the right side of the landing zone from the tee, while a pair of traps juts in from the left. From center fairway, however, this is definitely a green that can be attacked in two. The large bunker that appears to front of the putting surface is actually a lot farther forward than it appears, facilitating a long run-up approach.

Desperado’s longest par 4 at only 419 yards, No. 6 is also the track’s most beautifully framed hole. Players stare out at a bulbous fairway, separated from the green by a deep ravine. Theoretically, bombers can take the direct route if they crush a blind tee shot more than 340 yards. However, any target left of the 150-yard stake should be considered reckless. For those who find the short grass, all that awaits is a leap across the chasm to a triangular green defended front left by a solitary bunker.

The final hole on this nine is another daunting hopscotch design, this one bending to the right. Three sand traps defend the island fairway; just left of the small center pot bunker is a good line, because the forced carry lengthens considerably as the target moves right. In reality, any drive that doesn’t land among the rocks should be considered a successful outcome. The approach must traverse yet more desert, but the deep green offers ample forgiveness.

Despite its reputation as an unusually difficult course — one that is particularly well-earned on windy days — Badlands can actually yield a low round for those who control their ball flight. Unlike many modern courses, there are no absurdly long par 4s, and its greens are smooth and receptive. In fact, players whose drivers are misbehaving can get away with bagging the big dog altogether.

Badlands Las Vegas can be found at 9119 Alta Drive, just off Rampart Boulevard. For more information or to reserve a tee time, call 363-0754 or visit badlandgc.com.

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