World-renowned golf course architect Tom Fazio was pleasantly surprised in mid-2018 to receive a call from Matt Maddox, Wynn Resorts CEO and president.
Maddox inquired about what it would take to resurrect the Wynn course that was shuttered in 2017 to make way for convention center expansion and other potential projects, including the Paradise Park lagoon project.
Fazio was hired by former Wynn Resorts founder Steve Wynn to design the original layout on the historic grounds of the Desert Inn course — site of the PGA Tour’s first Tournament of Champions in 1953 — and the Wynn layout opened to much acclaim in 2005.
Fazio answered Maddox’s questions and then jumped at the opportunity to “reimagine” the Wynn course. The par-70, 6,804-yard layout, once ranked No. 49 on Golf magazine’s “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” list, is scheduled to reopen Oct. 11. The course is currently in the final grow-in phase.
The Review-Journal received a sneak peek at the course during its final phase of construction. That includes exclusive photos of the revamped course.
“I happened to be staying at the Wynn the week prior to the course closing and it was a sad time,” said Fazio, who also has designed Shadow Creek, Summit and two courses at Primm Valley. “The workers and guests weren’t used to seeing something close, especially in that setting. The hotel was flourishing and the people said they loved the place. A lot of them asked, ‘Why is it closing?’ So, I told them, ‘You know, that really was the original plan.’ The course was designed to be there for a certain period of time and that original period of time had actually been extended because of the recession.
“Then all of a sudden I get the call from Matt Maddox last year. … Interestingly, we had already created some contingency plans about how to easily reposition some holes for the convention space expansion so it wasn’t a totally new idea from my standpoint.”
Golf has long been an amenity enjoyed by business and leisure travelers, but even those keenly aware of the Wynn course success were caught off guard by how much an on-property golf component would be missed.
“Not only does that golf course make money on its own, but we’ve underestimated the impact that it has on our domestic casino business, allowing our host and our team to run events, special events, and run programs that will continue to enhance our casino play,” Maddox said during a January 2019 earnings call.
Initially connecting Maddox and Fazio to discuss the resurrection was Brian Hawthorne, the Wynn’s director of golf from 2005 to 2016.
Hawthorne was rehired as a consultant around the time Fazio got back involved and returned full time to oversee golf operations in early 2019. He has worked closely with Fazio on the new plans.
“I am flattered and honored to be back and helping to lead the Wynn course back to where it was and to be ‘better than before,’ which we have been saying a lot lately,” Hawthorne said recently. “This is obviously exciting for the Wynn, but also for Las Vegas golf and the overall golf industry.
“Returning golf to a location that has been synonymous with the game since 1953 is very special and it’s a positive multiplier on many levels for the Wynn.”
Each of the 18 holes have been significantly altered and eight are “completely new holes” on Wynn 2.0. Plus, all of the course’s bunker and green complexes have undergone substantial enhancements including expanding each green, on average, by 300 square feet.
Many of the mature pine trees, which date back to the Desert Inn heyday, also have been relocated around the property.
“It’s literally a new course and I like describing it as ‘Wynn reimagined,’ ” Fazio said. “There are no rules in course design and there are endless possibilities. That flexibility is what makes it fun. We had that at Wynn. We shortened some holes and lengthened some holes to make it fit and create a legitimate par-70 course.”
There is an increased open feel to the course, which allows the surrounding Strip panorama to be appreciated, and the two closing holes create an arena-like ambiance. Crafting the new 395-yard, par-4 17th and the par-3 18th, which can be stretched to an audacious 249 yards and is draped by a dramatic waterfall, was a highlight for Fazio.
The new convention area space with golf course views and an outdoor event pavilion — scheduled to open March 2020 — now sit where the previous 17th and 18th holes were located. In all, 400,000 square feet of meeting space is being added to the existing 260,000 square feet.
“I was very excited to redesign 17 and 18, even realizing that the previous holes were among the best finishing holes in the West,” Fazio said. “We’ve seen U.S. Opens and British Opens finish with a par 3 and we have that at Wynn.
“I think the excitement of the finish will make it extremely memorable and the 18th is a stunning signature hole.”
Freelance writer Brian Hurlburt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @LVGolfInsider.