Cash in your chips for exceptional golf at these casino courses
When you book a trip to a prominent casino resort, you’re likely compelled by a number of factors. Perhaps you’re drawn to the indulgent meals and the swanky cocktails that are often served at those resorts’ headlining restaurants. Maybe you love the glitz and glamour of the nightclubs. You could even be drawn to A-list entertainers who drop in for infrequent performances. And who doesn’t have fantasies of raking in huge pots at lucrative table games?
What about exceptional rounds of golf? Are tee times on heralded, sometimes bucket-list-worthy courses one of those allures?
The answer can be an emphatic yes, but only if you’re planning a trip to certain casino resorts. While the following properties can’t guarantee that you’ll graduate to high-roller status during your stay, they can promise at least one memorable round of golf.
Wynn Las Vegas—Las Vegas, Nev.
A story about casino resorts has to include Las Vegas; to not mention Sin City would border on incompetency. When it comes to rounds of golf in Las Vegas, most require a trip away from all the action on the strip—even high-roller rounds at Shadow Creek through MGM Grand. But not at Wynn Golf Club. Discreetly tucked behind the Encore and Wynn towers and spread out across 129 acres, the club’s recently redesigned Tom Fazio layout delivers 6,722 yards of pristinely manicured, championship-caliber playing surfaces in the heart of the city.
A round of golf at the Wynn comes with a steep price (over $600 all-in) which exceeds the cost of 18 holes played at Pinehurst No. 2, the Straits course at Whistling Straits, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island—even Pebble Beach. However, a round at Wynn Golf Club also includes a chance for players to win between $10,000 and $20,000, should they make an unlikely hole-in-one on the 18th hole, a long par three with a green that’s flanked by a 100-foot-wide, 35-foot-tall manmade waterfall.
According to the online National Hole-In-One Registry, the odds of making an ace are 12,500 to 1, so while players aren’t likely to cash in on the 18th, Brian Hawthorne—the club’s former director of golf operations—suggested at the time of the course’s grand reopening in 2019 that players might still come out ahead at the conclusion of their rounds. “If we keep somebody from gambling for four and a half hours,” he said, “we might be saving people money.” Wynnlasvegas.com
Baha Mar—Nassau, Bahamas
If you’re planning a Bahamian getaway, one defined by gambling opportunities—both on the greens and at the felt—there are two destinations to consider. You could venture to Atlantis on Paradise Island, which offers access to the Ocean Club, a Tom Weiskopf-designed resort course that hosted an LPGA event from 2013–18 and stretches beyond 7,100 yards. Or you could book a stay only a couple miles away on the main island of Nassau at Baha Mar, home to a course that transforms from day to day.
Designed by Jack Nicklaus, Royal Blue Golf Club features closely mowed teeing areas that are both broad and long, which each day allows the club’s staff to move the course’s singular set of tees forward or back, and also laterally—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. It’s a feature that allows the course to sometimes play drastically different from one morning to the next. “We feel like this golf course is way too good for you to only see one little part of it,” says Andy Deiro, the club’s head professional. Typically, the Royal Blue tees play around 6,500 yards in length, but Deiro points out that those tee markers are only recommendations. “If you think it’s too long or too short on any given hole, play from wherever you want. But just know if you come back tomorrow, it will be a completely different golf course.” Bahamar.com
Turning Stone Resort Casino—Verona, N.Y.
Championship opportunities abound at Turning Stone Resort Casino, about 30 miles east of Syracuse. Those who aspire to someday wear a World Series of Poker winner’s bracelet can buy into any number of WSOP satellite events, including a qualifying tournament where 1 out of 10 players will earn a $10,000 seat in the WSOP Main Event in Las Vegas. Those who prefer green fairways over green felt-covered tables can select the Champions Package instead, which includes a round of golf at each of the resort’s three championship courses (Atunyote, Shenendoah, and Kaluhyat), as well as complimentary rounds at the property’s two recreational layouts (Sandstone Hollow and Pleasant Knolls).
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Of those three championship courses, the resort’s most popular layout—based solely on rounds played—is Shenendoah, Turning Stone’s original course, which benefited from a redesign in 2016. Avid players will also enjoy teeing it up at Kaluhyat, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout that opened in 2003. However, the casino resort’s crown jewel is the Tom Fazio-designed Atunyote course, which hosted a PGA Tour event for four seasons, from 2007 to 2010. Turningstone.com
Cache Creek Casino Resort—Brooks, Calif.
Today, Cache Creek Casino Resort is a sprawling, 415,000-square-foot facility, complete with eight restaurants, a spa, and a 200-room hotel. Needless to say, it’s come a long way from its humble origins as a small bingo hall, circa 1985. The resort’s Troon-managed golf property, Yocha Dehe Golf Club, on the other hand, is as impressive today as it was when the course first opened for play in 2008.
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Surrounded by the gentle hills of Capay Valley about 35 miles west of Sacramento, Yocha Dehe shines as an idyllic and peaceful setting for golf. The course offers a bevy of panoramic views of California farmland, though a couple holes abut a section of vineyards that the area’s indigenous peoples, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, planted to produce their own wine. As for the course, it is known as a challenge for highly skilled players while still offering an enjoyable round for average golfers. Given that it was designed by Brad Bell, a former player on both the PGA and European tours, it’s safe to say that Yocha Dehe was built by someone who knows what a skilled player is looking for. Cachecreek.com
We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort—Fort McDowell, Ariz.
When it comes to playing cards at a casino, different stakes and other parameters can create distinctive games and playing experiences from table to table, even though at a base level the game is still the same. At We-Ko-Pa, 15 miles northeast of downtown Scottsdale, the same can be said for rounds of golf.
Positioned south of the driving range, the resort’s Cholla Course, designed in 2001 by Scott Miller, meanders through the Sonoran Desert without interference, as there are no homes built on the property. The 7,225-yard layout plays over desert ridges and through shady arroyos, and it offers unobstructed views of the Verde and Salt River Valleys, Red Mountain, and the Superstition Mountains. It is the epitome of classic Arizona desert golf.
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To the north of the practice facility sits a much different golf course. Conceived by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2006, the Saguaro Course introduces classic Scottish links features and course routing strategies to the southwestern landscape. Green complexes often flow into the teeing areas for the next hole and the entire course not only conforms to the natural landscape but encourages walking rounds—a rarity in Arizona. Wekopacasinoresort.com
Beau Rivage Resort & Casino—Biloxi, Miss.
Most often, people are drawn to casino resorts for the nightlife, the dining options, and—naturally—the gambling. In Biloxi, Miss., however, avid golfers flock to Beau Rivage Resort & Casino for access to the property’s exclusive championship course, Fallen Oak. According to the resort, the 7,487-yard layout is one “worthy of the pros,” not only for its demanding length but likely also due to its pristine conditioning. After all, the private course is only open to resort guests, which means it’s never overtaxed with excessive play.
Yes, the Tom Fazio-designed layout is technically a “resort course,” but golfers who are fortunate enough to tee it up there shouldn’t expect a benign layout. That much is made clear on the first hole, a dogleg left par five that brings water into play down the entirety of the left side. From there, the course plays across dramatic elevation changes and traverses more than 500 acres home to magnolia, pecan, and centuries-old oak trees, not to mention a plethora of ponds, streams, and natural wetlands. Beaurivage.mgmresorts.com
French Lick Resort—French Lick, Ind.
Depending on your perspective—and perhaps how you’ve fared on his courses over the years—Pete Dye is either famous or notorious for his proclivity to reward the player who successfully takes on the challenge of hitting over hazards or other troublesome terrain off the tee. Given that risk-versus-reward philosophy, it’s poetic that one of the final courses that Dye designed now serves as a championship venue at a casino resort.
The property is also home to a Donald Ross layout that was built in 1917; a regulation 9-hole course, which is a conversion of a Tom Bendelow-routed track from 1907; and a satellite course designed by Tim Liddy that’s located 30 minutes away. Yet, the resort’s Pete Dye Course is arguably the biggest allure, and it’s as famous (or notorious) as its designer, playing more than 8,100 yards from the tips. Dave Harner, the resort’s director of golf, acknowledges that the layout will often feel and play even longer than that. “We’re out of the trees and in the wide open, and the wind up here impacts us pretty much every day,” he says. “It’s the tightest golf course that you’ll ever play that doesn’t have a tree.”
So, play the tips if you dare, but just know that you may find better odds for success inside the resort’s casino. Frenchlick.com
What is your favorite casino golf course?