You know when you hit a ball so OB that you find yourself wandering through an area that feels about as far from a golf course as it can be? That’s the feeling I had as I hauled my clubs across the vast expanse of the Bellagio casino floor, avoiding the stares of diehard gamblers still going strong through daybreak. Were they really seeing a guy play through the par 5 at some sort of “Bellagio Casino Country Club”? 

In full disclosure, if I didn’t have a tee time, I’d be right there with them, as I had been just a few hours earlier. I exited the Bellagio and passed my bag to the waiting valet, who led me to a shiny MGM-emblazoned limo. “Enjoy Shadow Creek, Mr. Holloway,” he commented, with maybe a tinge of envy.

This wasn’t exactly the plan, to play one of the top courses on every golfer’s bucket list by myself. There were supposed to be three others — a proper foursome — all of us fraternity brothers getting together for a weekend in Vegas. 

As is necessary when coordinating four different family schedules and the myriad obligations already on the books, we planned ahead, picking a weekend far in advance of our trip. Fast-forward six months and, due to a calamity of circumstances that included stubborn kidney stones and one gentleman booking his flight for a completely different weekend, I found myself in Vegas, alone, sipping bourbon at a blackjack table and reassessing the plan for the weekend to come. 

I had reservations about converting a guys’ trip to a solo mission before departing for Vegas. Who goes to Vegas by themselves? Professional strippers and degenerate gamblers, that’s who. As I didn’t exactly fit into either category, my original reservations were now a reality, with one exception … my tee time at Shadow Creek. 

As I doubled down on my current hand, hard 10 against the dealer’s six, I put the fate of this weekend into the hands of Lady Luck and pulled an ace — off to a good start.

Shadow Creek is the private golf course of MGM Resorts and formerly Steve Wynn’s personal playground. The course is less than a 30-minute drive north of The Strip, but a world away from its constant barrage of sights, sounds and smells attacking the senses. 

The main entrance is an unassuming driveway tucked into a forgettable Las Vegas neighborhood. No need for large signage, or any signage for that matter, as most players arrive via limo. 

I pulled up to the clubhouse and was greeted by the head pro and my caddie for the round, Sarge. Although this was my first round at Shadow Creek, they treated me like a lifelong member.

The head pro walked me through the clubhouse and into the men’s locker room, a cavernous space that’s more like a lounge than a locker room. Beautiful wooden lockers lined the walls adorned with the names of the many golfers, athletes, celebrities and U.S. presidents who have hacked it up at Shadow Creek. 

As for my locker, I would’ve picked Jordan — naturally, it’s Vegas — but got Barkley instead. The guy knows how to have fun on a golf course and doesn’t take it too seriously. I could channel that energy. 

I met back up with Sarge, who had a plastic cup of swing lube waiting in the cart as we headed to the range. (The Bellagio concierge had notified the course of my preference for gin and tonics on the golf course.)

Tee times are Shadow Creek is merely a suggestion. With only a handful of groups teeing off each day, there’s plenty of time to work on your swing and crack jokes on the range. Sarge and I took ample advantage of both. I told him about the debacles that reduced our foursome to a single and my initial hesitation to still come out for the weekend. He watched my swing and listened to my woes. 

“We can work with that,” he said, a critique on both my swing and the disrupted weekend. 

Second full disclosure: I’m on the hack end of the stick-and-hack spectrum. Sarge’s response boded well, as it acknowledged that things had not gone as expected but that a positive outcome was still in the cards — one that would be repeated many times over the next four hours. 

As Sarge and I approached hole number one, he asked the most important question of the day: “Did I want to have fun or get kicked in the nuts?” I’m certain he already knew the answer, I but could tell that was his go-to opener to kick off the round. I opted for having fun, and so Sarge picked my tee box for the first hole and we were off.

The 18 holes that followed were the perfect mix of great golf shots, terrible shanks, made putts and missed putts, pars and triple bogies, mulligans (plural), laughter, sh*t talking, and a whole lot of “we can work with that” from Sarge when the reality of a shot did not match my intention. 

Sarge regaled me on each tee box with his vast knowledge of the course and her many secrets, like the family of dolphins buried on number 17 — not so much of a secret as their gravestones lie just off the tee box. He described a round between four Asian gentlemen who played for $10,000 per hole and exchanged bound 100-count stacks of $100 bills after every hole, in case they’re memory was fuzzy after finishing both the round and a full bottle of whiskey simultaneously. 

Of course, I asked the obligatory questions about who he had looped for (name him or her, he had carried their bag at Shadow Creek) and the craziest things he’d witnessed at Shadow Creek (on that, he suddenly became mute). Before I knew it, I was holing out the par 3 17, after hitting a small bucket on the tee box, because that’s what you do at Shadow Creek. 

Not once since the limo ride over had I thought about the weekend that should have been or the perfect foursome that had become a lonely single. Lady Luck had smiled down on me and I drew Sarge out of the deck of caddies like an ace landing on a one-eyed jack. 

As Sarge and I stood on the number 18 tee box — a 500-yard uphill par 5 with a set of three serene ponds running up the right side to a guarded green and view of the mountain range north of Las Vegas a backdrop — I didn’t know what my score was, nor did I care. I knew I hadn’t beaten the course low of 60 held by Tiger and Freddie C., so my scorecard wouldn’t be joining theirs above the urinals in the men’s locker room. I wouldn’t score this golf round as a cold calculation of strokes over and under par. My experience at Shadow Creek was too amazing to reduce it to a number relative to 72. 

I finished my round, tipped Sarge, and found an overstuffed chair on the clubhouse porch overlooking the 18th fairway and green. I spent another hour at Shadow Creek alone, sipping bourbon and watching other groups drop their last puts, remove their hats, and shake hands to close out the round. 

Without fail, every group exited the green with the same exclamation: “What an experience!” Each time I heard them, I raised my glass in agreement.

Cody Holloway

Stick and Hack guest writer, Cody Holloway hacks it up a couple of times a week, mostly from his home in Denver. However, Holloway’s playing frequency isn’t reflected in his 21 handicap. More important to him is the game’s combination of being an individual sport carried out in a social environment.