January 4, 2009--Whenever Jack Nicklaus hits Las Vegas, it's a big deal. But flash back to the mid nineties--when Nicklaus was knee deep in the creation of his first two Las Vegas golf courses and a guy named Tiger was just hitting the scene--and those visits were extra special because there was still no denying who the biggest name in golf was. Nicklaus first designed the private SouthShore Golf Club at Lake Las Vegas Resort but soon followed with Reflection Bay Golf Club, Las Vegas' first Nicklaus resort golf course. "It's not often you get the opportunity on a body of water like this, in a setting like Lake Las Vegas, to design a golf course," Nicklaus told this writer at the time.
Nicklaus made sure to be the first golfer to officially record a full round at both SouthShore and Reflection Bay Golf Club. And on a spring day in 1998, Nicklaus toured the new Reflection Bay in 1-over par 73 while playing with Lake Las Vegas Resort Director of Golf John Herndon, who fired a 78. Nicklaus did end the round in style by securing his lone birdie of the day on the beautiful par 5, 18th hole that plays along the shoreline of Lake Las Vegas. Many awards have been bestowed on Reflection Bay Golf Club over the years including mention by Golf Digest as a Top 100 You Can Play, and Best Overall experience by VegasGolfer Magazine.
"To come and play one of my golf courses is always a special day for me," said Nicklaus, who was pleased with what man and nature had combined to create at Lake Las Vegas. "To spend two or three years working on the project and then see the fruits of our work is very satisfying. It's interesting to see how it plays, to see if it plays the way I thought it would and the way I think it should. It's almost like my last working session on a project because it's my last chance to say if we need to adjust anything." Nicklaus was satisifed becasue very few adjustments needed to made.
Lake Las Vegas Resort is located about 35 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, and has blossomed into a true Las Vegas golf resort destination that includes a Loews Resort plus a Ritz-Carlton in addition to Montelago Village and an array of amazing homes that dot the hillsides and shores of Lake Las Vegas.
"All golf courses have a pace or a flow, and some holes are built to set up other holes," said Nicklaus, who just weeks before the Reflection Bay opening had finished 6th at The Masters in his 40th appearance at Augusta. "For example, the 17th and 18th holes at Reflection Bay are two pretty good holes on the water, but if the 16th hole was another standout hole, then 17 and 18 wouldn't be as dramatic. THe 16th is designed as a nice, simple golf hole for a reason, because when you step up to the 17th and 18th holes, you say, 'wow!'"
Nicklaus mentioned the par 4, 7th hole was a personal favorite, and also that he was honored to be the one picked to create the holes on the manmade water. "I don't know how many bodies of water there are like this out there, and to be able to put parts of five holes on its shores is a special gift, but also a big responsibility," said Nicklaus about the course that would go on to host several Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge made-for-tv events. Players who competed in the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge over the years included Natalie Gulbis, Nick Price, Christie Kerr, Fred Couples, Justin Leonard, Jim Colbert, Tom Watson, and many others. Nicklaus played for the Champions Tour team in 1997, 1999 (they won), and 2001.
Nicklaus is also no stranger to official competition in Las Vegas. He won five PGA Tour events that were played in Las Vegas, and always relished the opportunity. "I've played quite a bit of golf over the years in Las Vegas, and won some tournaments," said Nicklaus. "I've always enjoyed playing here, but it seems the last few years that the Las Vegas tournament (Las Vegas Senior Classic at the time) has always come after the PGA Seniors Championship and the Masters, and by then I'm pretty tired of playing golf. But I'd like to play here again before I get too old."
Unfortunately, the Las Vegas Senior Classic left Las Vegas before the Golden Bear had that opportunity. So memories from his wins at the 1963 and 1964 Tournament of Champions, and the 1966, 1967 and 1969 Sahara Invitational events will have to suffice. All were played in Las Vegas, but more on those later. Quotes used in this article were told to writer Brian Hurlburt for an article in VegasGolfer Magazine.