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Royal play isn’t far in the Las Vegas Valley

I have never been to a major golf championship. Something always came up. You know: money, timing, family or various fiascos.

Not this year. I had my sights set on the 2014 Open Championship in Liverpool, United Kingdom. Travel to the birthplace of the game, catch the tourney and play on legendary courses. I enjoy the essence of historic things.

Alas, reality set in. Again. I’ll explain.

Expedia took only 10 seconds to start the quest. A ticket of $1,816 for coach airfare to Manchester, England, about 25 miles from Liverpool and the Royal Liverpool golf course. I’d need a car.

A Vauxhall Corsa for a little more than $400 for seven days. Full coverage, now we’re talking.

Then, a decent room in Manchester. No rooms available in Liverpool, go figure. Found one at the Doubletree by Hilton. A rate of 135 pounds per night, that’s $236 a night. Seven nights, plus taxes. Less than $2,000, acceptable.

Ah, tickets for the tournament. Daily passes, all four days, basic ground access, a nifty $1,641. Why not splurge? For access to The 1860 Club, you receive premium seating, a parking pass, a morning buffet, pre-lunch champagne, a sumptuous (their word, not mine) four-course lunch, full complimentary bar all day and afternoon tea with treats. Cost for a day, $726.

Throw in another $2,000 for green fees later, food, warm beer and souvenirs, and you have a tremendous, unforgettable, lifetime experience with a grand total of $8,177. A lot of local tee times, I know, but sign me up.

A gas smell inside the car, a battery light blinking in the instrument panel, a vibration in the steering wheel. I had no idea what an alternator, fuel pump, and tires cost these days. I do now. Trip postponed. Perfect timing, deja vu.

Friends suggested the next best thing: Spend a day at a links-type course here in Las Vegas, the Royal Links Golf Club.

Royal Links was created to honor the history and traditions of the birthplace of golf. Designed by Pete Dye, the course mimics the great holes of 11 of the British Open Championship rotating courses. Familiar names to golfers, courses include the Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Turnberry, Royal Lytham, Muirfield, Royal Birkdale and this year’s Championship course, Royal Liverpool.

At first glance, the course appears wide open and easy. There aren’t a lot of trees and few noticeable hazards, with not one water hazard on the course. First impressions can be dangerous. But there are more than 100 “pot hole” bunkers (I prefer the term “%@*hole bunker”) lurking out there, many invisible from the fairway.

The first sense of history arrives at the first hole; you have to cross Swilcan Bridge to tee off. That’s the famous golf landmark at St. Andrews that connects the first and 18th fairway on the Old Course. Neat stuff; it appears smaller than on TV.

Holes of note are No. 4, a 621-yard par-5 that is inspired by Royal Liverpool’s No. 8. Royal Liverpool is where this year’s Open Championship was played. There’s just one trap on this lengthy hole, guarding the front right of the green. It’s a beast, depending on the direction the wind is blowing.

I say the Postage Stamp, and you immediately recognize the hole. Royal Troon Golf Club’s famed par-3, perhaps the most storied par-3 in golf legends. It’s hole No. 8 at Royal Links. I sank a twisty 8-footer for a par.

The first challenge after making the turn is No. 10, a replica of the famous Road Hole of St. Andrews. The choices are to gamble and cut the corner or play it safe. There are also two large bunkers front left of the green, which can cause big trouble.

The clubhouse and pro shop are reminiscent of a castle, and inside, there are displays of golf history and artifacts that will capture your imagination.

Links golf is definitely different. It requires a change in approach, one that will make your day of golf truly unique.

So I may or may not make it across the pond, but I know I enjoyed the day at Royal Links Golf Club. And my car runs.

John Asay is a longtime golfer and local freelance writer. Contact him at jasay@reviewjournal.com.

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