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Mystery of Shadow Creek intrigues PGA Tour golfers

Updated October 15, 2020 - 1:10 pm

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods brought The Match to Shadow Creek Golf Club in 2018, but this week’s CJ Cup is the first extensive look most golf fans will get of the mysterious course.

The mystique of Shadow Creek isn’t just for a national audience. Even Las Vegas residents know little about the course 30 years after its debut. And even PGA Tour players are mostly in the dark about it.

“My only experience was The Match,” said Jon Rahm, the world’s second-ranked player, before playing it for the very first time Tuesday. “Never been here before and I just saw The Match. That’s all I’ve seen about Shadow Creek.”

To help Rahm and others out, here are a few facts about the course.

It is ranked the fifth best public course in the United States by Golf Digest

Shadow Creek is in some pretty heady company on the 2020 list, ranking below only Pebble Beach (California), Pacific Dunes (Oregon), Whistling Straits (Wisconsin) and The Ocean Course (South Carolina).

Golf Digest calls it designer Tom Fazio’s finest work ever: “Shadow Creek plays like a musical composition in three movements, with alternating heavy beats and light moments, building to a resounding crescendo.”

The pros will play it as a 7,527-yard par-72 layout.

Is it really a public course?

Technically, Shadow Creek qualifies as a public course because the public can play. Making that happen, however, is a huge challenge.

To get on the course, a player must stay at an MGM Resorts property. That doesn’t matter if you live in Las Vegas, have come from out of town or are President Bill Clinton. The same rules apply. Next, you must pay the $600 greens fee — yes, $600 — and be driven to the course by limo. And keep a little money available to tip your caddie.

Only two foursomes get on the course Monday through Thursday. All other tee times are by invitation only.

There is a little history to the course

It’s been open 30 years, but even Justin Thomas was a little bit in awe when describing the course Tuesday.

“I know that pretty much everybody who’s anybody has been here,” said Thomas, who had played the course twice over the past decade. “I’ve been here when the players aren’t in the locker room and just going through and looking at the nameplates. It’s pretty impressive and unbelievable the names that are on some of those lockers.”

Names like Barack Obama, George Bush, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, to name a few.

Woods told Golf Digest that the first time he played it, Elizabeth Taylor was sitting by the 17th tee and he had just missed Michael Jackson.

The construction was an epic effort

Fazio and his team took a flat piece of desert and turned it into an undulating course with hills and valleys on virtually every hole. An estimated 3 million cubic yards of soil was excavated, and more than 200 varieties of trees added.

“Shadow Creek is the place I would like to be buried when my days are done,” NBA legend Julius Erving once said. “It’s my favorite place on the planet.”

You will play in isolation

Not only are there few players on the course at any given time, but you wouldn’t know they were there anyway. Every hole is designed so that you don’t see any other holes, thanks to the thick, tree-lined fairways.

And while you won’t see other people, you will see creeks, lakes, waterfalls, dozens of varieties of plants and more.

It was a lot for Rory McIlroy to take in this week as he saw it for the first time.

“It’s such a cool place,” he said. “It’s a great golf course. I wouldn’t mind if we got to play a Tour event here every year. It’s really cool.”

Greg Robertson is a freelance reporter who covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at robertsongt@gmail.com

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