Links Vegas: Nothing rough about this fair oasis in the southern Nevada desert

Photo gallery: Las Vegas golf courses

Turns out there's more to Las Vegas than blackjack, Cirque du Soleil and the Playboy suite at the Palms.

While the green of a sawbuck still acts as the lifeblood of the gambling mecca, Vegas is getting a reputation for putting that color to use away from The Strip. The lushness of the local golf courses has just as much pull for some visitors as a craps tables or all-you-can-eat buffets.

Vegas, in fact, has great courses less than a half-hour drive away from The Strip that will keep players of all kinds returning year-round. Call it Links Vegas, baby!

Las Vegas golf is unique because, for the most part, you won't happen upon hundreds of fir trees deep behind the tee box or overflowing creeks running through the fairways.

What you will find is desert and rock. You will get the up close and personal view if your tee shot veers way left or right. Nothing like a second-shot challenge to test your game against the natural elements.

Regardless of your skill level or how well you can hit an 8-iron from underneath a cactus, here are four magnificent courses that make for a worthwhile excursion from the smoky and windowless casinos:

Bear's Best Golf Club

Bear's Best (1111 W. Flamingo Road, Web site) is located in Summerlin, a sprawling community in the northwest part of the city.

Similar to its sister course in Atlanta, the 7,194-yard course was built in 2001 by Jack Nicklaus and each hole is a testament — built as an exact replica — to the best holes in the West (as well as one hole dedicated to a course in Mexico).

"Nicklaus courses are more than fair off the tees," says Bear's Best club pro Greg Blackwell. "The bunkers are very deep and the greens are undulating. You have to hit it to the right spot on the greens."

Holes 15, 16 and 17 are identical to the signature holes at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., while two of the par-4s (holes 10 and 18) are a tribute to PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.

Blackwell calls the par-5 18th "visually intimidating and the best hole on the course." At 463 yards, sand and water run alongside the right side of the fairway, with a bunker next to the 40-yard, two-tiered green that demands an exceptional approach.

The 18th can be a capper on a day when the best strategy is to play to your strengths and not try to emulate Nicklaus. Par is definitely makable, assuming you keep away from the right-side hazards and don't try to overhit the ball.

"The best advice I can give is to pick the appropriate tee," Blackwell explains. "Sometimes players need to swallow their pride."

The Revere Golf Club (Lexington Golf Course)

Over at the 7,143-yard Lexington course at The Revere Golf Club in nearby Henderson, Nev., (2600 Hampton Road, Web site) all the tee boxes are elevated so everything goes downhill, which is a nice plus for those stinging, worm-killing tee shots that afflict even the most experienced hacker.

The course is overseeded, with plenty of Bermuda fairways and large greens. Keeping it on the lush fairway is a key for the par-5, 534-yard 16th, which club pro Bill Klemke calls a "rich reward" hole.

"There's a dry creek bed in front of the green, but it's a hole where you can go for it in two," he says. "The average golfer will lay up, but if you want to go for it you'll need two demanding shots off the tee."

What Klemke admires about the Lexington course is that it doesn't just demand raw power from players off the tee, but a varied club selection that suits the needs of each hole.

"You can't hit a driver on every long hole," he says. "You might want to use your utility club. It makes you think out there."

That being said, it's highly advisable to take the driver out of the bag on the 11th hole, where you'll find 625 yards between the tee box and flagstick.

Better players can try to use the left side of the fairway, as it's tighter than the right side but is more direct to the hole. The right side is a safer play, but the angle to the hole can be challenging. In other words, a par here is reason to celebrate.

Good iron play is essential at Lexington. Even with a well-placed drive, a misplay of an iron on the next shot can lead to disaster.

"You're going to be working on your 7 and 5-irons on all your second shots," Klemke says, giving advice to those new to the course. "The greens can be impossible if you land on the wrong spot, and you don't want to be long [with your approaches]."


Gallery: Las Vegas | Note: Photos courtesy of courses they depict