Casino courses thriving despite economy

Circling Raven

Circling Raven

Click here for the 2010 Golfweek’s Best Casino Courses list

Midway through December, you typically can count on at least two things happening: You’ll face the prospect of frantic, last-minute Christmas shopping, and you’ll find Shadow Creek Golf Club at the top of the annual Golfweek’s Best Casino Courses list.

The North Las Vegas, Nev., layout, now 20 years old, remains the perfect golf course for Sin City. Like the mammoth, themed casinos that line The Strip, Shadow Creek is a thorough re-imagining of the otherwise nondescript land on which it sits.

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Shadow Creek

Shadow Creek’s grip on the list’s top spot remains firm, though its lead over No. 2 Fallen Oak narrowed slightly this year. The 4-year-old Saucier, Miss., layout has helped establish the Gulf Coast region as one of the country’s finest golf-and-gaming destinations.

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We-Ko-Pa Golf Club (Saguaro course)

Both designs were created by Tom Fazio, who placed eight courses on the list, more than any other architect. That included two layouts done in collaboration with Jerry Pate at Dancing Rabbit Golf Club in Philadelphia, Miss.

There are some interesting additions to the list. The Greenbrier’s Old White (No. 8) and Greenbrier (No. 45) courses qualified this year following the July opening of the resort’s 100,000-square-foot Casino Club. And Southern Dunes Golf Club in Maricopa, Ariz., checks in at No. 20 following its acquisition this past summer by the Ak-Chin Indian Community. Southern Dunes, a highly regarded layout for serious players, is now affiliated with the Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino Resort.

Native American tribes, in fact, have been prominent in driving the growth of casino golf as they’ve added amenities for their gaming customers. That includes courses such as Sequoyah National, part of Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino in Whittier, N.C., the only 2010 opening to earn a spot on the list.

More broadly, casino golf represents one of the few areas of relative strength, given the domestic collapse of golf development over the past two years. Gross gambling revenues totaled nearly $31 billion in 2009, down from a peak of more than $34 billion in 2007, but still 25 percent higher than in 2000. Those sorts of numbers suggest casino operators are going to be formidable players in golf development for the foreseeable future.

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