From the day it opened in 1990, Shadow Creek Golf Course, the host of the mano-a-mano match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson the day after Thanksgiving, was cloaked in mystique and shrouded in secrecy.
From its eye-opening price tag — anywhere from $45 million to $60 million — to its location in the Mojave Desert 15 miles north of the Las Vegas Strip, to its esteemed clientele of high-rollers, captains of industry, sports icons and stars of the silver screen, Shadow Creek quickly became a bucket list dream for anyone who has put a peg in the ground.
Through word of mouth, this mesmerizing golf course near the city that’s never done subtle and lives and breathes on extravagance has tugged on the hearts of golfers worldwide.
Woods was among those who fancied a tee time once, and he counted down the days until he stepped on the property a few years before his red shirt started to mean something on Sundays.
“The first time I played it, I met Elizabeth Taylor on the 17th tee. And that kind of stuck out because, well, you don’t meet people like that when you are a kid,” said Woods, who later that day learned that the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, often sat near the 17th hole’s waterfall down by the green.
In his active days, George H.W. Bush was a member and had a fishing pole above his locker as he often tried his luck in the course’s streams, ponds and lakes. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have lockers in the unassuming clubhouse, as do Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, John Elway and Derek Jeter, as well as Sylvester Stallone and Matt Damon.
The course hasn’t lost any of its glamour, glitz or guts since its grand opening, and alongside Woods and Mickelson, it deserves its rightful place as a headliner for The Match. It’s a grand stage for the high-stakes battle between this generation’s best players and biggest stars, a man-made marvel of nature’s treasures that will challenge both players and stun onlookers.
“When I first played it in the early ’90s, there wasn’t a thing around the property. It was all desert and in the middle of it was Shadow Creek. It was an oasis in the middle of the desert, a mirage that was stunning,” Mickelson said. “It’s a spectacular golf course. Not only is it aesthetically beautiful, it has incredible risk-reward holes with plenty of birdie and eagle opportunities.
“There are some holes that favor me and there are some holes that favor Tiger, and that speaks to the beauty of the design.”
Sprung from the fertile imagination of Steve Wynn, the casino mogul whose foresight helped transform the Strip to what it is today, Shadow Creek surfaced from the handiwork of renowned architect Tom Fazio, who was commissioned to build a golf masterpiece without restrictions on its price tag.
“Steve told me he wanted to build a golf course as good as anything in the world. When I saw the land, I thought he was crazy,” Fazio said. “But whatever I wanted to do, I did.”
What he did was create an environment where none existed except 350 acres of lifeless, hardened desert. Fazio and his builders started the transformation by digging 50 feet into the chunk of the earth — about 3 million cubic yards of dirt was excavated. This allowed Fazio to carve out rolling hills and canyons. The massive mining also provided enough dirt to create a berm around the property to help keep the sun out of the players’ eyes. Instead, majestic mountain ranges glisten in the distance.
Some 20,000 of more than 200 varieties of trees were imported and form a lush forest throughout the property that casts shadows over emerald fairways and greens, waterfalls, creeks, ponds, brooks, lagoons and lakes. The woods are so thick, no hole can be seen from another.
The unique environment also is home to lively vegetation; vibrant, multihued floral decorations; and exotic birds including swans and blue herons, pheasants with 6-foot tails, as well as rabbits and other critters. There’s even a red London telephone booth on the ninth tee.
“It’s a fun place. We’ve had some great games,” Woods said. “And the scenery is unbelievable. You think you are in North Carolina or something, or Colorado with the mountains and the pine trees and the waterfalls. What Steve Wynn did there is nothing short of a miracle.”
Following an expensive renovation in 2006 that sand-capped the course, lengthened it and expanded some greens for more pin placements, the par-72 layout can tip out at 7,560 yards. While every hole could be the course’s signature hole, the ones that could prove pivotal in The Match are the 553-yard, par-5 fourth that is mindful of Augusta National’s historic 13th; the 409-yard, par-4 ninth; and the two closing holes — the 164-yard, downhill, par-3 17th and the 564-yard, water-protected par-5 18th.
“I think the par-3s are going to be key,” said Mickelson, who held the course record before Woods went one better with a 61, which was later matched by Fred Couples.
Since the renovation, Dustin Johnson has the record with a 65. “All the holes will be important, but the par-3s will be pivotal because most likely we’ll have some closest-to-the-pin contests,” Mickelson added. “If that happens, there is going to be a little more emphasis on those holes.”
For a decade, one could only play Shadow Creek by invitation. But since 2000, when Wynn sold his holdings to MGM Resorts International, anyone can play the course. It’s a hefty price — one must stay at an MGM Las Vegas property, and the green fee is $500 plus gratuity for the mandatory caddie.
Three-time major champion Jordan Spieth said it’s worth consideration.
“I was very wowed by Shadow Creek the first time I played it, and I’ve played it a few times since and you’re still stunned,” he said. “It’s just an unbelievable golf experience, one of the top ones I’ve ever had in the country.
“I like the mixture of holes. You have drivable par-4s and then you have long doglegs. The green complexes are complicated and very challenging. You can score on the course, but it also presents a legitimate challenge.
“Hopefully it comes down to the finish. The par-3 17th is just a 9-iron, but it’s to a tiny green surrounded by water. And the par-5 18th has water in play, so, yes, you can make an eagle, but you can easily make bogey.”
The competition, the side bets, the banter between Woods and Mickelson will highlight the pay-per-view telecast. As will Shadow Creek.
“One unique thing about this will be the drone coverage,” Mickelson said. “We’ll have different perspectives on every shot, which you can’t do with 150 guys but you can do with two guys. That will incorporate the course. You will get better aerial views of what the players are facing and that will showcase the course. And it’s quite a course, believe me.”