The current trend in golf course design emphasizes a natural approach, one in which architects move as little dirt as possible and make best use of a site’s existing attributes. But every now and then an audacious designer shoehorns a course into a site Mother Nature clearly never intended for golf. The Falls Golf Club, the new Tom Weiskopf layout at Lake Las Vegas—itself a manufactured lake and resort community some 20 miles east of the Strip—provides a convincing case for such aberrant behavior.
Faced with a barren desert setting of dirt, rocks, and arroyos, Weiskopf laid out the first six holes in a fairly traditional target-golf format. The fairways are quite generous—this is a resort course, after all—but the punishment for going wayward is administered by unforgiving rocks. Weiskopf added to the challenges with strategic bunkering, especially around the greens, and left several rocky carries from the tees.
But the first six holes, while pleasant, are no indication of what lies in wait. The par-5 seventh offers the first hint of the Falls’ greatness. Chiseled out between a pair of rocky ridges, the hole demands two careful shots through a narrow fairway before a precise approach to a sliver of a green sitting atop a wall. After an exhilarating downhill par-3 eighth, and a ninth that sweeps around a lake on its way back to the clubhouse, the Falls begins one of the strangest and most memorable nine holes of golf anywhere. Ten and 11 climb into Deadman’s Gulch territory, a Mars-like terrain of cliffs and rocks that seems better suited for a mining operation or a band of outlaws waiting in ambush than for golf. On the par-5 12th, after requiring an accurate tee shot, Weiskopf asks for a blind second over a hump guarded by towering rocks on both sides. Once the golf cart thinks-it-cans over the top, driver and passenger are rewarded with a vista of green fairway backed by the glitter of the Strip in the distance.
The cart path from 12 wends around a hairpin downhill turn to the tee boxes at 13, which were hacked out of a cliff. Far below lies the fairway, angling to the right and out of sight. Tee shots must stay to the left here, otherwise the green, blasted out of a narrow defile in the surrounding rocks, is hidden from view.
Golfers can catch their breath on 14 and 15 before tackling the challenging final three. Sixteen is a 222-yard par-3 with water left and desert right; 17 is a par-4 with a marshy pond guarding the right side of the green (and the eponymous waterfall cascading down from the mountain to the left); and the finisher is a long par-5 with a terraced green.
Despite its wild routing, and the fantastic engineering that must have been employed to make it possible, Weiskopf’s latest creation manages to avoid gimmickry. The Falls still feels like a golf course—and a great one at that.
The Falls Golf Club