Las Vegas Leads the Golf Boom Remember when Las Vegas was synonymous with blackjack and breakfast buffets? Most non-gamblers wouldn't visit even if you tempted them with a complimentary room and a free bucket of quarters. Just 10 years ago, golf was practically unheard of.

But in the past five years, metro Las Vegas has nearly doubled its courses, from 21 to 41, with up to 10 more on the way. The city has become a bona fide golf destination, with world-class courses such as the Jack

Nicklaus designed Reflection Bay, casino mogul Steve Wynn's ultra-private Shadow Creek course, and the luxurious replica course, Royal Links.

"The catalysts for the golf boom were the arrival of three top courses in 1996 and 1997," says Las Vegas golf course developer Bill Walters. "Desert Pines, TPC at Canyons, and Rio Secco established new standards for quality and started attracting serious golfers and corporate groups."

Many credit Walters, chairman and chief executive of The Walters Group, which owns five courses in Las Vegas, as the man who helped put Las Vegas on the golf destination map by opening the 18-hole Desert Pines Golf Club in 1996, the 54-hole Stallion Mountain Country Club in the early 1990s, and Royal Links in 1999.

"When I evaluated our weather compared to other popular western golf areas like Palm Springs and Phoenix/Scottsdale, I realized ours was as good as or better than theirs," he says. "And we had such a miniscule number of courses for the tens of millions of visitors that come to Las Vegas each year."

The new Vegas courses are 15 to 45 minutes away from the hotel corridor. The Desert Inn, which was completely renovated two years ago, has the only golf course on The Strip. Walters will change that in September, when he opens the first course there in more than 40 years, the Bali Hai, next to the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

Walters considers his Stallion Mountain Country Club to be the most corporate group-oriented course in Las Vegas. The 54-hole complex has two clubhouses, one for members and one for guests, and a special events center that can accommodate 225 people.

Other group-friendly Vegas layouts include the American Golf Corporation's four courses (Badlands, Las Vegas National Golf Club, Painted Desert, and Wildhorse); Angel Park, a 48-hole facility with two 18-hole courses and a 12-hole par-3 layout; and the Arthur Hills designed Legacy Golf Club, with rugged lava rocks, tiered fairways, and massive greens. About 80 miles away are the Oasis Golf Club in Mesquite, with 45 holes designed by Arnold Palmer, and Palms Golf Club, which has hosted the Nevada Open.

San Antonio, Texas, is also capitalizing on its year-round sunshine and diverse terrain. Host to the PGA Tour's Westin La Cantera Texas Open and the Senior PGA Tour's Southwestern Bell Dominion, San Antonio has 45 golf courses. Heading the meeting-oriented golf resorts are the 500-room Hyatt Hill Country Golf Club & Resort, 500-room Westin La Cantera, and 115-room Tapatio Springs Resort & Conference Center.

Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the Biloxi/Gulfport area is bracing for a golf boom. Architects such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Pete Dye, and Mark McCumber have designed courses there, and more are on the drawing board. Nicklaus' Grand Bear course near the Grand Casino Gulfport has received rave reviews.

Propelled by a 20-year course-building boom, Oregon has 195 courses (the Portland area alone has more than 35 public golf courses). Black Butte Ranch offers 36 holes amid a backdrop of snowcapped peaks near Bend; Running & Ranch Resort offers an Arnold Palmer designed layout that weaves through Payne Canyon 10 miles west of Klamath Falls; and Sunriver Resort has 54 holes of golf running through rivers, meadows, wetlands, and pine forests two hours southeast of Portland. One of the nation's most spectacular coastal courses, Bandon Dunes, opened last year on the state's south coast.