Wish You Were Here

For this duffer, a round at Shadow Creek fulfilled a dream. And that was before he started playing.

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Mark Brenneman could’ve lied to put me at ease. He could’ve been like the nurse with the needle who tells the 7-year-old kid it’s not going to hurt. Instead, the general manager of Shadow Creek Golf Course chose to give it to me straight. “Well, unfortunately, I’ve got some bad news for you, Matt—and this is from someone who has played with hundreds of golfers out here over the years: No one plays this course well the first time. Nobody.”

Terrific. Just what a guy whose golf handicap is “everything” wants to hear.

Needless to say, days later, Brenneman’s words are still rattling around my dome when my filthy truck pulls up to Shadow Creek’s iron gate, which slowly slides open to reveal my first glimpse of Tom Fazio’s masterpiece.

A quick aside: I first heard about this oasis in the desert not long after moving here some 17 years ago, back when Shadow Creek was even more exclusive than it is now. And I remember thinking, Wow, what I wouldn’t give to just see that place! Never in a million years did I think I’d ever play it. Yet here I am, one of the select media invited to play 18 holes in advance of the 11th annual Michael Jordan Celebrity Golf Invitational, which Shadow Creek is hosting for the second straight year March 29-April 1.

As I step into the clubhouse, the first thing that strikes me is how understated it is … until I get close enough to read the gold nameplates on the wooden lockers:

Steve Wynn.

Kirk Kerkorian.

President Clinton.

President George H.W. Bush.

All in the same row.

After a quick breakfast, I return to the clubhouse to find that an attendant has placed my golf shoes right in front of Bush’s locker. I repeat: My shoes; the former leader of the free world’s locker. My mind flashes to the line from Caddyshack: “Some people just don’t belong.”

The driving range is lined with hundreds of the 20,000 pine trees that are responsible for the “shadow” part of Shadow Creek. Close your eyes and picture the most spectacular driving range imaginable. Reality tops it. That—the experience of beauty, even more than the golf itself—is the magic of Shadow Creek. And it just keeps coming: The elevated 17th tee box overlooks a pristine lake that fronts the green, with a waterfall that guards the rear and snowcapped mountains in the distance finishing the portrait. At No. 13, a massive hawk soars overhead. A quiet stream runs the entire length of the ninth hole. Pheasants roam the course.

As Brenneman told me pre-round: “You’re going to see beautiful things, you’re going to hear beautiful things, you’re going to feel beautiful things—it’s very difficult to describe. But you’ll know what I’m talking about after you play it.”

He gave me another piece of advice, too: “Forget about the scorecard.” And so I did. Oh, I know I threw up a bunch of crooked numbers—guess who now owns the course record for most shots on No. 18?—but thanks in large part to my caddie, Bernie, I didn’t completely embarrass myself. Or so I thought until I walked out to my truck and encountered a gorgeous pheasant that was the size of a small turkey. I quickly grabbed my phone to snap a picture. The bird didn’t seem to approve, as it spun around, let out a loud squeal and took a step toward me.

I don’t pretend to speak pheasant, but nonetheless the message was pretty clear: Some people really don’t belong.