6,168 yards, 133 slope from the White tees
About half an hour away from the Vegas strip in the hills of Boulder City lies Cascata, a course designed by Rees Jones and Keith Evans in 2000. Set in the high desert plain with breathtaking views of the valley below, the course runs up, down and even through the foothills of the Red Mountain and has established itself as one of the premier public courses in the area. In response to Shadow Creek, the folks at Caesar’s decided to build their own high roller retreat. Cascata is Italian for “waterfall” and there are a few streams that run down the hills, as well as one that meanders through the clubhouse. Similar to Shadow Creek, Cascata is a marvel defying nature. In an area surrounded by barren desert rock, the course is lush with an abundance of waterways and shady palms. The clubhouse is decadent Spanish architecture and worth spending some time in as well. Conditions are top notch and what you’d expect for what the green fee is. This is all set up for a high end experience that is now open to the public. But what about the course?
The course runs vertically against and with the hills for the most part so most are substantially uphill or downhill. This provides a good deal of time enjoying the views. The run of the hills is accounted for on the downhill holes while some of the uphills play significantly longer than their stated yardage. The course is not as tolerant of missed fairways as the other courses I played this trip, as the hillsides are typically so severe that even if you have an eye on the ball where it lands, it’ll likely roll a lot afterwards making it tough to track down. The fairways have nice width to them, however, and there is a good amount of rough meant to keep the ball on the grass throughout. There’s a nice combination of forced carries and opportunities to use the hills and ground game while this is very much a driver’s course with the variety and challenge of tee shots. The setting is used well, especially on the back when the ridges and terraces were showcased and used more uniquely. The setting and views from the high desert plains should really be taken in. There’s not too many places where one can take in vistas of such expansive desert below while golfing, all of it below you.
The restraint of the greens was surprising yet pleasing. They are not over shaped and are not unnecessarily fast, but instead rely on the natural pull of the terrain, which is sufficient, and roll true.
The balance that I speak of Vegas courses must engage in is more on the challenging side here. It’s a driving course where getting off the tee is almost critical because of the severity awaiting at the rocky bushy hardpan hillsides off fairway. Hillsides, bunkers and water must be carried and taken on, while the downhill holes provide reprieve in allowing you to roll the ball down at your leisure. It’s more of an execution based course of the heroic variety. With the expansive views of the desert below and of course the Vegas feels still about even way out here, the golfer is inspired in gearing up for those shots. It’s a more demanding course than I came across this trip in that way.
I couldn’t shake the sense, however, that I had seen a lot of the holes many times before some where else and the challenge of what was being asked of me seemed to become the same a lot of the time. This is fine. With the views, setting and conditioning, the course does enough to earn its high end stature. The playing structure is well and good, requiring execution and an ability to handle a lot of hilly lies. In terms of Vegas courses and walking that line, Cascata gives you the bells and whistles with pretty straightforward golf that requires a lot of hearty swings to get around.
The tables were much kinder the night prior. I found something in my swing at the Wynn and as I was warming up at the range, felt like pretty good things were in store. An early tee time, heavier wallets, a promising swing and after a pretty good breakfast burrito; it doesn’t get much better. Let’s send them out!
The First is a 309 yard par 4 (from the White tees). Straight into the hills we go with water rushing down the left side, a cascade of various shades of luminous green and towering desert rock before us. A bunker on the right and water on the left of the wide fairway eases into the setting. The green is uphill with more water on the left along with a couple green side bunkers at the rear left, all of it signaling to approach more from the right. High right off the green is no good, as all of a sudden the terrain pulling towards the water becomes apparent and the golfer is faced with a harrowing shot with it much more in play than it needs to be.
The Second is a 377 yard par 4. We continue to climb into the high desert. The fairway is narrower than the prior as it slaloms about fairway bunkers on either side to the green. As I’ve noticed at a lot of Rees Jones courses, he does not want you to go to the rear of the green. That holds true here, with four bunkers fanning out behind it to collect those shots. Be sure to turn around and take in the view. It never gets old.
The Third is a 531 yard par 5. The tees are one of the higher points of the course and the vast desertscape is below. The Boulder City Dry Lake Bed, El Dorado Wilderness, Nelson Ghost Town and Quaker City Mine are among the sites down there, the great expanse commanding a quiet stillness. The fairway is set at an angle from the tee, running off to the left and down the hill. The bunkers are on the right side while the terrain seems to move towards them. There is a break in the fairway for the cart path that should be accounted for on the second shot. The green is at the bottom, awaiting those approach shots far and near, a sole bunker on its right side.
The Fourth is a 160 yard par 3. More downhill, the green is below the tee with water on the left. A larger bunker is off to the right while there is a run up to the green that feeds in at the front right. So miss short right if you feel the need.
The Fifth is a 460 yard par 5. Back uphill and dog legging left, we see a break in the fairway for the cart path similar to the Third. After the break, the fairway widens and straightens out yet still climbs, a sinewy green side bunker at the front left lurking below. The green is on a plateau of sorts, above the fairway and moving from back to front. It was at this point my friend in our group decided I needed to start in on the Basil Hayden, so began ordering them for me any time we saw the drink cart. I was more in disbelief that they actually had it available. Sipping and plenty of water was the only way to stay the course and handle the steady stream of Basil Hayden that came my way and keep my wits about me throughout the round. Not my first rodeo in this regard. Yet a nice little whiskey was the perfect complement to a round of golf among friends and the majestic desert mountains. Vegas indeed.
The Sixth is a 339 yard par 4. A dog leg right where there’s a lot of room off to the right, which is where the bunkers reside. The left side is generally high while the right is low, so favoring the left side is sound while those opting for the right mean a shorter path to the green. Bunkers pinch the entry point of the green, which widens at the middle and is set at an angle to the fairway, off to the right. The green is a tad higher up than the Third tees, so it’s a nice time to turn around for the views.
The Seventh is a 129 yard par 3. This hole is actually the highest point of the front nine, an enclave within the hills. Water is short of the green with a retention pond off to the right. A U-shaped bunker is just before the green while an upside down dinosaur shaped bunker is behind the green (I kid you not; look at it on Google Maps). This rear bunker stretches down the right side of the green as well. It’s a great spot for a nice short par 3 with a well-sized green.
The Eighth is a 370 yard par 4. Starting to go around the mountain, the fairway landing starts wide but then narrows next to nothing while turning to the right before widening and leading to the green. Finding the width here is the challenge, or else be sure you’re in control of your ball, as accuracy is emphasized here.
The Ninth is a 390 yard par 4. Another mesmerizing view at the tee, the Boulder City Airport is down there. Perhaps you’ll see a plane or two. The tee shot soars among them before coming down to the fairway, leading downhill to the green. High left and low right is the fairway tilt while the entry point to the wider green is at the left, consistent with the terrain pull.
The front nine scales and repels down the hills with grand views always close at hand. The hills and terrain were used to emphasize challenge and reprieve as appropriate while the par 3’s felt like great opportunities for the golfer to gather himself and rejuvenate for the battles ahead. I would rank them 5, 8, 2, 1, 7, 9, 6, 4, 3.
The back nine starts with the 385 yard par 4 Tenth. Heading downhill with the view on full display beyond, the tee shot is a mild forced carry over desert rock while the fairway is of moderate width, yet gets narrower closer to the green. Something less than driver might be a good idea here. With the roll of the downhill, it’s more important to land on the fairway than anything else, especially with the trees and bush lying on the outskirts. The Ninth and Tenth greens are way too similar. Entry point on the left, fairway leading downhill to it with a left to right tilt; even the bunker scheme at the green is almost identical. So yeah, the approach shot is basically the same.
The Eleventh is a 310 yard par 4. A more accuracy themed nine holes continues with this short par 4. A narrow fairway to begin with gets a little wider further uphill before ending altogether at a pond short of the green. The green is on the side of the water, of smaller size with a trio of bunkers on the backside. It’s a tough short par 4 and it all starts with the tee shot, where even a short iron should be considered; staying on the fairway is that vital.
The Twelfth is a 132 yard par 3. A short par 3 at a leveling near the higher side of the mountain. Lots of room near the green with a serpentine bunker on the right side. The green is large, however, and the reprieve comes at the right time after the last two challenging shotmaking holes. Enjoy the breath of fresh air.
The Thirteenth is a 348 yard par 4. Not the highest tees but perhaps the ones set the furthest back in the mountains, the view and fairway sprawled before us is a welcome contrast to first couple holes on this set. A dog leg left running downhill, bunkers on the outside to collect those overly ambitious tee shots. The fairway remains wide but does go through a desert rock gate, where it once again opens up and feeds to the green.
The Fourteenth is a 369 yard par 4. The palm trees grabbed my attention, denoting some kind of oasis or difference in terrain. The water near the green on the right side may be the culprit, as the hole dog legs around it and the green ends up perpendicular to the fairway. With bunkers on the rear side of the green and water on the front, the accuracy card comes calling, loudly, once again.
The Fifteenth is a 168 yard par 3. Set on a hillside that moves right to left, the green drops off substantially at the rear and left side. The bunker on the left side is well below the hole and much larger than can be seen from the tee. Anything short is a good bail out area while those out on the right will need to deal with the strong movement away from them, towards that large bunker below the green. The green is of good size and will accept a lot of shots into it, so stay aggressive.
The Sixteenth is a 446 yard par 5. Accuracy has been the theme on the back and the crescendo is here. A narrow fairway throughout that swerves through the bluffs in making its way uphill to the green. The fairway only reveals itself at times as you make your way up, so figuring out where each shot should go, then making sure it actually goes there, is quite the feat here. The green actually sits below the fairway in a nice little depression. It’s a fantastic green site, creating a much different approach and short game shots into it than we’ve had thus far. I wish there more of this here, instead of the identical greens we saw at the Ninth and Tenth. The hole is challenging for sure, the pinnacle of challenge for this course perhaps, yet the green is is a lot of fun and was one of the highlights for me.
The Seventeenth is a 450 yard par 4. We now start our final descent to the clubhouse. A dog leg left that brings the mountain side on the left into play off the tee, the more adventurous among us can take it on for a shorter approach into the green while those that don’t pull it off are essentially rock climbing to their ball. While the tee shot is invigorating, we’ve seen the approach many times before. At least this time the entry point is at the center, which is more receptive to the ground game if that’s your preference.
The Eighteenth is a 495 yard par 5. Still heading downhill, the fairway makes a hard left, which makes the longer hitters consider cutting the turn off altogether while the rest of us want to make sure we’re clear for the second shot. A creek that runs along the left side of the tee eventually cuts the fairway in two. The narrower right side leads up to the water and allows for a shorter approach to the green, but requires some precision on the second shot to successfully set up. The left side is much wider and safer, setting up a better line into the green and takes the water out of play. Of course I took the right side.
The back nine is tougher than the front. With that challenge comes a few instances of nice use of the terrain yet the redundancy of green complexes was not a good look. The ebb and flow of the challenge is done well, starting off stiff then letting off, then really ramping up before compromising at the end with some decisions. It decidedly skews towards getting down to the golf side of things while eschewing most of the resort style forgiveness way too common at destination courses. That in itself was refreshing. I’d rank the back holes 16, 11, 13, 12, 17, 18, 15, 14, 10.
Generally, Cascata accomplishes a lot of what most expect from it. The course is a substantial test of skills, especially on the back, with an emphasis on ball striking. This is within the context of its unlikely setting; barren desert rock and mountain, transformed into cascading creeks with greenery blooming on its hillsides. Once within the hills, take a moment to imagine the construction equipment and engineering needed in all of those remote areas and it’s remarkable just how it was done. The views are likewise impressive and as someone who grew up with the grand horizons of the west coast and am now on the east coast where such views are rarer, it was awe inspiring to take in as the liters of Basil Hayden filled me up. The greens are very much restrained and refined, very much a part of the course I enjoyed a lot. It was those moments, however, like the tee shot at the Seventeenth, incorporating the terrain in interesting ways, I wish there were more of. All too often the downhill greens seemed to be presented similarly, the most blatant example being the Ninth and Tenth. I left wanting more on those holes, and after seeing the Sixteenth green, definitely knew it would have been great to see a bit more diversity. As it stands, however, the course is solid. I will return. The views, the greens and those holes and features that stood out far outweigh some of the rote approaches. It’s a more serious test for the golfer in Vegas, for those looking for that kind of thing.
Yet next time, I think I’ll need to change it up to Buffalo Trace.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A sprawling Spanish style villa with creeks running through it, shaded by leafy palm trees and surrounded by lush, full grass with views of the desert in all directions. In terms of places to hang out and relax in Vegas, you could do worse.
Practice area: A full range, short game area and putting green. To be expected and delivered.
After the round, that feeling came back I know all too well. It was the, it’s time to get out of Vegas, soon, feeling. I’ve stayed too long before and there’s a staleness that settles in, where all the things that were exciting and interesting before now seem like a pain. It’s similar to New York City. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Another dinner and night at the tables awaited, but it was an early night and tame by comparison. We’d had our fill and it was time to cash in and part ways. In twelve hours, I’d be on my way to the airport and in fourteen, would be having brunch in Marina Del Rey, the ocean harbor breeze keeping us cool as I reminisced about the high desert plain in its stoic expansive stillness.