Shot values are the same, and the thrill is present on these replica holes
LAS VEGAS, Nevada (Oct. 28, 2020) – You don’t have to book a trip to the British Isles to experience the thrill of many courses on the British Open rota. Instead, book a flight for Las Vegas and make a tee time at Royal Links Golf Club, where you can experience the game on holes inspired by 18 of the best offerings from 11 of the courses that have hosted the world’s oldest golf championship.
If Vegas seems an unlikely place to find a British Open “inspired” course, take into consideration that virtually anything can be replicated with the enough know-how, attitude, gumption and money. At a place where replicas of the Great Pyramid, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower and canals of Venice vie for notice and tourist dollars with dead-on entertainment ringers for Elvis, Cher and Michael Jackson, perhaps finding a golf course likening itself to Turnberry, Royal Liverpool and Muirfield should be expected.
At Royal Links, about a 20-minute drive from the glitz of the Strip, golfers will find a course built to honor the history and tradition of the Royal & Ancient Game. Designed by Dye International, the track duplicates the “Road Hole” and “Hell Bunker” from the Old Course at St. Andrews, as well as the “Postage Stamp” from Royal Troon. Other courses paid homage in the loop include Carnoustie, Prestwick, Royal Lytham and Royal Birkdale.
The holes were chosen for how well they represent the spirit of the game in golf’s birthplace. The Dye design simulates the shot values, challenges and drama of those at these fabled links. While Royal Links is mostly turfed with Bermuda grass, its mounding and native grasses provide a verisimilitude of the gorse and other hallmarks of seaside links.
These 18 holes are not exact replicas because of copyright laws, but they’re close enough. Royal Links’ developer, owner and operator – Las Vegas-based Walters Golf – strives to be authentic down to the statue of Old Tom Morris and English phone booths used to call in food and drink orders.
All the 18 holes at Royal Links share common characteristics. There are absolutely no water hazards, for example, a rarity for a modern course, but the norm (aside from the occasional burn) on British Open tracks.
Monuments were erected at various locations to indicate spots where great moments in British Open history took place. A Champions Wall is erected near the all-turf practice range honoring American winners of the British Open.
Royal Links plays to a par of 72 and 7,029 yards from the tips, where it carries a rating of 73.7 and 135 slope, a pretty salty number for a track void of water, canyons or desert and just one forced carry.
No Surprise: Not a Bad Hole in the Bunch
On the outward nine at Royal Links, the easiest hole by handicap – the 170-yard par-3 third (inspired by No. 2 at Prestwick, which hosted the first Open Championship in 1860) – is followed by the toughest hole, the 621-yard par-5 fourth, a tribute to the massive eighth at Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake. On the fourth, a substantial mound on the right side of the fairway makes ball position off the tee very important. The elevated green is guarded by a pot bunker on the front-right.
Perhaps you can get a shot back at the 322-yard par-4 fifth (inspired by St. Andrews’ 12th), but the hole features six fairway bunkers that are virtually invisible from the tee. Royal Links’ longest two-shotter is the 471-yard seventh, patterned after Royal St. George’s 13th. The hole has traps guarding the right side of the fairway and three more deadly reverse bunkers farther down near the center line. Its elevated green is fronted by two large bunkers left and right.
The shortest hole at Royal Links – the 153-yard eighth – may be its deadliest, especially if you go short and left off the tee. Like its model, Royal Troon’s 8th (famously known as “Postage Stamp”), you’ll find a deep, sod-faced bunker waiting if you miss the tiny green.
The inward nine at Royal Links starts with a copy of the St. Andrews’ “Road Hole,” but instead of playing over the Old Course Hotel, you line up and carry a huge yellow scoreboard and wall. Playing at 466 yards and turning hard to the right off the tee, a menacing bunker protects the front-left of the tiny green and a road cuts diagonally across its back.
Royal Birkdale’s No. 6 is the inspiration behind the 471-yard, par-4 12th. Two fairway bunkers keep players honest by requiring drives to be accurate and long, and a sharp dogleg-right and two bunkers protecting the green make the approach tricky.
On Royal Links’ 16th, inspired by the 15th at Carnoustie, the drive is critical. At 454 yards, the hole is long, narrow and peppered with bunkers. Even with a good tee ball, you could be looking at a long-iron or fairway wood into a green heavily guard and may or may not be visible depending on your tee shot.
The round concludes with a terrific risk-reward 515-yard par-5 modeled after the 14th at the Old Course. Five bunkers, similar to St. Andrews’ “beardies,” lie left of the fairway and gobble up errant tee shots. Likewise, players must carry two more bunkers – akin to the “Hell” and “Grave” – with their second shots. The third must be well-placed to hold the shallow green.
Royal Links is a stern test
This is not your typical round and, whether you are into the history of golf or just seeking a fun round while in “Sin City,” expect to be humbled by Royal Links. Despite all the cozy sentimentality, this is a tough track. The rough is penal and, at times, impossible; there are places where the wild Bermuda and fescue are waist-high.
Many of the course’s shots are blind or partially blind, which makes taking a caddie (offered but not required) very helpful.
Complimenting the replica theme, Royal Links’ clubhouse is a miniature castle. Inside you’ll find Stymie’s Pub with authentic ales and drafts on tap as well as an extensive selection of Scotches and blends.
If you are a golf purist, getting to step foot on courses that have held the British Open is a dream come true. Royal Links could be the next best thing and is surely is one of the most unique playing experiences in the U.S.