Should You Pay $20 to Watch “The Match,” or Line Up to Punch a Stranger in the TV Department at Walmart?

I can’t answer that, but I can tell you that in 1995 I played eighteen holes at Shadow Creek, the Las Vegas golf course where Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods will slug it out on Black Friday. My host was Kenny Wynn, Steve’s younger brother. Two years earlier, Kenny had lost his gaming license, temporarily, after admitting that he had a drug problem. (Nine years after my round, local police confiscated his computers in some kind of child-pornography investigation.)

When I called Kenny to ask for driving directions, he told me to take the freeway to a certain exit north of town. “As you look toward the mountains, you’ll see a forest rising out of the desert,” he said, and we both laughed. But he was right. Las Vegas has sprawled past the golf course since then, but at the time Shadow Creek was an Oz-like quadrant of green surrounded by miles and miles and miles of sand. At the front gate, I spoke my name into a telephone and smiled at a closed-circuit television camera. Then, as I drove to the clubhouse, I shared the road with a ring-necked pheasant, a chukar, and a long-eared rabbit—a small sampling of the non-native species with which Steve Wynn had ornamented the grounds. When Shadow Creek opened, there were also wallabies and African cranes, but they turned out to be too large to coexist with mishit golf balls. I left my shoes in the (alleged) locker of Davis Love III. No photographs allowed.

The course was designed by Tom Fazio and completed in 1990. The cost has been estimated at $40 million, $50 million, $60 million—who knows? Shadow Creek can probably be considered our best look into Fazio’s artistic soul, since he was given not only a blank check but also a blank canvas: he built the course, basically, by digging a gigantic hole in the desert and filling it with money. Every hill, every pond, every bump, every dip, every bounce, every break is there because he put it there. The stones in the artificial creek that circulates through the property (and tumbles over an artificial waterfall on the seventeenth hole before returning to its artificial headwaters) were glued in place by Fazio himself, maybe. The pine trees that surround you on every hole only look as though they run all the way to the snow-capped mountains in the distance. The rye grass on the fairways would die if the maintenance crew ever stopped flooding it with the ground-up life savings of slot-machine players. There’s a par 3 that you enter and leave through a tunnel. It’s a virtual golf course—except that it’s real.

The two other members of our foursome were a professional from a nearby country club and his wife, who arrived in a white Porsche Carrera and were wearing more gold and diamonds than I’m used to seeing on a golf course. “Ah, the life of a Las Vegas club pro,” the pro said, smiling. Kenny Wynn—an impatient, slashing 18- or 20-handicapper—quit after a few holes, and once he was gone we had a relaxed, pleasant round. No other group entered our field of vision, although later, in the clubhouse, I did see the well-known golf nut and occasional actor Joe Pesci. Our golf carts had built-in coolers, which were filled (and, at the turn, refilled) with ice and soft drinks. We were accompanied by an affable caddie/chauffeur, who paced yardages, filled divots, repaired ball marks, read putts, and urged us to drink something at any moment when we weren’t swinging a golf club. I chugged roughly a gallon of Gatorade per nine—it gets hot at the bottom of a hole—but didn’t pee until a day or two later. On with The Match!

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