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BOB WEST ON GOLF: Playing Shadow Creek was a major coup

It is not often a small-town sports editor can boast of having been able to play a golf course that once denied access to then-president George W. Bush, the prime minister of Canada and reigning Masters champion Fred Couples.

Bet that got your attention.

With ultra private Shadow Creek outside Las Vegas receiving rare public exposure next week, this seems the perfect time to tell about my 1991 golfing
coup. Shadow Creek, of course, is hosting the $9 million match play, winner-
take-all shootout on Nov. 23 between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

It will be the first live televised event in the near 30-year existence of Shadow Creek. Even with that, the only ones getting to watch will be those willing to pay the $19.95 pay-per-view fee. The only gallery will be invited guests staying at MGM properties.

Shadow Creek, for those not familiar, is the jaw dropping, $45 million
plus creation of then Mirage Hotel owner Steve Wynn. Tom Fazio was the
architect, and with Wynn’s help and deep pockets he designed a breathtakingly beautiful course sunken into the floor of the Mojave Desert.

When Shadow Creek was ready in 1989, Wynn was adamant the course would open its gates only to Mirage high rollers and selected guests staying at the hotel.

It didn’t matter who the person was, or how much money or power anyone had, they couldn’t buy or leverage their way into Shadow Creek without being booked at the Mirage.

Consequently, when Shadow Creek manager Mark Brenneman received a call saying President Bush wanted to play the course while in Vegas, the first question was his hotel of choice. Turns out it was a Mirage competitor.

Brenneman explained the policy and said no. A few weeks later the prime
minister of Canada got the same response.

Couples, meanwhile, had been one of the first big names to be denied. Later in the year after his first Masters win in 1992, Freddie was in Vegas and knew a friend of his was going to play Shadow Creek. He asked the friend to see about him tagging along.

The friend checked with Mirage officials, was asked where Couples was
staying and was quickly told no dice.

So that brings this yarn around to the then-sports editor of the Port Arthur News and how he managed to play golf where Couples, Bush and others
with clout were denied. The man who made it happen was Beaumont attorney and good friend Walter Umphrey, who at the time happened to be the No. 1 domestic “whale” at the Mirage.

In May of 1991, Walter was to be the honoree for the Port Arthur News Homecoming Roast. While planning the lineup of roasters, I quickly learned
his esteemed status with the big dogs at the Mirage. Comedian Don Rickles was appearing at one of their properties at the time, so I asked Walter if he thought the Mirage folks could talk Rickles into being a roastee.

It took all of 30 minutes for Walter to call me back and say the Mirage would be flying Rickles to Jefferson County Airport on its private jet. They even set it up for me to come to Vegas and interview Rickles in his dressing room at the Golden Nugget before one of his performances.

With Rickles and Texas governor Ann Richards performing back-to-back, the roast was a howling success. Walter was so pleased at how things turned out, he said he owed me one, what could he do for me. I said you don’t owe me anything, but I sure would like to play Shadow Creek.

Almost as quick as he lined Rickles up to come to Port Arthur — only the second time “Mr. Warmth” had ever appeared in Texas, by the way — it was all set up. I was even allowed to take my good friend Denne Freeman, the Texas Associated Press sports editor at the time.

Freeman and I got red carpet treatment, including transportation by stretch limousine to Shadow Creek. There was only one restriction. Do not bring a camera. Photos were not allowed, we were told.

The entire day was mind blowing. Shadow Creek was everything it was
reputed to be and more. One minute all you could see was cactus, sagebrush
and barren desert. The next you were rolling down into a lush, almost
tropical oasis not visible from the road. Even the locker room was plush
beyond imagination.

Names of movie stars, professional athletes and celebrities adorned the
nameplates above lockers.

As for the golf course, it was hole after hole of pristine paradise. For sheer beauty, even Augusta National could not match it. The only downer was not being able to take pictures. Oh, how I would love to have photos of some of Shadow Creek’s spectacular sights on my sports wall.

Interestingly enough, however, Freeman and I did manage to wind up with one shot. A Korean businessman, who was obviously a serious high roller, had been paired with us. He whipped out a camera on the third hole and neither his caddie nor ours said anything as he snapped away.

On the 17th, a par 3 featuring a waterfall, Denne and I used hand signals — the Korean didn’t speak English — to get the guy to take our picture.

During the ride back to the hotel, Freeman scribbled down his home address.
We really didn’t expect anything to come of it, but about a month later the photo of us turned up in Denne’s mailbox.

It has since come to my attention that President Bush, the prime minister of Canada and Couples have all met the criteria to play Shadow Creek.

President Bush’s father ultimately became a Shadow Creek regular, down to the point of fishing the ponds on the golf course.

Bottom line, though, I got there first. I’ll be revisiting the memories while watching Tiger and Phil. Thanks again, Walter.

CHIP SHOTS

It was one of those good news, bad news deals for Chris Stroud when he visited Dr. Russ Paine in Houston Monday about the shoulder injury that forced him to withdraw from last week’s PGA Tour event in Mexico after shooting a first round 71.

The good news is that Stroud won’t require surgery that would have ended his season. The bad news is that he is suffering from a shoulder impingement that is going to sideline him until at least the latter part of January.
Considerable painful rehab is in his immediate future.

“I was really worried that I was going to have to have surgery,” Stroud said. “Every time my arm moves up it creates an irritation that feels like somebody is stabbing me in the shoulder.”

The lost time and missed tournaments are a serious blow to Stroud in a year
when he is fighting to keep his PGA Tour card …

Andrew Landry is still looking for his first made cut of the 2018-19 PGA Tour season after missing by one shot last week in Mexico. Landry shot rounds of 71-70-141 in a week it took four-under-par 140 to make the cut.

Earlier he had missed the cut in the Safeway Classic.

Landry is in the field for this week’s RSM Classic at Sea Island, Georgia that is the final official event for the 2018 portion of the schedule.

Golf news should be emailed to rdwest@usa.net.

 

 

 

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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