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Shadow Creek’s PGA Tour debut reveals course mystique

The 1st hole at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas
The view from the tee at the par-4 1st hole at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas, the site of this week’s CJ Cup at Shadow Creek, introduces a bucket-list experience.

From presidents to sports superstars to high rollers, visitors to Las Vegas know that Shadow Creek offers a bucket-list experience that might be the best bet in town

LAS VEGAS – To this day, the fishing pole of the late 41st U.S. president, George H.W. Bush, sits above the locker that still bears his name at the iconic Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. When at Shadow Creek, which is ranked as the 26th greatest course in America by Golf Digest, Bush was known to play nine holes in an hour. He moved briskly, as was his nature, but also because he wanted to grab that rod as soon as possible and head out to the pond near hole Nos. 3 and 4.

“Bush 41” is one of four U.S. presidents with lockers at Shadow Creek, which this week hosts the PGA Tour’s CJ Cup. It is the first time the Tour has played an official tournament at the Tom Fazio gem, which is owned by MGM Resorts International. The other presidents with name plates in the Shadow Creek locker room are Bush’s son George W., Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

“President Bush [senior] loved Shadow Creek and was always very at ease when he was out here,” said Monte Montgomery, the course’s general manager who first played Shadow Creek regularly as a member of the UNLV golf team in 1989-93. Montgomery also caddied at the course before working his way up through the ranks.

There’s a certain aura that surrounds Shadow Creek. That mystique will be on full display during the CJ Cup, which had been played for the past three years at Nine Bridges Golf Club on Jeju Island in South Korea, but was relocated to Las Vegas because of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Defending champion Justin Thomas heads a field of 78 players who will tee it up on the layout that is usually reserved for high rollers, celebrities, those previously-mentioned presidents, and/or MGM Resorts guests willing to spend $750 on a golf-course-bucket-list experience rather than plunking that cash down on the casino’s green-felt games of chance. Thomas has played Shadow Creek during casual rounds and appreciates the course’s reputation.

“I don't know very much history at all, to be perfectly honest, but I do know that pretty much everybody who's anybody has been here,” Thomas said here Tuesday. “I mean, I've been here when the players aren't in the locker room and just going through and looking at the nameplates. It's pretty impressive and unbelievable the names that are on some of those lockers. It's a fun course. It's scenic, and I'm sure the history and the stories are something that even the people who know it all might not even know it all. There's a lot of things that have gone down here, and I've had a couple good times here and been able to make a couple of my own memories. But for the most part, no, I don't know even remotely the half of it.”

Knowing more than half of the Shadow Creek intrigue is Montgomery, who has a reputation as one of the finest players in Las Vegas history. His son, Taylor, also played at UNLV and is ranked 23rd on the Korn Ferry Tour money list. Legend has it that the elder Montgomery has witnessed a “money game” or two at the course.

17th hole at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas
The par-3 17th hole at Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas, the site of this week’s CJ Cup at Shadow Creek on the PGA Tour

“There is definitely a certain mystique about Shadow Creek, and everybody knows we have had some serious matches out here,” Montgomery said. “This is the entertainment capital of the world, and our course is perfect for that and also perfect to host the best players in the world. We’ve always been intrigued about hosting the PGA Tour at Shadow Creek, but logistically with fans it would be very difficult to accommodate. We are ecstatic this year to step in and host the CJ Cup. Shadow Creek is something special, and we are thrilled to showcase it to the world.”

A few years ago at a Las Vegas fundraising event at the home of Las Vegas resident Brian Greenspun, President Obama admitted to being a victim of one of those “matches” at Shadow Creek, but the stakes probably weren’t nearly as high as some of the “serious” matches. “[Brian] and Derek Jeter stole money from me at Shadow Creek,” Obama told the Los Angeles Times about the round, when he was bluffed into allowing Jeter, the former New York Yankees shortstop, a 30 handicap. “It was clearly a setup, because when we got to the practice range, he was shanking balls everywhere. I said, ‘You play golf, Derek?’ And he said, ‘I just started two weeks ago.’ We had to take a picture of me handing Derek money at the end of the game.”

Another sports superstar, NBA legend Michael Jordan, is a course regular and hosted his charity event at Shadow Creek from 2011 to 2013. When Jordan plays the course, he rides around, in a nod to his alma mater, in a custom Carolina blue golf cart that remains on property year-round. He also has been known to take his Shadow Creek caddie with him to golf outings around the globe.

“I love Shadow Creek – always have – and always felt like it was one of my top golf courses that I’ve ever played,” Jordan said.

Brian Hurlburt interviews Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson
Brian Hurlburt (left) interviews Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson

The $9.75 million CJ Cup won’t be the first time that PGA Tour heavyweights have played for loads of cash at Shadow Creek. In 2018, the course hosted “The Match” between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, an unofficial made-for-TV event. Lefty pocketed $9 million for his winner-take-all victory. He sealed the win by hitting a wedge closer to the hole than Woods on the fourth extra hole, which was played from a makeshift tee near a practice green in front of the clubhouse patio to the 18th green. Woods also has hosted his Tiger Jam fundraising event at the course several times.

Of everything that he has witnessed, Montgomery most cherishes a special day when "Bush 41" was surprised by some American heroes while playing at Shadow Creek.

“His group paused during the round when the United States Air Force Thunderbirds performed a surprise air show,” said Montgomery, who also allowed Bush to borrow his putter one day. “It felt like the planes were 50 feet above us. President Bush was very emotional, and it is something I will never forget.”

The same could be said, we’re sure, for plenty of other moments experienced by visitors to Shadow Creek.

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