If you're looking for quality golf, you might want to follow the sound of the slot machines. Why? Because casino golf courses are usually in great shape, and more often than not, they're interesting designs on nice pieces of land. In fact, I can't think of a single casino golf course I've ever played that I didn't enjoy.
Of course, when it comes to casino golf, Las Vegas might be the first destination that comes to mind. After all, that's where the biggest resorts are, and it's also home to the country's best casino golf course, Shadow Creek Golf Club, ranked fifth nationally on Golf Digest's top 100 public golf course list. Originally created by Vegas business magnate Steve Wynn, this one-of-a-kind Tom Fazio design -- which still commands $500 green fees -- is now an amenity of MGM Resorts International, which is how you get access to this former ultra-private club.
But Vegas is only the beginning. Across the country, casinos, many of them on Indian reservations and others on waterways, use golf courses to help attract guests to their resorts and, more important, the slots and the tables.
Since a sub-par course does little to beckon gamblers on the fence, they're almost always among the best public courses in the area. And many of them are priced below their daily-fee or resort equivalents since the golf course itself doesn't necessarily have to stand on its own.
With that said, here are more of my favorite casino golf courses around the country:
Fallen Oak Golf Club in Saucier, Miss.
Once again, Fazio and Wynn were behind another stellar casino course, this one about 15 years after Shadow Creek on the Gulf Coast. In this case, it was one of Wynn's other properties, Beau Rivage, located just outside of Biloxi, Miss. Having since been taken over by MGM, golfers who play there pretty much have to be a high roller or guests of Beau Rivage, an MGM Resorts property. With its beautiful terrain, water hazards and zoysia fairways, it's no surprise that Fallen Oak Golf Club is a favorite stop for Champions Tour players (Mississippi Resort Classic).
Cascata Golf Club in Las Vegas
Designed by Rees Jones, Cascata Golf Club, which is an amenity of Caesar's Palace, sits at more than 3,000 feet in a mountain setting about a half-hour or so southeast of Vegas in Boulder City. Cascata means "waterfall" -- and one of the dominant elements of this experience is the 418-foot waterfall that starts on the mountain behind the range and meanders through the course and splits the magnificent 37,000-square-foot, Tuscan-style clubhouse. Each hole is almost entirely secluded, meaning there's a good chance you and your forecaddie might not see another group on the course. Green fees generally run in the $250-$375 range. While you're at it, you might want to take in Cascata's sister course, Rio Secco Golf Club, home of the Butch Harmon School of Golf.
Salish Cliffs Golf Club in Shelton, Wash.
An amenity of Little Creek Casino Resort and owned by the Squaxin Island Indian Tribe, the Salish Cliffs Golf Club is a beautiful and well-thought-out, all-bentgrass golf course with outstanding practice facilities. Designed by Gene Bates, who appears more than once on this list, the course is carved out of a Pacific Northwest forest with stunning views of the Kamilche Valley. It also has more than 600 feet of elevation change, a double green on nine and 18 and terrific practice facilities.
Wynn Golf Club in Las Vegas
Located right on the Las Vegas Strip, but hardly visible to outsiders, is another Wynn vision, also designed by Fazio. Sitting on the old site of the Desert Inn, Wynn Golf Club ($350-$500 green fee) has wall-to-wall cool-season grasses, white-sand bunkers and a network of pristine streams, ponds and flora that create one memorable view after another. The course also includes 7,200 trees and 100,000 bushes and waterfalls, including one that's 37 feet tall behind the 18th green.
Barona Creek Golf Club in Lakeside, Calif.
Built on the Barona Indian Reservation in 2001, this former Web.com Tour course is laid out between natural hillsides, wetlands and native areas. Designed by Todd Eckenrode, there are more than 100 bunkers, many of them finger-like, with a series of natural streams, wide fairways and large greens. Play it from the tips and Barona Creek Golf Club is quite a test, but tackle the proper tees and it's almost guaranteed fun.
Sewailo Golf Club in Tucson, Ariz.
Located on Tucson's Casino Del Sol Resort, Sewailo Golf Club in 2013 became the first new course to open in the Tucson area since The Golf Club at Dove Mountain five years ago. Designed by Notah Begay III, thousands of cubic yards of dirt were removed to create a unique look around 14 acres of lakes, one mile of creeks and about 75 bunkers. The project also included the transplanting of more than 30,000 native shrubs and trees.
Ross Course at French Lick (Ind.) Resort
There are actually two outstanding golf courses at the French Lick Resort, which in addition to its casino has one of the most iconic hotels in America. I'm singling out the Ross Course because while it's certainly not easy, it's classic Donald Ross and certainly more playable for most golfers than the resort's other course, the Pete Dye Course at French Lick. The Ross Course has elevation change, classic Ross bunkering and greens complexes and great conditioning for an experience that won't be soon forgotten. The Dye Course at French Lick is more expensive to play and much harder, but it is spectacular.
Atunyote at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, N.Y.
There are three quality championship layouts at Turning Stone Resort in New York, but I'm singling out the Tom Fazio-designed Atunyote Course because it's the best test among the three. This former home of the PGA Tour's B.C. Open features wetlands, ponds and a variety of trees on a rolling layout that's pleasing to the eye and subtly intimidating. And as far as casino resorts go, Turning Stone is among the country's best.
Ambiente Course at Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz.
With the addition/renovation of the Ambiente Course (replaces Indian Bend), Camelback Golf Club in Scottsdale offers two excellent layouts, but I'm singling out Ambiente because it's not your typical desert golf course. Designed by Jason Straka for Hurdzan/Fry Environmental Golf Design, Ambiente provides a refreshing contrast to the Padre Course at Camelback. With wide fairways and plenty of grass, Ambiente's non-desert layout lends itself to links-style shots, especially into some of the greens.
Circling Raven Golf Club in Worley, Idaho
Another excellent Gene Bates design, Circling Raven Golf Club is an amenity of the Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort Hotel (not to be confused with nearby Coeur d'Alene Golf Club) With its rolling meadows, tall pine trees and wide-open vistas, Circling Raven has gained a reputation as one of the best golf courses of any kind in the Pacific Northwest.
Belterra Golf Club in Florence, Ind.
Located between Louisville and Cincinnati along the Ohio River is one of the most affordable Fazio designs you'll ever play. Belterra Golf Club, an amenity of the Belterra Casino Resort, the course is set among the natural rolling hillside of eastern Indiana, winding through lakes and more than 2,200 trees. Elevated tees bring views that go on for miles. There's water on many of the holes as well as Fazio's signature bunkers, both in the fairways and the greens. The finishing stretch is particularly memorable, ending with a good risk-reward par 5 that finishes by a lake in front of the resort.
Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Host of the recent Golf Channel Am Tour Nationals, the Talking Stick Resort, which is owned by the Salt River Indian Community, has two fun Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw championship layouts. Of the two courses, however, Talking Stick's North Course is probably the more formidable and most unique. The North, a par 70 that can be stretched to almost 7,200 yards, pays homage to links layouts in Europe. Like those links layouts, the bunkers are steep and difficult to get out of, and there's no water or trees to navigate. Talking Stick's South Course is considered much easier than the North.