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January 2020

Wynn Melds Old With New

By Steve Eubanks

A lot of owners believe that the key to effective marketing is to always present your course as new and fresh. Come see the new bunkers or check out the new tee box, which totally changes the strategy of the hole – that sort of thing. But a lot of times the best way to advance what’s new is to stay rooted in the history of the land. 

Pinehurst does this better than most. No matter what renovations take place – and the courses there have undergone everything from mild facelifts to massive redevelopment –  resort owners will never let you forget the venerable history of the place. Donald Ross abounds, even at courses he wouldn’t recognize. The owners even named their newest short course “The Cradle,” a nod to Pinehurst being the spot where American golf climbed out of the crib and learned to walk.

Another example of this “old is new” thinking can be found at the newly opened Wynn Golf Club behind the eponymously-named casino hotel on the Las Vegas strip. The Wynn sits on the site of the old Desert Inn and the Wynn Golf Club is where the old Desert Inn Golf and Country Club used to be. That original course hosted both the PGA and LPGA tours and was a playground for Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Buddy Hackett and a slew of other celebrities in the finger-snapping, tuxedo-wearing heyday of the desert city. 

Back then the Desert Inn was at the far end of the strip, a mile and a half from Caesars Palace but at the edge of the world in Vegas terms. Even in the days when the PGA Tour held its Tournament of Champions there (1953-1966) and the LPGA put on the Desert Inn Classic in the 1970s (JoAnne Carner and Sandra Palmer both won that one), the course was an oasis in the middle of a rattlesnake habitat.

Now, a monorail runs along a couple of holes on the front nine and the 16th tee sits next to the newest 12,000-seat entertainment complex going in on the Strip.

“If you look at the comps, this golf course sits on a billion-dollar piece of property,” said Brian Hawthorne, executive director of golf operations.

The new course was designed by Tom Fazio and bears no resemblance to the old Desert Inn G&CC. But that hasn’t stopped the folks at Wynn from capitalizing on the history. Photos of Sam Snead and Ben Hogan line the hallways near the locker room, as well as shots of Bob Hope, Dean Martin and a slender and young Jack Nicklaus wearing Sansabelt slacks and leather golf shoes. 

“It was such a great environment and a great setting,” Fazio said. “And personally for me, some of the great memories in creating it, because I go back to in my career, my uncle (George Fazio) was a tournament golfer in the Ben Hogan and Sam Snead era. So all those players that played on that original golf course on that property, the old Desert Inn, I knew many of them personally. Although I was a youngster, I knew them.

“I’m sure there are people who remember the old Desert Inn, remember the old buildings inside and the old casinos and the hallways and lobbies and kind of had some feelings of nostalgia,” Fazio said. “They liked it and they felt good.”

The Wynn Casino looks nothing like the old Desert Inn, a cylindrical obelisk jutting out of the desert like a squatty thermos bottle. And the new golf course looks nothing like the old. There’s even a giant waterfall behind the 18th green, a reminder that with house money, anything is possible.
 
But the connection between old and new is conspicuous and played to the hilt. And why shouldn’t it be? Nostalgia sells. And in a tradition-rich game like golf, if you have it, use it.

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