Las Vegas Landfill Is In the Cards (Feb. 15 2002)

Closed some 25 years ago, a small landfill in the northern reaches of Henderson, Nevada continues to inch closer to its final use: an 18-hole, regulation-length municipal golf course. Golf Course Architects, Forrest Richardson and Arthur Jack Snyder have been leading a team of specialized consultants through a maze of due diligence steps, now in their second year of advance work.

“It would be convenient to simply begin implementing a design,” says Richardson, “but that’s not the way these reclamation projects need to unfold.” Richardson should know, he is just in the throngs of finishing work at a site in Utah which involved EPA and Department of Energy directed clean-up before the course could take shape. That project, The Hideout Golf Club, is scheduled for opening this Summer.

The latest progress in Henderson takes the team into the actual design of the course and associated research to make sure the landfill is not negatively impacted. “Landfills can be great for golf courses,” notes Richardson, “but the approach must be carefully calculated.” Routing the course takes on a new obstacle, that of trying to dodge the pockets of trash that have been interred at the landfill, keeping it in a state of suspension below the surface. Richardson outlines the ideal path, “Typically we add dirt to landfill courses, which eliminates the possibility of reaching the waste during construction. The shaping of fairways comes from adding material that then doubles as a layer of protection.”

Among the other complexities of landfill projects are natural gases, which are continually created by the pockets of debris below the soil; and drainage, which must be guided away from entering these areas of waste.

Although plans are not finalized, these golf course architects working on top of leftovers from the last few generations have crafted plans for a breathtaking municipal course. Literally on the edge of Las Vegas, the site looks out over a natural valley and the red mountains that form the backdrop to the neon and glitter that defines the Las Vegas Strip. At one end the site leaves its landfill roots and climbs into hills covered with black volcanic rock. It is here that Richardson and Snyder will introduce golf holes usually reserved for the courses one might find in a brochure for a destination resort.

Take, for example, a proposed 400-yard hole which winds its way along a deep canyon that descends in the opposite direction. The dilemma is not whether a hole belongs here, for it is truly an amazing setting. The decision to be made has to do with par. “I don’t get too concerned with length relative to par,” says Richardson. “A truly great golf hole is played for the love of the journey and that transcends something as arbitrary as par or distance.” The hole in question may sound like a par-4, but Richardson has not discounted suggesting it as a unique par-5. “It’s very uphill and we envision a criss-cross of washes and tricky hillsides. I think in the end it may well be the world’s shortest par-5, but right now I’m more concerned with making sure it will fit the land.”

In Henderson, Richardson’s team consists of a landfill engineer, an irrigation consultant with experience in landfill projects, a golf management analyst and the National Golf Foundation (NGF). Step one was to thoroughly study the golf market in Las Vegas and surrounding areas. That task was charged to the NGF who undertook a complete look at Las Vegas from a viewpoint that would shed light on public access golf. “In a nutshell, affordable public golf in Vegas is like finding a diamond in a haystack,” comments Richardson. While the rest of the nation considers “affordable golf” in the neighborhood of $25 to $35 per round, the NGF, through its surveys of courses and public perception, shows the Las Vegas area resident would consider “affordable” up to almost $50. Although no green fee has been set for the proposed course, the expectation is that is will be far less that the $50 figure.

Richardson’s hope for Henderson is that the City be given a public course that will strike up conversation and be a model for other cities. “The public golfer deserves affordable golf, but that shouldn’t mean lame or uninteresting.” If Henderson’s landfill site proves ultimately feasible, Richardson will get his way.