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Friday, December 11, 2015

The man behind masterpieces Rio Secco and Cascata

Rees Jones

The man behind masterpieces Rio Secco and Cascata

Story by Brian Hurlburt, @LVGolfInsider


Rees Jones designed both Rio Secco Golf Club and Cascata in Las Vegas more than a decade ago. But he remembers both projects like it was yesterday for plenty of reasons. Jones, nicknamed the U.S. Open Doctor for his redesigns and renovations of several of the nation’s championship’s host courses, says when he surveyed the land he had to work with for both Vegas layouts it was pretty much love at first sight.

“I was very fortunate to get the Rio Secco project and unbelievably fortunate to then also get the Cascata project,” says Jones.

Jones’ philosophy throughout his entire career was to take on only a few quality projects each year. He was more than happy to add the two new courses in Las Vegas to the docket.

While Rio Secco Golf Club turned out to be a stunning layout in the hills overlooking the Las Vegas valley, the project didn’t exactly go smoothly early in the process. Ownership changes caused tweaks to the plan, but Jones remained the consistent selection as the perfect architect to design the “first” course of the area.

“Originally there were going to be two courses in what is now Seven Hills,” says Jones. “I was going to design one and Jack Nicklaus was going to design the other course. I was given first choice of land and when I saw it, I knew we had something special. I believe we created a very natural desert course at Rio Secco, and comments I have heard over the years from many golfers who have enjoyed the course are very rewarding. The topography was almost perfect because it allowed us to create many of the holes in the low canyons while the houses were built high above the course so they didn’t intrude on the experience of the golfer.”

Jones is particularly proud of what is now the par 4, 11th hole, but was originally the second hole on the outward nine. A few years ago, course management flipped the nines. In 2007, the “second” hole was selected as the “best second hole in America” by distinguished Golf Digest editors Dan Jenkins and Ron Whitten.

“Black Mountain, south of Las Vegas, is an extinct volcano, and this course (Rio Secco) is built on the northwest slope,” wrote Jenkins and Whitten. “It's a serious eye-opener to walk onto the second tee and look down a narrow canyon of black lava, similar to what you see here and there in Hawaii, the canyon just wide enough for a fairway and some bunkers. One more facet of Rio Secco's distinctiveness: The Vegas Strip lies 10 miles north and can be seen from the course. In twilight, it's an eerie sight to see the casinos lighting up.”

Like Rio Secco, Cascata has also earned major recognition over the years. It is annually ranked as a Top 100 course. In 2008 the course earned the top ranking for overall facilities in a Zagat survey. The history of the land where Cascata ultimately was created inspired Jones and Dan Wade, then an executive with MGM Grand, to come up with the name of the course, which means waterfall in Italian. (Following the merger between MGM and Steve Wynn’s Mirage gaming company, the course was sold to what is now Caesars Entertainment. The gaming company retains ownership of both Rio Secco and Cascata under the leadership of Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame member and Vice President of Golf Operations Eric Dutt.)

“Dan Wade and I flew around in a helicopter surveying a lot of land in the area seeking out the best piece of property to create a Top 100 course,” says Jones. “As soon as we saw the area where we built Cascata, we knew we had to have it. Like Rio Secco, the land for Cascata was nearly perfect and was distinguished by ancient streambeds that flowed down from the hilltops. That is what inspired us to create the waterfalls and streams.”

When people meet Jones, it often isn’t long before the conversation turns to Cascata even though he has designed and/or renovated the likes of Bethpage Black, Medinah Country Club, Pinehurst #2, and many other legendary and historic courses.

“I hear all of the time from golfers from all over the world that they have never seen or played anything like Cascata,” says Jones. “Each hole is an experience in itself. Overall, I have to complement Eric Dutt and his team for how they manage and operate both Cascata and Rio Secco, and allow access for people to enjoy them. Both Rio Secco and Cascata were challenging projects, but I know both courses have created a lot of enjoyment for golfers over the years.”




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