When Boulder City Municipal Golf Course opened in May of 1973, it marked a new dawn of golf in the non-gaming burg and also in Southern Nevada, overall.–By Brian Hurlburt, founder, LasVegasGolfInsider.com
The new 9-hole layout may have opened a green short (the 6th), with no driving range, putting green nor permanent clubhouse, but what it lacked in amenities was more than made up for in sheer optimism.
In May 2023, the course celebrated the 50th anniversary. Boulder City Muni, designed by David Rainville and future World Golf Hall of Famer Billy Casper, has continuously been a hub of activity and served as the backdrop for thousands upon thousands of memories.
“I think that at the time it was really great that the city manager and the people in Boulder City and on the council wanted to bring golf to the area,” Rainville said. “That’s to be admired that they would make the effort to do that. I know the money was tight and the land wasn’t ideal, but I was happy with the end result. It is nice to hear that the course has become such an important part of the fabric of the community.”
Possibly the most inspiring quote about what the course means to many in the community comes from Keven Shambarger, a member of the Winterwood Men’s Golf Association that has called the course home since the 1980’s.
“There is no such thing as Utopia, but this comes as close as I could find,” Sharmbarger said.
When the idea was floated to build a golf course, it was nowhere near an “ace in the hole” for the project to be successful. Roger Hall, director, Boulder City Parks and Recreation, has witnessed most of the course’s history while serving in different roles within the city.
“Dick Isenberg was the City Manager at the time the first nine holes was built and he had a heck of a time persuading the City Council to build the front nine holes,” Hall said. “Through persistence, he was able to find the funds to build the front nine. He also included homes around the course as additional revenue for the city.”
Rainville intertwined his overall design ideas within the Boulder City golfscape.
“My philosophy is that I always wanted to stand on the tee and have a visual impact of what the hole looks like and how it’s going to play,” said Rainville, a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. “Golf should be an enjoyable and gratifying experience. The design for which it is intended should provide an opportunity for the golfer to achieve that experience. It’s important for the designer to recognize and fully utilize each site’s individual character. I strive to provide solid, traditionally oriented designs that preserve and enhance natural environmental features, build upon the essential character of the terrain where possible, and demonstrate variety within a round of golf. This is where a design sets itself apart from other courses with its own unique qualities.”
Finding the money and hiring architects was just the beginning of the project’s challenges according to Hugh Jefferies, the facility’s first head professional. He credited the city’s decision makers for altering the plan and allowing others to dot the “I’s” and cross the “T’s” of the project and get it on the way to prosperity. In the early days, Jefferies worked out of a temporary 40’ x 60’ trailer where the cart barn is located today.
“They thought they knew what they were doing, but they didn’t,” said Jefferies, who never shied away from having a strong opinion, whether right or wrong. “I was solely the golf professional for about three months in the beginning, but then they made the golf course its own department and I was the head of it. That worked out well because we had somebody who knew what the hell they were doing.”
Even with the challenges before, during and after the opening, there was strong support from many in the community for the new destination.
“It was a labor of love and everybody was there,” longtime Boulder City employee and local historian Denny Mayes said. “Even some people who didn’t like golf were down there picking the rocks and leveling things out. Everybody was just really looking forward to having a golf course in Boulder city. I think what really made it special was the fact that when it was first built, it stayed true to the clean green, Boulder city mission and motto. All of the parks in Boulder City–Wilbur square and all those parks–were always kept and maintained beautifully green. So, when this course was built, their whole premise was, ‘let’s keep this green 365 days per year like we do all the parks.’ I think everybody appreciated that and all of the people that built homes around it were impressed.”
Mayes, who also coached the Boulder City High men’s and women’s golf teams for more than a decade and worked at the course for about five years, just might be the facility’s best spokesperson.
“If you want to know the truth, at one time it was known as the best new golf course in Southern Nevada and part of southern California because of the bent grass greens that ran true and the fairways were a bluegrass,” Mayes said. “I think building the course has paid off very well for the city. The golf course has turned out to be a diamond in the rough, but a lot of people didn’t think it was going to be like that. I get exasperated by the naysayers about golf, but there is no doubt that Boulder City Golf Course is an integral part of the city in many, many ways.”
The community support has continued throughout the last five decades and helped spur the construction of the driving range, putting green, clubhouse and other improvements, in addition to the completion of the final nine holes. Many of those projects were completed with the assistance of loyal and willing volunteers who were members of the course’s many golf groups and associations
“Volunteers with the men’s and women’s golf associations volunteered many hours, raking the rocks off of number 11 fairway, replacing the irrigation heads on the back nine holes, increasing the square footage of the clubhouse, pulling weeds on the course and many other duties,” Hall said. “My best memory and relief was of the dedication of the golf course by the city manager and city council in 1985 after completing the 18 holes. We had issues with the design and installation of the irrigation system for the back nine, and had to completely change out the irrigation heads on the whole back nine. We managed that with help of the men’s association and staff members.”
The new nine holes opened with a large golf tournament for volunteers on Saturday, March 28, 1987. It was funded by a .75 cent surcharge on green fees.
The foundation Jeffries laid is still returning results 50 years later, even if Jeffries has chosen to dwell more on the challenges than the successes. But with a prompt or two, he did share some of the good times.
“We started a men’s association and a ladies association, and started high school golf, both girls and boys,” Jefferies said. “We also started the Boulder City Open, which was a golf tournament that we operated for about eight years and many top players were in it. We had a lot of fun.”
Gale Purcell took over as head professional in 1982 and then Tony Fiorentini stepped into the role in 1994. He was recognized by the Boulder City Council for 25 years of service on Dec. 12, 2018. Upon his retirement on Dec. 31, 2018, Andy Schaper, who had been operating Boulder Creek, took over operations at Boulder City. Schaper still oversees both courses.
“Everything about Boulder City was very welcoming, and it was a really great spot to be,” a grateful Fiorentini said. “The community is very supportive of not just the golf course, but the town itself. They are very proud of their town and the golf course is a part of that. You can feel it. You get a good sense of that when you come to Boulder City and especially when you live there.”
Fiorentini said the course and facility needed some improvements when he arrived in 1994. He, the city and his staff made steady progress.
“We added water features and improved the overall conditioning of the course and things like that,” Fiorentini said. “I am proud of all of the improvements we made. We changed a few holes around and water features, but we kept the integrity of the original course. Overall, Boulder City is just an enjoyable course to play and that is what golf is all about.”
Traditions abound at Boulder City Golf Course, from the associations created by Jeffries to the long-running and historic skins games. The original game was created before Fiorentini’s time at Boulder City, but he resurrected it after several golfers made the request.
“The Skins game actually started before I was there, but everybody went and joined the old Sunrise Country Club when it first opened and they played there,” Fiorentni said. “But shortly after I got to Boulder City, they wanted to come back and play in Boulder. I said, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ That skins game really developed. There were a lot of big-time players who were attracted to that game. Every good player in Southern Nevada at one time or another played there including some tour players before and even when they made the big leagues. Taylor Montgomery, when he was at UNLV, would bring half the UNLV team to play—I know they got my money– but I also know Taylor has played in the game even once he made the PGA Tour. We had Scott Piercy, Nick Watney, Tony Finau and his little brother, Gipper, and a lot of others. The word got out for that skins game and then a net skins game was developed as well. Unfortunately, the scratch game went away about a year ago, from what I hear, but the net skins game is still played every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”
According to the man who goes by “DW” and organizes the net skins game, the location is what makes the game special.
“It’s a great place to golf with an awesome staff of people,” said DW. “Even though it’s not a private, membership course, we all feel like it is our home away from home and we get treated like it we are members. All I know is, what a great life I have.”
The women’s association Jefferies helped create in 1974 is still going strong. One of the original founders, Marla Effertz, fondly recalled the early days.
“Tuesday play has always been good, but when we first opened, we only had nine holes and our original clubhouse was a trailer that somebody pulled down there until we built a clubhouse,” Effertz says. “Our pros were and still are always helpful and it started with our first pro, Hugh Jeffries. I always encouraged our membership to not complain about the times we got because this is a public course, but the pros have always allowed us to have a shotgun start on Tuesday. I have so many great memories.”
The organization held the 31st annual Boulder City Women’s Invitational in October 2022. Longtime chairperson Deanna Imboden said it is an event that all of Southern Nevada looks forward to each fall.
“This is one of the best women’s invitationals around,” Imboden said. “It is a two-person, better ball and we run it efficiently. When we put our applications out, we fill up in about two and a half weeks because it is so popular. We have a wait list because as soon as the invite goes out, we get people from Arizona, Utah, all over the Las Vegas Valley, and they try to get in as quickly as they can. We have a raffle, prizes in different flights, a lunch and we make sure to keep things moving. The ladies love it.”
Vicki Mayes, wife of Denny and a longtime city manager before retiring, has always appreciated what the course means to the people in the area.
“It is an integral part of the community and Boulder City Muni has been exactly what people wanted to have in this community since the beginning,” Mayes said. “This was really all about community involvement that built the course, first with nine holes and then expanding it to 18. It has been a community project and it has been loved and embraced by the community. It is a friendly golf course. You don’t have to be a great golfer to play, but it also challenges the better players. There is a lot of shade there and wide fairways. It is something different from what usual desert golf is these days and I think that is what makes Boulder City Golf Course special.”
Fiorentini, who now lives in Oklahoma, had the final word and reminisced about the early days before tying it all together.
“For a lot of golfers in Southern Nevada, it felt like going out of town for a day,” he said. “You felt like you were going miles and miles away. Back then, there was no highway or freeway, so you felt like you were in your own little world out there. In fact, it sort of still feels that way, really.”
There is something unique and special about golf in Boulder City. It has been that way for 50 years and many folks hope it will be that way for 50 more.