LPGA Match Play at Shadow Creek Is More Evidence of a Perfect Vegas Golf Partnership

MGM Resorts is a presenting sponsor of this week's LPGA event, continuing its close relationship with pro golf.
Brian Hurlburt/Las Vegas

This is the latest in a series of articles about how golf is the common thread of nearly every big event in Las Vegas, the Sports and Entertainment Capital of the World.

Lance Evans had just finished up playing in the pro-am of the T-Mobile LPGA Match Play presented by MGM Rewards when he took a few moments to discuss the ongoing theme of this SI.com series: how golf is a common link between most (all?) major events in Las Vegas.

“A lot of the talent plays golf, which is great,” said Evans, Senior Vice President of Sports & Sponsorships for MGM Resorts International. “You saw today that we are out here with Reggie Bush and Davante Adams, who are both superstars in their sport (football) and they also love golf. Because a lot of the superstars love it, it makes it a common language for the casual fan to want to play or be a part of the game in some way.”

Evans, Bush, and Adams played with LPGA Tour superstars Lydia Ko on the front nine and Rose Zhang on the back nine. The star power was just another example of how Evans and his team utilize golf to create one-of-a-kind experiences to attract and entertain key customers.

“Golf is a differentiator for us, and always has been,” Evans said. “To have Shadow Creek and to host these events where our customers can play golf with Rose Zhang or play golf with tennis stars Carlos Alcaraz or Rafa Nadal like we did a few weeks ago when we hosted the Netflix Slam, we are creating special experiences for our customers. So, if you want to play with your favorite country star or you want to play with your favorite professional golfer, or you want to play with a football player, you can do that in Las Vegas.”

The T-Mobile Match Play got underway Wednesday. Following three days of stroke play, eight players advance to the single-elimination match play rounds.

This year's new format and spot on the LPGA's West Coast Swing helped attract a stellar field. Besides Zhang and Ko, Nelly Korda, winner of three straight events coming in, and the past three Match Play champions, Pajaree Anannarukarn, Eun Hee Ji and Ally Ewing, are in the field.

Also playing are Vegas residents Alison Lee, Danielle Kang, Jenny Shin and McKenzi Hall, a junior star for the UNLV women’s golf team who received a sponsor’s exemption influenced by Evans. MGM will host customers in on and off-the-course VIP activations throughout the tournament.

LPGA player Alison Lee
Alison Lee has a home game this week at the LPGA Match Play. / Brian Hurlburt/Special to Sports Illustrated

“We love this event, and of all of the events that we do, this is one of my favorites,” Evans said. “The women are incredibly talented and they are incredible with our customers. They are so gracious, always smiling and always giving tips. They interact in a different way, a better way, than a lot of our other events. It is an incredibly popular event for our most valuable customers.”

The host course is an attraction not only for everyday golfers throughout the year, but the professionals appreciate and understand the aura, mystique, and excellence of the facility. Shadow Creek is a Tom Fazio design and upped the golf ante in Vegas when it opened in 1991. The course has been called the “World’s Best Golf Course” by Robb Report and is on pretty much every golfer’s bucket list. 

“When I think about Shadow Creek, the first thing that comes to mind is bliss,” Lee said. “This course is amazing … I feel like it is any golfer's paradise or playground out here. You can come out here and practice all day, play 18 holes. Every single hole you play out here is different. It is so distinct. Every hole has its own specific features and things that make that specific hole great. It is a course you would never expect to be right in the middle of the desert.”

Shadow Creek golf club in Las Vegas
Shadow Creek is a star right alongside the players. / Courtesy MGM Resorts

Lee is also an MGM Resorts ambassador. The ambassadors range from up-and-coming professionals who need help getting established to proven pros, and include Lee and Kang, Michele Wie West, plus Harry Hall, Taylor Montgomery, Jimmy Walker, Ryan Moore and others. The sponsorships are another way Evans and his team utilize golf to enhance their initiatives. The players represent MGM when playing professionally with logo representation and during key MGM events in Las Vegas and other locales.

“I have been an MGM ambassador for almost 10 years and they have been great to me,” Lee said. “A lot of the pros who live here are MGM ambassadors and we will get together and try one of the new restaurants or a nice restaurant on the Strip. I am also happy that they have stepped forward to host an event like this for women's golf on one of the top golf courses in the country. It is not very often that we will play at a Top 100 golf course unless we have a major. For them to open their facility this week and give it to us, I think it is super awesome.”

Golf has been an integral piece to the puzzle in Las Vegas since the playing of the 1953 Tournament of Champions of men’s professional golf at the old Desert Inn. The game has helped put Vegas on the map as a world-class destination and was a key amenity as the city evolved into the Sports and Entertainment Capital of the World over the last decade.

Evans has been front and center in that evolution, which hit the afterburners when the Vegas Golden Knights of the National Hockey League debuted in 2017—the first franchise to bring major professional sports to Sin City.

A year later, Evans oversaw the relocation to Las Vegas and acquisition by MGM of the WNBA Las Vegas Aces. He then ran the team’s business operations from 2018-20. That foundation led to the team winning two WNBA titles (2022-23) and a purchase by Raiders owner Mark Davis. The Raiders relocated to Las Vegas in 2020.

Fueled by the momentum created by the major sports franchises, mega events that have come to—or are coming to—the city include the NCAA Sweet 16 (2023), Super Bowl (2024), Final Four (2025) and Formula I (2023). Plus, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, a staple since 1985, recently signed a 10-year contract extension to stay in Las Vegas, while NASCAR continues to hold two events in the city.

Golf-wise, the PGA Tour has played in Vegas since 1983 and theLIV Golf League played at The Las Vegas Country Club in February. The NCAA is also holding several postseason events in Las Vegas this year and in the future.

“I have been on the rollercoaster, and as you see everything happening and all of the events and teams coming here, it proves that the Vegas market has grown up,” Evans said. “We can support multiple sports organizations, not only for the locals who have clearly supported our teams, but there are sports fans around the world that circle Las Vegas as the city to visit to watch their favorite teams or events. Whether it's a Raiders game, a Knights game, an Aces game, or the LPGA Match Play, Vegas is going to be the one circle on the schedule that everyone looks at and makes plans to visit. That is what makes Vegas special. Everybody loves Las Vegas. Fans around the world have made us the Sports and Entertainment Capital of the World.”

Perhaps no company has taken better advantage of the Vegas and golf demographic than MGM Resorts, which operates a portfolio that encompasses 31 hotel and gaming destinations globally. At the heart of the success is creating experiences. Besides hosting the Match Play, BetMGM became the first official betting operator of the LPGA in 2021.

“Ultimately, our job is to create opportunities to drive our best customers to Las Vegas and VIP golf experiences help do that,” Evans said. “By creating the experiences that we have, like having an amazing footprint in Shadow Creek and having amazing properties like Aria, Vdara, Cosmopolitan, Bellagio, MGM Grand, just to name a few, it creates more opportunities for fans and golf fans to come to Vegas. The golf enhances the Vegas experience. Whether you are staying in a suite at the Aria, having dinner at Carbone or LPM at Cosmopolitan, and then taking a limo to Shadow Creek, each are separate, unique experiences that are special in their own ways. Then you can even add to those experiences by seeing Bruno Mars or Lady Gaga, or our Cirque Du Soleil shows, or go see a championship fight at T-Mobile Arena or MGM Grand Garden. Our entertainment offerings are truly unique. I am not sure that many people can replicate it because it is really like a 1-2-3 punch.” 

MGM Hotspots

When in Vegas, here are a few spots to hit in the MGM Resorts portfolio:

ARIA Resort & Casino: The official host hotel of the T-Mobile Match Play is in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip and steps from T-Mobile Arena and other MGM Resorts properties, restaurants, and amenities. Honored with the AAA Five Diamond Award and a five-star rating from Forbes Travel Guide.

LPM Restaurant and Bar at Cosmopolitan: Cosmopolitan is a recent acquisition by MGM Resorts and features LPM, an experience in Riviera Cuisine that starts in Côte d'Azur and the Ligurian coastline, but extends around the Mediterranean. Start with tomatoes on the table and add a world-famous Tomatini. Shareable entrees enhance the experience.

Como at Bellagio: Breakfast, brunch or lunch pool side at Bellagio is a perfect addition to any day in Vegas.

Mad Apple at New York/New York: Straight out of the Big Apple, this unique Cirque Du Soleil show brings the NYC vibe with live music by gifted singers and musicians, a collection of talented, mis-fit specialty acts including comedy, acrobats, and more in a quaint setting where the action is on top of you.

Shadow Creek: Needs no intro. One of the world’s best with a backstory of celebrities and legendary high-stakes gambling stories to match. A bucket list course that any true golfer should try and play at least once.

Brian Hurlburt is the founder of www.LasVegasGolfInsider.com and can be followed @lasvegasgolfinsider on social media.


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Brian Hurlburt

BRIAN HURLBURT

Brian Hurlburt, a Las Vegas resident, is an author and publisher who has chronicled golf in the city that glitters for three decades. Twitter: @lvgolfinsiderInstagram: @lasvegasgolfinsiderFacebook: Facebook.com/LasVegasGolfInsiderInternet: LasVegasGolfInsider.com