Among the dozens of stories and course reviews about the reimagined Wynn Golf Club, which opened earlier this month just off the Strip in Las Vegas, most have focused on either architect Tom Fazio, or the eyebrow-arching $550 peak greens fee, or both. Heck, my own first story about the course mentioned both within the first four paragraphs.
And then I talked with superintendent Jason Morgan.
Fazio describes the transplanted Midwesterner as “the guy in the field making it happen,” but when we talked, Morgan almost immediately shifted any praise he received toward his two assistants, Hugo Gallarzo and Hector Hernandez, both of whom had also worked on Wynn the first time the course was under construction from February 2003 through April 2005. “I trust them to do everything,” Morgan says, adding that during the weeks before he started, “they were the ones making the calls, and they did a phenomenal job. I feel like the course wouldn’t have been as successful if they weren’t there to make those hard call no one wants to make.” He described the rest of his crew — 34 strong — as “the best of the best” from all around Las Vegas. He brushed off any perceived extra pressure because of the spotlight on the course, saying that “when you’re employed here, you’re supposed to make everything the best it can be, whether you’re cleaning bathrooms or prepping a room.”
Or heading out on the course around the same time the highest of rollers are shuffling out of the casinos and — perhaps — into bed.
Morgan arrived in Las Vegas back in 2007, an Iowa State University alumnus and a Minnesota native who was working at a course in his home state who headed to the desert for what was supposed to be a single winter. That season stretched into another and another and a promotion. He never headed back north, and instead started at Wynn for the first time in 2010, an assistant for seven years until the course shuttered in 2017. He worked for another nearby club the last two years before he received an unexpected call in May: We want to build a golf course. Do you want to be a part of it?
“Coming back was like a dream come true,” says Morgan, who started June 17 and immediately sprinted through a 101-day seeding and grow-in. “Now a lot of the holes are pretty similar to what they were before, but I think the golf course is much better than it was before — not to say anything bad about it before, because it was great — but it’s surreal to see what we’ve created out there.”
Half the greens had been seeded before Morgan’s first day — big thanks to Gallarzo and Hernandez — and the other half was seeded July 2. “The quickest maturity I saw with the seed we used was 110 days, and even that was unheard of,” he says. “Coming in, I knew what the challenges were going to be: It’s hot in the middle of the desert, it’s dry, it’s either too wet or too dry, and one way or the other, you’re going to fail. There were multiple nights of no sleep thinking about this stuff, but it was worth every night.”
There are still plenty of challenges — a relative lack of air movement around the course because of the sheer number of tall buildings in close proximity chief among them — but unlike almost every other course around the country, labor isn’t among them. About half of the crew worked on Wynn before it closed, and the other half “were top guys hired in from around the valley who have years of golf course or landscape experience,” Morgan says. “You needed at least two years’ experience to even be considered. … For those 15 positions, there were hundreds of applicants, and we feel like we hit a home run with every one.”
The course opened again Oct. 11 and already Morgan is thinking about maintenance projects. He wants to transition some areas to drip irrigation in order to decrease the number of weeds and correspondingly use less herbicide. He wants to really transition from a construction mentality to more of a service mentality. And he wants to play the course with some members of his crew — eventually.
“We’re going to let the guests enjoy it before I start hacking it up,” he says.
Matt LaWell is GCI’s managing editor.