Dayton Valley Golf Club brings winds of change to Reno - Lake Tahoe area

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

DAYTON, Nev. - From the moment you swing open your car door in the parking lot, you know Dayton Valley Golf Club at Legado is going to be a different High Sierras golf experience.

Dayton Valley Golf Club
Dayton Valley is a wide-open, virtually treeless course down in a High Sierras valley.
Dayton Valley Golf ClubDayton Valley Golf Club - Lake ShotDayton Valley Golf Club - BunkerDayton Valley Golf Club - Water

Golfing in the Lake Tahoe-Reno corridor usually means swinging among pine trees in the cool mountain air. Dayton Valley is flatter than an NBA team on the second night of a back-to-back and more wide open than the 2008 presidential race. And this is the Sierras course to play when you want to be reminded it really is summer. The heat hits you when you open that car door.

At least on days like this, when the wind is quiet. Uncharacteristically quiet, according to the locals. When the winds howl, Dayton Valley becomes Death Valley, or so the parking-lot talk goes.

In truth, it feels hot enough to be Death Valley right now. Arnold Palmer didn't design the course to make you sweat bullets, but it's no pushover, for all its flat openness.

At 15 years and counting, Dayton Valley is the longest-standing PGA Tour qualifying golf course. It can kick a shot back into your teeth when that wind's whistling anything but a merry tune. First-timer Eric Groggin said he was told to anticipate "a three-club difference."

It sure feels that way on the par-3 sixth, a 179-yarder with water flanking the green. Suddenly, some carefully considered club selections didn't seem so carefully considered. Golf balls seem to hit a brick wall in mid-air and plummet to a splash.

There's water on 11 of Dayton Valley's 18 holes, but it doesn't seem like you're battling it that much during the round. Instead Palmer's design takes you back to when golf courses didn't have to show off to earn respect.

Since Dayton Valley was built in 1991, Director of Golf Jim Kepler estimates, 30 golf courses have been built in the region, and in the past five years the average home price in the neighborhood has doubled from $200,000 to $400,000. The market is changing, and so is Dayton Valley.

The club recently adopted that fancy new name (it used to be plain old Dayton Valley Country Club), and added a fancy new clubhouse complete with five high-definition TVs around the sports bar and a large private dining room. Six million dollars have been poured into the work.

Quite a change for the oldest town in Nevada.

"It used to be a hick town," Kepler said. "It's still a hick town. But now there's 20,000 people rather than 1,500 people."

That's a lot more hicks to play golf. And, perhaps more importantly, to buy homes in a golf-course development.

Kepler, a big man who shoots straight and laughs often, doesn't try to hide that $6 million ambition.

"There's no question about it, golf courses are built to sell homes these days," he said. "Clubhouses are built to sell homes."

You'll never forget that the houses matter at Dayton Valley; they are found along several holes. But the developers did a good job of making sure the golfers aren't shooting out of someone's backyard, dodging garden gnomes and yapping Chihuahuas.

Golf - actually hitting shots and recording your score - gets its day here. It's fun to hit around the lake that curves alongside the 453-yard, par-4 14th. No. 8 makes even better use of the water, squeezing the fairway on two sides just as it doglegs right. No. 4 has a green surrounded by so many bunkers that it looks like a clump of grass stuck in the middle of a beach.

Palmer makes the approach shots key. You could play a best-drive scramble and still find plenty of challenge blocking a good score in the slightly rolling fairways and bunker-buffeted greens.

With virtually no trees at all, the 7,218 yards can seem much longer. Holes stretch forever on a hot plain with nothing blocking your eyesight.

It's enough to make you sweat. And half-kiddingly look around for vultures. Not the real-estate-agent kind either.

The verdict

Dayton Valley is a great change-of-pace High Sierras course. Its look is very distinctive for the area and greener than you'd expect given how fiercely the sun seems to beat down in the valley.

It's one of the mid-ranged courses in the area. It really comes down to what you're looking for in your golf experience. Dayton Valley provides old-school strategy rather than eye-popping wows.

You'll remember shots much more than specific holes here. How much do you love the sun? Or fear the wind?

One thing you won't have to fear is the course conditions. This is well-kept track with a staff and band of regulars who take obvious pride in it.

Dining out

You won't feel out of place eating fast food before or after your Dayton Valley round and there are plenty of options on the way to the course. The new clubhouse does have a chef who tries some inventive things (like the palate-cleansing sorbet shake) and one of the better golf-course bars, with those high-def TVs and plenty of room for kicking back.

Stay and play

The oldest town in Nevada is not the most happening one. But Dayton does put you pretty close to Carson City, a place with some, um, interesting old-school gambling hotels. The Carson Valley Inn is probably the best choice, a mom-and-pop operation that's expanded to 230 rooms, 650 slot machines, a sports book and even an on-site RV lot with 59 spaces.

Fast Facts

Dayton, Nev., was settled in 1851 by gold prospectors. It didn't get its first major supermarket until 1999.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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