Genoa Lakes Golf Club is all Carson and all right - cows and all

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

GENOA, Nev. - The front of the Carson Valley visitors bureau's brochure features a big picture of a cow's face.

Genoa Lakes Golf Club - Water
There's water on 14 of Genoa Lakes' 18 holes.
Genoa Lakes Golf Club - WaterGenoa Lakes Golf Club - No. 14Genoa Lakes Golf Club - Forced MarshGenoa Lakes Golf Club - Cows

You just don't expect to run into Old MacDonald's good friend out on a golf course. But there they are. With the emphasis on they. The cows are right behind the fifth green at Genoa Lakes Golf Club, staring balefully at golfers through a wire fence.

One big black cow stops and shoots an extra hard look your way. Cows don't charge, do they?

These are the unexpected questions that might cross the mind during a Genoa Lakes round. Opened in 1993, Genoa Lakes is Carson Valley's golf institution - though most of its players are probably staying in either Lake Tahoe or Reno. Carson Valley is the often forgotten, eccentric spot about halfway in between the High Sierras region's big tourist drawing towns.

In a Carson area full of unknown golf bargains, Genoa Lakes is the showcase high end play.

That doesn't mean it's easy to define. This course is anything but country anymore. There are houses on most holes. On a few, it almost feels like you're teeing off from somebody's backyard. But there are also those stare-you-down cows. A deer sprints in front of the golf cart on the ride from the 12th to 13th hole. Red hawks circle over the 16th green.

How cookie cutter development can you be when there's this much nature?

Genoa Lakes is both typical and unique. Its housing approach can be found on a 100 other courses easy. Yet its setting is still special enough that there are dashes of magic left. Like a deer cutting you off in traffic. Or the moos of the neighbor cows serving as background noise to a putt.

The scorecard makes Genoa Lakes look like Waterworld. Water's shown on 14 of the 18 holes and you half expect the starter to tell you there are life jackets underneath the golf cart seats in the event of an emergency.

"When people look at the scorecard and see all the water, they think, 'Oh no!'" Genoa Lakes tournament director Kevin Sommerfeld said. "But all that water's not really as crushing as it looks on the scorecard.

"After they play it, most people will say it's challenging but not unfair."

This isn't just the usual "a course fit for all skill levels" marketer's line. Genoa Lakes is actually wishy washy in its design difficulty.

There are holes that make you shake your driver in near surrender. The monster 477-yard, par-4 third starts with a forced marsh clear off the tee. The landing area's really just a strip of grass between a cart path and the trees. Then, the hole finishes with a pond clear right in front of a peninsula slanted green.

This is one of those holes that could drain your entire bag's supply of golf balls if you start hitting it wayward. Heck, you can get a bad bounce on a good shot on Genoa Lakes' No. 3 and still end up wet.

But there are other holes at Genoa Lakes that are so benign that you're not liable to remember them even while you're still playing them.

It's like the design team of John Harbottle III and Peter Jacobsen battled over the tone for Genoa Lakes and ended up with something incapable of either thrilling that much or disappointing that severely. Don't be surprised if you finish your round and still aren't quite sure what you think of this course.

Genoa Lakes is awfully hard to love or loathe.

"This is the course people play over and over again," Sommerfeld said. "People who think the other course (the sister Genoa Resort course) is too difficult will stay away from that and come over here."

Genoa Lakes is the fallback girlfriend of golf courses. You're not quite sure what brings you around, but as long as you're here, you might as well have some fun.

Surely, even a cow gazing at golfers can appreciate that approach.

The verdict

It's easy to focus on what Genoa Lakes is not in this High Sierras region of have alls. It's not Edgewood Tahoe and its Pebble Beach competing wonder.

It's certainly not Coyote Moon and its hulking prehistoric granite rocks and no houses. It's not even Whitehawk Ranch and its relaxing nature walk.

Genoa Lakes is no must play. It can make for an interesting day. Especially if you plan it right.

The oldest bar in Nevada (Genoa Bar) is on the way to the course. A stop in before or after a round is a must.

When you're on the course, the finishing stretch is sure to appease.

This 232-yard par 4 is packed with gnarly tall grasses - and another marsh clear - off the tee. A big tree sort of hangs over the green on an angle. It all makes for a neat scene and the start of a close that shows Genoa Lakes at its best.

Play the back tees on the 414-yard, par-4 16th just for the theater of it - they're set back around a marsh bend and provide a ridiculous approach. Enjoy shooting back toward the gigantic almost colonial plantation looking clubhouse, while following the lake, on the par-4 18th.

All the houses cannot hide the mountains. Or the moos.

Dining out

Comma Coffee right on the main drag in downtown Carson City is your local culture stop. You could be served by a girl in full hippie gear or a babe with piercings.

The clientele is equally diverse - ranging from little old ladies playing bridge in back to guys driving up on their Harleys. The sandwiches are better than decent, the soups good and the prices very right.

Stay and play

The Carson Valley Inn is a mom-and-pop operation that's anything but that in scale. This once little spot has expanded to 230 rooms, 650 slot machines, a sports book and even an on-site RV lot with 59 spaces.

There's a post office right across the street and easy access to a ton of golf courses.

Fast Facts

Genoa Lakes' linked sister course Genoa Resort is undergoing an extensive renovation with six holes in prime housing spots being ripped apart and six new replacement holes going in.

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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