Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

GENOA, NV - When one thinks of the Old West the visions of the wide-open spaces "where never is heard a discouraging word" immediately come to mind. The sense of freedom of roaming the range while herding cattle across the broad valleys catches the imagination like few other landscapes can. To play golf in this type of setting is to find a connection to the freedom of the game itself. The big sky of the range, pine dotted mountainsides, and a meandering river all join together at Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch in Jacks Valley, Nevada to create a course that links to that spirit.

Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch rests on a hillside just above the Carson River six miles south of Carson City; Nevada's state capital. Over the last century, this rangeland has been cattle country, but in the last seven years golf has crept into the region and taken hold. This course is the second to be built in this valley and was opened for play in 1998.

Golf Course golf architect John Harbottle and former PGA player, golf course designer, and current NBC television golf commentator Johnny Miller joined forces to collaborate on this unique layout. This course is the second Harbottle design in the valley after his work at Genoa Lakes, which is just a stones throw away, but any similarities between the two courses stop there. While Genoa Lakes is on relatively flat land along the river, the site for Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch is a 300-acre stretch of grazing land that has over 300 feet of elevation change.

The property most recently was known as the Little Mondo Ranch where cattle and pheasant were raised. In the past, it was home to a skeet range and shooting club. As you drive through the stone and log entrance, the theme of the West is evident and it carries through to the ranch style clubhouse. This theme continues in the pro shop where you have to belly up to the bar to check in. Western saddles that serve as bar stools make for an interesting way to sit down and prep for a day out on the range.

Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch is a daily fee facility managed by American Golf Company, who manage over 300 facilities nationwide. American Golf focuses on well-maintained courses at an affordable rate serviced by a friendly staff. All of these ingredients exist here. Future plans call for some home sites near the course but, for now, this treeless layout is free of housing, which adds to the serenity.

Your first impression here is the expansive feel. The large practice area looks out at Job's Peak which is the dominant mountain peak that overlooks the valley. From here it is a short trip up the trail to the putting green. You feel like the early settlers of the west who needed a good scout to find California, as you need a guide to finally find the first tee. Once there, the touch of the white sandstone tee markers emblazoned with the cattle skull trademark of the course begins to tell the tale of the adventures ahead. You wish the cart resembled a Conestoga wagon as you prepare for the journey.

There are six different tees at Sierra Nevada and because of the great elevation changes, this course could be stretched out to take advantage of it. From the back tees (Tour Tees) this course plays to 7,358 yards with a 75.3 rating and a slope of 137. These tees are only for players with a 0-4 handicap, but it is fun to walk back and look at some of the holes from this perspective. The Championship Tees for 0-10 handicap players play to 6,820 yards and a slope of 132, while the Players tees are where the majority of players will find a comfort zone golf course that plays to 6,207 yards, but still at a hefty 129 slope rating.

Make sure to get in some swings on the range because this course challenges you right out of the chute. Each hole has a western theme namesake that is emblazoned onto the tee marker and several golf holes will leave a lasting impression. After a relatively easy opening hole, the 2nd hole, Stagecoach, demands your best shots.

This hole is a 394-yard par 4 that plays uphill. The fairway banks slightly to the right and it is interesting to notice how the shaping of the course took care to not leave severely sloping fairways on this hilly site. After a big drive, you are left with an uphill shot to a sloping green that has two deep bunkers guarding the right side. The big green is tough with the undulations and this is a characteristic throughout the course. The well maintained surfaces are quick but putt true.

While Miller and Harbottle are mentioned as co designers, the major input here came from John Harbottle who made many visits to the site during construction. The imaginative layout had to develop a way of climbing the hillside. The front nine works like a switchback trail that works to the highest point on the course and Harbottle was careful in the shaping of the course. The ascents are subtle on the fairways so that you aren't that aware of climbing while playing each hole, but you really work up from green to tee. It isn't until around the fifth tee that you become aware of the clubhouse down below in the valley and realize how much elevation you have gained.

As the course switchbacks through the front, your views vary at each tee. First you view Job's Peak, then you look off towards the north and the rocky cliffs along the valley, and then the valley to the East commands the view. This constant change in views is riveting. I played on a day with the threat of summer storms and the clouds passing across the peaks just added to the drama of golf in the wild frontier.

Harbottle and Miler made excellent use of the terrain and when holes play downhill, like at 2,6,9,13, and 15, they stretched the holes to capacity. At number 3, a par 5, the hole is 555 yards from the Tour tees but just 498 yards form the Players tees. Strategic bunkers litter this hole to guide you to the green. Number 6, James Canyon, is a slightly downhill par 4 that stretches from 451 yards from the Players Tees to a massive 489 yards from the Tour Tees. Be glad you are playing at 4,500 feet of elevation for added distance to your golf shots.

Along with these huge holes, you still have finesse holes. #4, named Jackrabbit, is just 265 yards long but the bunkers will make you think about trying to drive this short hole. The par 3 7th hole is a delicate downhill shot of just 118 yards from the Players Tees to a green that seems to be hanging on the edge of a cliff.

The front nine finishes out with the longest hole on the golf course named Tumbleweed. This hole is 618 yards from the back tees and plays all downhill. This is also a conversation hole because of its design. The first thing you notice is a "Y" bunker in the landing area. This pot bunker gets its name from ‘Why is that bunker there?' This is one addition from Johnny Miller who felt that the tee shot was just too easy without it but its placement really forces a player to look left and right rather than down the middle on this long hole. The second shot sets a player into a split fairway and you have to choose which side you want to come into the huge green from. The hole makes you think out every shot.

The back nine at Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch slides along the hillside and plays down to the lowest points where creeks and lakes come into play to add to the challenge. #10, named Little Mondeaux, is a 401-yard sweeper that has a creek running up the right side all the way to the green. Keep left here to avoid trouble.

If you like long par fours, then you will love the 13th hole, named Tombstone, which is only 503 yards long from the tips. This hole is another great example of using the terrain and getting the most out of the player by the designers. The hole and valley spread out before you from the tee and this hole just calls you to rip it as hard as you can. These big holes are really fun to play. It is interesting to note how 13 and 14 are parallel holes, with 14 going back up the hill. The uphill hole is just about the same distance but the designers make it a par 5 to give you another shot to negotiate the terrain.

Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch provides a great stretch finishing holes starting out with #16. This hole, appropriately named Cattle Drive, starts the journey towards home. It is another hole that demands a big tee shot to set up the approach. The green site is spectacular as it hangs above the spacious valley and has Job's Peak rising in the background.

The par 3 17th is a medium length hole but is surrounded by water. This hole is the lowest point on the course and it almost seems out of place with the waterfall in the background and the rock build-up at the waters edge is so different from the other golf holes.

The 18th, named Homestead is a rambling 515 yard par five that demands a strong drive over a lake. This lake runs down the left side of the hole and cuts in by the green and is ready to grab an errant shot. The undulating green is large, but is a tough shot to get a ball close to some of the possible pin placements.

Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch is a treat to play and is a sleeper course in the Reno Tahoe region. This course is open almost year round. In the summer it is gorgeous at sunset and in the spring you can ski in the morning in Tahoe and come down to the valley for 18 holes, one of the few places in the world where you can do that. All of these features add up to make The Ranch a course to add to your list of places to play.


From Carson City go south on Hwy. 50. Turn right on Jack's Valley Road. Sierra Nevada is five miles south on the left hand side. From South Lake Tahoe take Kingsbury east to Foothills Drive. Head north through Genoa and the golf course is three miles from town on the right hand side.

Doug Saunders, Contributor

Doug Saunders has covered more than 20 major championships and his unique perspectives on the game have appeared in numerous publications including Golf World, GolfWeek, Golf Course Management, Golf Course News, Golfdom, and the USGA Golf Journal. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, California Golf Writers, and the Sierra Nevada Golf Course Superintendents Association.

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