Silver Oak Golf: Peak Experience at Sierra Nevada

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

CARSON CITY, NV -- Carson City, the capital city of the Silver State, is nestled at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Its strategic location along the banks of the Carson River and just west of the famous Comstock Lode made it a natural choice as the capital city back in 1860 when the famous silver strike turned into the world's richest discovery. Nevada suddenly became a crucial monetary source for the Union during the Civil War and Carson City became the center of commerce as the fabulous riches put this desolate state on the map.

Today the mines of Virginia City have long since dried up and Las Vegas and the casino business is considered the economic engine that drives the state, but the decisions are still made here. The small city has grown as an affordable town that draws light industry and residents from California to this bucolic town.

Around the city, golf properties have sprung up in earnest over the last ten years and there are now five golf communities around the area. The latest, Silver Oak Golf Course, is the anchor for a series of housing developments and the bottom line at Silver Oak is to provide quality golf at an affordable price.

Two PGA Golf Professionals, Tom Duncan and Sid Salomon designed the golf course. They brought their extensive understanding of the golf business to the construction of Silver Oak.

"We built this course backwards in a way. We understood our target market and knew that we wanted a course that all levels of golfers could play. We didn't want a lot of length and wetlands. We didn't want the course to be too boring.

The two first developed a routing that would not eat up precious home sites yet worked its way into some dramatic landscapes. Through each facet of the design, an eye was kept towards controlling costs.

"The golf course cost around $3.5-4 million to build and that cost included developing the ability to bring in effluent water from the city water treatment plant for irrigation. The course was also built with cash over a three year period, so in the end, we are carrying no debt load," Duncan explained.

As you pull up to the course, the eye to the bottom line is prevalent throughout. There are no frills here as the clubhouse is a modular building and the parking lot expands into some gravel parking places. But don't let the first impression stop you from coming to Silver Oak. What was saved in the infrastructure has gone towards keeping the golf course in excellent shape.

In fact, you will see the commitment to golf in the massive driving range behind the clubhouse. This range is over 100 yards long and this allows over 40 golfers ample room for warm up or practice. The range is dug into the ground, which helps to keep the balls out of the course and also helps in ball collection. From the range, you can also see that this golf course offers some dramatic golf as the canyon holes glisten green on the rocky hillsides above the range.

The golf course presents two distinctly different nines. The front nine plays across a relatively flat landscape accentuated with a few lakes. The back nine presents a climb up into the rugged, rocky canyons west of town. This is not a course designed for walking as there are long stretches from tee to green.

The par 71 course is set up with four tees which stretch the course from 4,725 yards to 6,564 yards from the Tournament tees. Most players can play this course from the blue championship tees and will find a good layout that will test their game.

"The golf course is not long but it isn't a pushover either. We designed the course to be playable and to be a course where players would move along quickly. One of the things we did was put hazards around the par five's so that the average player would have to lay up in most cases. This helps to keep things moving on a busy day," Duncan explained.

The treeless site let Duncan create wide fairways and the designers held large mounding and shaping down to a minimum. This course can really let you score, especially if you can get off of the tee. The trouble is found on the approach shots as Duncan and Salomon used water features and bunkering skillfully to protect the greens.

A good example of these techniques is found on the fourth hole, a 417 yard par 4, which is the #1 handicap hole. This big par 4 doglegs slightly left and calls for a big drive. If you catch it, your ball will roll down a subtle hill and leave you a nine iron into the green. The elevated green is well protected by a lake in front and is a very narrow target which is difficult to hit from the down hill lie.

On both par 5's on the front side, the designers use the water features to put teeth into the holes. Two lakes frame the tee shot on the 6th hole and a small creek runs across the front of the green to make getting home in two a tough proposition. A large lake almost surrounds the green on the 542-yard 9th hole. A player is forced to hit a 130-yard shot to find the green. Without these features, this course would be a boring pushover.

But it is the back nine that offers the real drama and challenge. The par 5 12th hole is only 484 yards long but the hole makes a steep climb up to the severely sloping green. It takes a big drive to get you into a position to even reaching this green in two so play this hole for three good shots.

The par 4 14th hole is only 335 yards on the scorecard but another uphill shot to a tricky green demands that you hit a well placed drive in the fairway. This 2nd shot calls for two extra clubs to get it up to the green that looks like it is draped around the rocky outcropping.

The back nine also features back to back par 3's across the canyon that produced more challenges for the designers. These two holes, the 15th and 16th are separated by a long swath of land. The designers could have created a great par 4 between these holes but the necessary shaping and dirt work would have made such a hole very expensive.

At the 15th, they even tried to create a short par 4 and an abandoned tee site can be seen in the cliff side, but again the massive earthwork that would be needed made such a hole cost prohibitive.

"I think we managed to get in a series of good golf holes that add a bit of drama to the course. You aren't going to find any courses that have golf holes like these on them anywhere," Duncan said.

Where Duncan and Salomon did spend the money was in the maintenance of the golf course. During construction, ample soil amendments were added to improve the nutrient quality and the rye fairways and bent grass greens are in excellent shape. They understand the course quality can be the most important ingredient to securing repeat play. That is evident here as the golf course, which opened in 1998, averages over 35,000 rounds a year.

"I can't tell you how many times we have had players come in to tell us that they broke 100, 90, or 80 for the first time here. That tells us that must have done something right when we laid out the course," Duncan said.

Quality conditions and affordable prices have proved to be a successful formula at Silver Oak Golf Course. It is a formula that hopefully, other communities will try to emulate in the future. But until then, consider Silver Oak Golf Course on your next visit to the Silver State of Nevada.


From central Carson City take Route 395 north to College Parkway. Turn left to Country Club Drive and turn right. The golf course is found on the left 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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    STEVEN CRANOR wrote on: Apr 28, 2008