Sunridge Golf Club: An Intriguing Mix in Carson City

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

CARSON CITY, NV -- Every golfer who becomes enthralled with this crazy game holds visions of what they would like to do to certain golf holes. We all have desires to change a bunker, relocate a tree, or set a tee in a different place. But few of us ever have the chance to have such an impact on the places that we play. But for Bill Wellman of Las Vegas, that chance came and in a bigger way than most could imagine. Wellman is a civil engineer and heavy equipment contractor who began his odyssey into golf 12 years ago when he took up the game. His interest drove him to get his game down to an 8 handicap and his years of experience in moving dirt suddenly combined into the ultimate fantasy for any golfer. Wellman fell into the chance to design and build his own golf course. His creation, which is carved out of the hillsides and sagebrush along the Carson River, Sunridge Golf Club, is a treat to play.

This 18-hole course fans along a hillside that borders a large housing development, Sunridge, that Wellman became involved with in the early nineties when he was widening Route 395 for the state of Nevada. He met the developers of the Sunridge property and took on the task of putting in the infrastructure and first lots to the site. When payments were missed, Wellman suddenly found himself scrambling to secure some return on his work. Over the course of a few months, Wellman and a financial partner slowly became the owners of the property.

"The original plans for this land called for more housing and the permits allowed for extensive commercial development. I felt that adding a golf course could make the commercial portion more attractive to future investors. We went through quite a process to get the permits to build. We reduced the density of housing plans, worked with Fish and Game on wetland issues, and even had to deal with archeological diggings as this was an important Paiute Indian encampment. Then it just took a lot of hard work," Wellman said.

Wellman began his golf course design career like all of the others, by drawing out a routing plan on a topography map. His years of experience of working the earth helped him to at least get a concept of how he would use the dramatic topography at his disposal. But it wasn't until surveyors set out the plans onto the site that Wellman could begin to see what he had.

"The hillside offered us a chance to build a course with a lot of elevation drops on holes which no other course in Northern Nevada has. After the survey stakes were set, I brought in a couple of PGA professionals for this area for some advice. We took our clubs and two buckets, one with sand to set up the tee locations, and one with beer to help us through the heat. We then would hit shots to the greens stakes to determine how the holes would play. This was the most fun part of course design," Wellman said.

Sunridge Golf Club opened for play in 1997 and its intriguing mix of open meadow holes, a string of challenging water holes, and the thrill of dramatic hillside holes brought a mixture of attention, praise, and condemnation. Some will feel that it is one of the great challenges in Northern Nevada, while others will think that the designer is just this side of being a sadist. One thing that has been proven is that many golfers come back to play these challenging holes again and again.

Wellman put in five sets of tees and the course is a par 72 that can stretch from 4,814 yards to 6,914 yards from the tips. The blue tees, at 6,482 yards are the perfect spot for the solid player. Whatever tee you play from, Wellman decides to challenge you right out of the chute.

The first hole is a 541-yard par 5 that demands a carry over one of the 10 lakes that accent this course. You have to decide how much you want to bite off of the right side to get the best angle for your second shot. These lakes will get you thinking on a lot of tee shots on this course.

The first five holes are on the flattest part of the course and Wellman let the rock-faced lakes add the challenge to these holes. The four miles of lake shoreline all have rock facings so that the aesthetics hold up no matter what the water level is. These holes are good scoring holes and the landing areas off of the tees are generous.

But as you make your way to the sixth hole, a 346-yard par 4, you get a taste of the ridge that can play havoc with your game. This hole is a blind tee shot where you want to stay right but it is difficult to determine what you want to be right of. If you find the fairway, you then are faced with a short iron shot to a raised green that juts out from the ridge. Bunkers surround this undulated green and the wind plays havoc here. The only consolation is the fact that Wellman thought of putting a lake in front of this green also, but backed off.

This hillside puts drama into the final 3 holes on this side but it is only a taste of what is in store on the back. The par 3 7th is an uphill shot to a tight target and the 8th is a short downhill par 4 with a diabolical collection of bunkers littering the landing area. The front finishes off with a downhill par 4 where a big hit leaves you with a wedge to the green.

The back nine is a series of holes where the big lakes factor into the first four holes and the final five holes climb up into the rocks and sagebrush. This side has been getting reworked to make it more playable but this is a nine you won't soon forget.

Again, carries over the lakes set up the first few holes and the 13th hole has been reworked to be an easier par 4. These holes are just setups, though, as the fun begins on 14.

The 14th is a 406-yard par 4 that is one of the most discussed holes on the course. The downhill shot drops over 100 feet to the split fairway and distance is deceptive. If you rap it here, you can go through the fairway easily so play more right than you think. This tee shot is easier after you play it a few times and this could be what draws players back to Sunridge. The second shot is then uphill to a very sloped green and par here is just good work.

The par 3 15th hole is just 120 yards long. You drive from a cliff edge to a green that is on top of another ledge. Any short shot ends up down in a grassy swale well below the hole. Wellman first planned to make this an uphill hole but he realized what a bottleneck that could become.

The downhill 16th is another hole where distance and alignment are difficult to judge. You must play to the right, as this fairway is even easier to drive through than on 14. This is a tee shot where having a couple of balls ready is not a bad idea.

The course finishes with a remodeled 18th hole. This used to be a par 5 that played over a series of water features and really asked too much of the average player. A new green was built to create a par 4 and the original green is now used as a 19th hole that can be used to settle bets and matches.

Sunridge Golf Club is actually not a bad effort by an amateur designer who truly enjoyed the task.

"I spend a lot of time here at the club and I love to listen to the comments of golfers after they play. I hear them call me a genius or a sadist, but that is what makes golf so great," Wellman says.

When in the Reno-Carson area, put Sunridge Golf Club on your play list. You won't be disappointed.

Directions - From Carson City take Route 395 south to Mica Drive and turn left. Follow this road to Long Drive and find the clubhouse on the left.

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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