By sea or by hills: pick your poison at Red Hawk

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

SPARKS, Nev. - Things have changed drastically in Northern Nevada in over the past decade. The Reno-Sparks region has bloomed into a bona fide golf destination overnight. The golf explosion has played a role in the town's rise in population and as the region grows, it's shedding the hapless reputation of a second fiddle stuck in an inferiority complex with the big and bad in Vegas. The success of Reno: 911 portraying Reno as a town of insane yokels probably hasn't helped PR any, either.

"Reno is so close to hell you can see Sparks," has been the local creed as long as its boom into a dull railroad town at the turn of the century. Over the past few decades however, Sparks went under the knife and emerged as a friendlier, easier on the eye kind of town, with the capability to even bring in a boxcar or two of outsiders.

Wingfield Springs can make a claim at helping create this newer Sparks. Part of a master planned community that encompasses 1400 acres plus, the nearly decade-old development is comprised of two dozen communities along with a host of commercial and recreational options.

But the cornerstone of the development is The Resort at Red Hawk: 36 holes and upscale accommodations that, don't worry, steer clear of any "Vegas" characteristics. The charming villas located right on the course are big in space but easy on the wallet.

Robert Trent Jones, Jr. designed the original Lakes Course and Hale Irwin crafted the newer, albeit private Hills Course. The courses encompass two widely different types of terrain.

Lakes Course

The Lakes Course opened in 1997 and is set over a wide expanse of relatively flat terrain that works around the 3000-year-old Spanish Springs. The management of the Lakes Course has earned the Club the distinction of being the only Audubon International Signature Sanctuary Community in Nevada. Through the construction of the golf course and community over 100 acres of wetlands were preserved and 13 acres were created. Around the golf course itself these wetlands were complemented with the creation of 10 lakes to add to the challenge of this wide and inviting layout.

"This course has a very traditional Robert Trent Jones feel to it with the big greens and over 100 bunkers," said PGA Head Professional Mike Sizemore. "This layout shows how much Trent Jones, Jr.'s work emulates the style of his father."

Perhaps the biggest difference is Robert Trent Jones Jr. has developed the ability to take ordinary landscapes and add the subtle rolls and mounds to add character. This flair shows up at Red Hawk on every hole.

The course features four tees that stretch from 5115 yards to 7127 yards, and the wide fairways surely invite the driver. The Lakes Course is void of the subtle trickery that Robert Trent Jones, Jr.'s earlier designs are noted for. This course is straightforward and shows a great creative flair. The rye fairways are well maintained and the bent grass greens are some of the truest putting surfaces found in the Reno area.

The many fairway bunkers are filled with white Pebble Beach sand and are set up as excellent directional bunkers that help give the flat layout the needed pizzazz to test driving accuracy. This is evident on the 538-yard 2nd as a series of bunkers help aim at a plan of attack from the tee. The bright sand also provides great contrast to the greens and fairways. Good looking, but bad news: the bunkers are much deeper once find yourself at the lip of one.

A great mix of par 4s at the Lakes course play to a variety of length. No one will forget the par-4 3rd, a 399-yard dogleg right bending around a lake running almost from tee to green. But the real strength of this course lies in the demanding three-shotters. These play lengths between 174 and 241 yards. Each demands a full carry over either a lake or natural wetland. The 241-yard 17th is a monster, requiring a carry of about 220 just to carry the bailout zone to the right.

On the back nine, the course wraps around a huge expanse of wetlands, showcasing Jones' talent of blending golf and nature. Tee shots must often carry water and the views of the lakes and Pah Rah Mountains formulate a peaceful environment. You may actually forget that you are inside such a large housing development on these closing holes. The course finishes with a great par 4 that plays up to a green in front of the Western-style clubhouse that resembles an inviting oasis, surrounded by huge cottonwoods.

The Hills Course

The Irwin-designed Hills Course is another animal all together. This course plays up into a broad canyon and Irwin kept the undulating aspect of the land throughout the holes. Elevations make up the front nine, as its summit climbs up over 300 feet to the top of the ridgeline.

The Hills features four tees that run from 5,733 through 7,161 yards from the tips and plays a par 71. While the Lakes course is a walker-friendly track, the Hills' steep undulations demand a cart. Irwin uses the elevation changes to create some daunting par 4's like the 6th, a 472-yard hole all uphill. Nothing short of a dinger will make the second shot a manageable approach.

Irwin eases the climb by tossing in a couple short par 3s: the 140-yard 5th and the 142-yard 8th. Then the 9th makes the run to the top of the ridge with a long cart drive to find an uphill 512-yard par 5 that is like trying to play backwards on a ski slope. You have to fight off guarding the left side, which is littered with bunkers because if you get too far right this hole can be just unplayable. The bunkers on this course are very deep and penal. Irwin ends the climb with a drivable 298-yard par 4, but even this is a dicey adventure, as the hole bottlenecks around the green.

But the ascent is well worth it once you climb atop the mountain to the tenth tee. From here, all of Spanish Springs is spread out before you as you gaze out at a 700-yard (yes, 700) par-5. Needless to say, this is the most salivating tee shot in all of northern Nevada.

A Colorado native, Irwin has learned to use grand elevation changes through his Colorado designs and knows setting up dramatic downhill holes gives a player added confidence, and for the resort golfer, ease. The Hills design is no exception. Irwin creates wide landing areas on the 12th, 16th, and 17th holes, which are big downhill par 4s.

The Hills course is private, but a few loopholes make it possible for the public to sneak on. The public may call ahead up to two weeks in advance to reserve one of the course's tee times made available to guests per hour.

Stay and Play

Red Hawk has many plush villas on site, as well as dining accommodations at their new clubhouse. Red Hawk provides a variety of Stay and Play packages.


Take Interstate 80 east to Vista Blvd. exit. Turn left and head north 6.2 miles to Wingfield Springs.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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