Reno-Lake Tahoe: Spectacular, diverse golf

By David R. Holland, Contributor

RENO, Nev. -- When a golf pro buys the golf course, you know the area has to be impressive.

Wolf Run Golf Club
Wolf Run Golf Club features well-conditioned greens and fairways.
Wolf Run Golf ClubArrowCreek Golf Club in RenoThe Golf Club at Genoa Lakes

That's exactly what Jim Kepler, the Director of Golf at Dayton Valley Golf Course did when he put together investors to purchase this Arnold Palmer layout, just south of Reno in the Carson City area. Kepler saw that golf was going to boom here in the diverse area of northern Nevada and California.

One reason? You can pick from many noted golf architects of the modern era -- Robert Trent Jones Sr., Robert Trent Jones Jr., George Fazio, Tom Fazio, Robin Nelson, Arnold Palmer, John Harbottle, Peter Jacobsen, Johnny Miller, Fuzzy Zoeller, Hale Irwin, Dick Bailey and Robert Muir-Graves.

"It doesn't seem like very long ago that the only signature course in the Reno-Carson City area was LakeRidge Golf Course," said Kepler. "Now we have 15 or 20 of them. I think the quality of golf for the price is the best in the west. The lodging is cheap here, one can come for the casinos, and I've always thought if you are going to jump on a plane and go to Las Vegas, just change the destination to Reno."

Golfers around the country are recognizing Nevada as the fastest growing state in the USA, Kepler says, "but no one realizes that Dayton Valley Golf Club is located in the fastest growing county in the state. Most just think it would be Las Vegas." Kepler said.

If the Reno-Lake Tahoe area has an inferiority complex to the lights and glitz of Las Vegas it doesn't show it. In fact, many would rather come here to play golf in the coolness of the Lake Tahoe mountains and pines or to the warmer desert-style courses around Reno.

With the Sierras minutes away, and the awesome beauty of Lake Tahoe less than an hour, the Reno area was a natural for America's golf boom. Any dedicated golfer who loves the scenery and the ambiance of the rugged western states, some fun in the casinos and a great selection of varied golf experiences, can come to Reno and have a western feast.

And while the Lake Tahoe area courses close up from October until May, the weather can still be beautiful and warm in Reno at 4,500 in elevation.

The diversity of the land is noteworthy. Within minutes one can tee it up in High Sierra 70-degree comfort among Ponderosa pines and granite boulders at Coyote Moon or plunge into the Reno-Carson City foothills and be challenged by ruggedly beautiful arroyo-forced carries and sagebrush rough in 90-degree weather at ArrowCreek Golf Club.

A sampling of Reno golf

Red Hawk Golf Course at Wingfield Springs doesn't have to say a word to tell you where it got its name. A red-tailed hawk will glide over your head at the first tee. The hawk has a great view of more than 100 sand traps on this Robert Trent Jones Jr. course, which is in its sixth year of operation in Sparks, just minutes from downtown Reno.

The links-style course was built on what was once the Spanish Springs Ranch of Nevada entrepreneur George Wingfield. This strategic shotmaker's course has water to negotiate on 11 of 18 holes and century-old cottonwood trees in the bottom lands. There's a windmill behind the fourth hole that signifies days when Wingfield Springs was key to this ranching operation.

Red Hawk is the core of the upscale daily-fee golf courses being built today. There's first-class service and a top-shelf conditioned field of green to hit off of and putt on. In fact, Red Hawk has bluegrass hybrid fairways and Penn A-4 bent grass greens and the club prides itself on conditioning.

Red Hawk's Springs Course, a par 72, 7,127 yards from the Hawk Tees, also features Northern Nevada's first Golf Learning Center and Golf School. The practice facility features multi-tiered practice stations, sand and grass bunker practice areas, putting greens and target greens in the range.

Red Hawk's No. 17 is considered one of the area's best. This par-3, 221-yarder is almost all water -- the dead center of a natural wetlands habitat that was preserved and recognized by the Audubon Signature program. You might even watch an egret fishing while you are waiting to hit.

The Hills, a private course designed by Hale Irvin, has also opened at Wingfield Springs. This one will have more elevation changes than The Springs course and different bunkering that includes white sand.

Wildcreek Golf Course, a 6,932-yard, par-71/72, is a very interesting layout, where the senior tour visited in the mid-1980s. The seniors pretty much cussed the No. 11 hole to high heaven. It's a 380-yarder uphill to an elevated green.

After years of hair-pulling by the marshals trying to keep the action going here, Wildcreek decided to rip up the 11th green, build another and play it like a par-3. When all is said and done they may play it as a par 4 some days and par 3 others.

A coyote pup might just greet you on the first tee of Wildcreek. He's a little skittish and flinches with every stroke of metal club on ball, but this pup's looking for the last bite of your hot dog.

But overall, Wildcreek, designed by Brad Benz and Dick Phelps, is unique and fun. And if you have an open mind, it can be a favorite you love to play over and over again.

As you climb the hill in north Reno playing shots downhill, uphill and sidehill, the views of the city and Sierras are awesome.

Wildcreek, with slightly less costly green fees, is probably the busiest of the upscale courses in Reno and has recently added the ProLink GPS color system which is outstanding.

Wildcreek's No. 17, a 211-yard, par-3 is another Reno signature shot. There are mature willow and cottonwood trees that frame this water hole. Bail out left to miss the water if you are unsure of your stroke.

Finish with a thinking man's hole on No. 18. This 609-yard par-5 has a target drive to a stake that measures 200 yards from the white tees. You would never guess there's enough land to hold your shot, but there is. Then the second shot has water left and right, giving you only a sliver of a neck to land on. If you hit it straight you will be OK.

Reno's favorite signature hole awaits you at Lake Ridge Golf Course, a par-71, 6,715 yards from the back tees and one of the first golf housing communities in Reno. It has creek running through eight holes and man-made lakes to challenge you along with the elevation climbs into the foothills of the southwest part of town.

Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr., built this one 31 years ago, and the golf course has it all -- trees, sand, water, elevation changes and a classic par-3, 239-yard hole that drops 120 feet to an island green. Bring your camera and don't forget to ask the pro shop for your free poster of this great golf hole.

Your first thought is there's no way you can hit this lonely target far in the distance. A solid stroke of a 3-wood for mortals can get you there. "A" players have been known to hit a 5-iron. Although this green appears small from the tee, it is almost 87 yards wide. Many times players will reach the green and be so happy they forget to retrieve their putting concentration and three putts can be common.

The final hole is a risk-reward par 5 of 525 yards. Hit it straight down the middle on your first stroke then layup to the right side of the fairway on the next. There's a creek right and the green is tucked behind a rock outcropping guarding the left side.

Carson City golf courses

Take a drive south on Highway 395 through State Capitol Carson City and you will find Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch, The Golf Club at Genoa Lakes and Dayton Valley.

Sierra Nevada Ranch is the essence of the Wild West. Designed by Johnny Miller and architect John Harbottle, this well-groomed tract is carved against the Sierras, at 7,358 yards from the Tour Tees, par 72 and sprinkled with 114 sand traps.

Western monikers are used for almost everything at this upscale beauty. Your bar stool is a saddle. Your holes are named Pony Express, Stagecoach, Tombstone, Shotgun, etc. Even the massive practice area has different western historical names.

Centered in Jacks Valley cattle country, the cowpuncher theme is a natural for the 350 acres at the foot of the Sierra Nevada range and situated on the old route of the Emigrant Trail.

The back nine traverses through savannah desert terrain and is dotted with water hazards fed from the James Canyon Creek. No. 9, Tumbleweed, tumbles 618 yards downhill.

No. 17, a 188-yard, par-3, plays to an island green and is treacherous when the wind howls. The 18th hole is a 561-yard, par 5, which calls for a tee shot over a lake, then an approach that must squirt between water on the left and sand traps on the right. The approach is to a smallish, undulating putting surface that is surrounded by more bunkers and water.

Before you get too excited, consider the fact that almost every shot must be aimed to the uphill side of the slope and some goofy, goofy bounces can make you squirm and holler "bite!" until you're hoarse. You might pull the heck out of a shot, lower your head and trudge for the green only to find out that the sidehill nature of this course has put you in birdie range.

But there's another side to that story, too. Consider the fact the wind picks up in the afternoon and sand blasts to 30 mph -- if you slice or hook one the wrong downhill direction with that wind, you will be in the sagebrush all day long.

Here's the best tip about playing Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch -- go early in the morning before the wind has a chance to blow. You may see some diagonal bounces of the ball, but you will enjoy the western hospitality and good condition of this layout.

Just minutes away is The Golf Club at Genoa Lakes, where this year's $8 million renovation is nearing completion. The new cart paths are in and the bunkers are pure white.

"After Mario Antoci, our owner, saw the white sand of Augusta National on TV during the Masters, he called them," said Brian Lotz, assistant pro at Genoa Lakes. "Next thing we know is that white sand is on order from the same company in South Carolina where Augusta National gets its sand."

Genoa Lakes also has a huge new clubhouse and pro shop where members or visitors can sit on a second-floor deck and watch their buddies with the aid of telescopes. "You can see almost the whole golf course from up here," said Lotz.

"This is a very playable course from the correct tees, but during U.S. Open qualifying here this year only one guy was under par," said Lotz, whose father was head pro at San Francisco's Sequoia Country Club.

The Golf Club at Genoa Lakes was ranked fourth Best New Public Golf Course in North America in 1994 and rated it the third Best Course in the State of Nevada in 1995 by Golf Digest.

More Reno-area golf? Try Wolf Run Golf Club, Rosewood Lakes Golf Course, ArrowCreek Golf Club, Northgate Golf Club and the newest, D'Andrea Country Club, a Keith Foster design.

Beautiful Lake Tahoe: The Lake Tahoe area has spectacular golf at Edgewood Tahoe and The Golf Courses at Incline Village, both actually on the Nevada side. The other must-plays in California in the Lake Tahoe-Plumas National Forest area are The Dragon at Gold Mountain, The Resort at Squaw Creek, Coyote Moon and the Golf Club at Whitehawk Ranch. Other choices include Plumas Pines Golf Resort, Graeagle Meadows Golf Course, Northstar-at-Tahoe and Lake Tahoe Golf Course.

You might see celebrities every time you play at Edgewood Tahoe, home of the celebrity tour's American Century Golf Championship. Former major-league pitcher Rick Rhoden calls it the U.S. Open of celebrity golf and says the setting, on the banks of Lake Tahoe, is one of the most beautiful in golf.

What's even more certain about this George and Tom Fazio gem built in 1968 is that you won't ever forget playing here. It's ranked No. 98 on the 2000 Golf Magazine Top 100 You Can Play List.

Edgewood Tahoe's impressive property was purchased in 1896 by the Park family. It was called Friday's Station, serving as a stage line for Wells Fargo Express and the Pony Express, and it included some adjacent ranch land. It later became the Edgewood Resort, which offered camping, hunting and fishing. Today, Friday's Station still stands and can be seen directly across Highway 50 from the No. 5 green.

The most talked about new golf course in the Lake Tahoe-Reno golf zone is The Dragon at Gold Mountain, located near Graeagle, Calif., in the beautiful Feather River Canyon area bordering the Plumas National Forest. The Dragon lurks in the deep gorges overlooking the Wild and Scenic Feather River and is sure to add five strokes to your handicap when you stay busy with the camera and vistas of Golf Mountain.

"Most have come to the conclusion that when you play your first round here you should recognize the fact that this is a tough golf course and you probably will shoot higher than your handicap," said head pro Blake Smith. "In fact we have been kicking around the idea to give caps to anyone who shoots better than their handicap."

In a recent competition held in conjunction with the 3rd Annual Reno-Tahoe Media Tour, sponsored by Phil Weidinger and Weidinger Public Relations, it was common to find an 80s shooter admitting he shot in the 100s at The Dragon.

Peggy and Dariel Garner, the Dragon's owners, are very visible owners. You might see them anywhere on the property or in the spectacular Nakoma, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed clubhouse and restaurant. Peggy plays a little golf, Dariel doesn't play at all.

Why did they ask noted architect Robin Nelson to build such a tough layout?

"I think Mr. Garner wants golfers to be challenged, but not beaten," said Matt Ochs, The Dragon's Director of Golf. "He wants the golfer to come back a second time, determined he is going to improve his score."

With a fee of $120, The Dragon is a must-play, especially for the challenge. "I think the designer Nelson thought initially it was going to be just another mountain course," Smith said, "but now he really is proud that it turned out so special."

Just down the road at The Golf Club at Whitehawk Ranch you will find a favorite -- one of California's highest ranked courses that no one has heard about.

It was the first design effort of a real estate developer named Dick Bailey, who created this award-winner that is sculpted through the Mohawk Valley. The course winds through tall pine, fir, cedar and aspen trees, and is dotted by ponds and water hazards. And in June there's a profusion of hybrid lupine, blooming in a purplish hue, along with the native grasses and other wildflowers.

For diversity, you can't beat the Reno-Lake Tahoe area!

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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