A good splash: Whitewater rafting a natural for Lake Tahoe-Reno golf trip

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

TRUCKEE, Calif. -- Spend any time golfing in the High Sierra region that runs from Lake Tahoe through Reno and you'll hear plenty of water rushing. Maybe, you'll step back from a shot and take a peak at one of the creeks.

Lake Tahoe river rafting
Just another calm, soothing run down a High Sierra river.
Lake Tahoe river raftingLake Tahoe river rafting guidesCoyote Moon Golf CourseEdgewood Tahoe Golf Course

Hopefully, you won't plop a precious Pro V1 into one.

Either way this needn't be your only glimpse of rushing water on your trip. Forget the golf balls. You can shoot yourself right into the water. Pretty much literally.

The Lake Tahoe/Reno region is home to some good river rafting. A few of the nearby rivers - and it's hard to go far without stumbling across a river here - rank on the world class current scale that modern river guides use and you don't need or want to know (figuring out that USGA handicap is math enough). There's even an internationally known adventure-guide outfit based in Truckee (population 14,000) that offers rafting trips to places like Bariloche Argentina and the Marsayangdi River in Nepal.

They're called Bio Bio Expeditions (after the Bio Bio River in Chile) and they do runs right on the Truckee River for local tourists as well. Including any golfers who happen by.

"I don't know that we have a lot of hardcore traditional golfers who come out," Bio Bio co-owner Marc Goddard said. "But we have adventure guys who also golf on their trips."

Those river guides. Always making like it's the river and not the fairways that's the big draw. Still, no one's making you sign commitment papers to either your 4-iron or a paddle, and it's easy to give both a workout on a High Sierra trip.

You can easily play a morning round a Coyote Moon Golf Course -- a design by obscure ex-PGA Tour player Brad Bell that's almost as much a show-stopper as the renowned Edgewood Tahoe -- and get to the Truckee in time to meet Goddard's team for a pre-lunch river run.

Careful, though -- if you've brought the kids along they'll quickly be lobbying for rafting all day long.

"Teenagers really get into it," said Laurence Alvarez, Goddard's partner at Bio Bio. "Kids in general. And a lot of times it's the kids you least expect. Kids from the city just love getting out on the river. It's a completely different world for them."

And suddenly the golf nuts in the family are smiling. Who needs a babysitter when the river guide can do it for you?

Okay, maybe that's extreme even for extreme sports. You probably want to be there for at least some of the whitewater rafting. You never know who's going to turn out to be a whiz at roaring down the water. Jenny Franklin, a skinny blonde who wears high heels and business suits in her day job, quickly became adept at river rafting after a Bio Bio trip.

"It's a lot of fun," Franklin said. "It's not intimidating like you might think it would be. You're in the group. You're working as a team. You're flying down the river. It's a rush."

Alvarez estimates that about 20 percent of his guests "go for a swim." That's a nice river-guide euphemism for tumbling out of the raft into sometimes raging waters. That might seem like a goodly number, but golfers used to the challenge of hitting the green on Edgewood's Lake Tahoe-hugging No. 17 or clearing the water on Old Greenwood Golf Course's wraparound par-5 sixth might actually relish those odds.

"Twenty percent, huh?" visiting San Francisco golfer Phil Buchanan asked when told about the river-dip rate. "I wish my ball only got wet on 20 percent of these water holes. Sounds good to me."

And those who do go "swimming" rarely suffer more than wet clothes. So far, anyway.

"In all our years we've never lost anybody on the river," Goddard said.

"No deaths," Alvarez nodded.

"Knock on wood," Goddard said, at which both partners quickly rapped their fists on the coffee-shop table where we sat chatting.

"We've had a lot of near misses ... " Goddard added.

What, you've never cheated death on a golf course?

Learning curve? What learning curve?

Improving your golf game can involve lessons, more lessons and years of incremental improvement punctuated by confounding setbacks. Whitewater rafting involves getting handed a life jacket and a paddle and hearing a talk.

Within 20 minutes, you can be on the river.

Oh, Alvarez talks about some kind of Zen thing where everyone in the group is paddling as one and a real community spirit emerges. But the truth is that a sport in which everyone is paddling allows you to take breathers (when you only fake like you're paddling hard) that golf never affords. You cannot lean on anyone else or get lost in the group when the forced carries start piling up at Reno's ArrowCreek.

Then again, you're not going to see bald eagles, big bears and deer scampering around on the manicured fairways. You will on a High Sierra rafting trip. If your guide likes you. So paddle hard when the leaders are watching. These guys are a little crazy.

When the Bio Bio guys want to visit Reno, they sometimes hop in their kayaks and take the river there. It's a nice three-and-a-half hour trip, with no traffic at all.

"You don't even notice that [Interstate] 80 is there when you're on the Truckee River," Goddard said, grinning.

Who knew? Sometimes stepping away from the cart and getting a little wet has a great effect on your golf-trip disposition.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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