(First of two parts)
RENO, Nev. – As far as golf destinations are concerned, some of the premium areas that initially come to mind are the pricey courses on the scenic Monterey Peninsula or the coastal North Carolina tracts or high-desert mountain golf in Arizona.
Put this sleeper on your list: The Reno/Tahoe/Truckee region. This region has most of what golfers look for in destination golf (as the picture by Rod Hanna above suggests) – mountains, pine-lined fairways, stark desert landscapes, challenging layouts, elegant resorts along with a mix of games of chance – all at a more affordable price.
“I’ve done a lot of research on the other destinations around the country and I think that we are among the top 5 in the country in regards of variety and quality of golf courses, particularly at the rates that some provide,” said Mike Milligan, director of the GolftheHighSierra.com web site.
The web site promotes 22 golf courses that includes four connected regions, Reno/Sparks, Carson Valley, Graeagle and Lake Tahoe/Truckee. There are some hidden gems in all four spots and they are all close enough – within a 75-mile range – that you can easily bounce from region to region from day to day to play as many as your time allows.
In fact, what might differentiate this region from the others is that GolftheHighSierra.com can put the entire travel package together based on your given times, itinerary and preferences. That would include tee times and accommodations and recommendations on where to eat and what else you can do.
“That is the unique thing that this region provided that others don’t,” Milligan said. “You look around North Carolina, Monterey, there isn’t that component for people who can say, ‘I want to stay here, I want to arrive on this date. I want to leave on this date. Here is my list of courses.’ They can totally customize a package on-line or call us on the phone.
“We try to be the one-stop shop for information and one-stop for fulfillment. We can provide anything, including the weather.”
Indeed, the weather throughout the region can vary dramatically during the prime months between May through October – from temperatures approaching 100 degrees to snow-touched plateaus, from light rain to high winds. That kind of variety of both courses and weather sets apart the region from just about any other in the country.
It’s also such a convenient location for all the Western states. The furthest city is probably Seattle and that’s just a two-hour flight. It’s two hours also from Tucson.
This region is inviting not only to wayward foursomes but it also likes to invite in the professionals. There are two significant golf events within three weeks of each other during mid-summer. This weekend is the the 23rd Annual American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament – featuring top sports athletes and entertainers – at South Lake Tahoe’s Edgewood golf course. Then on Aug. 2-5, it’s the Reno/Tahoe Open at Montreux Country Club in the hills above Reno.
During a recent golf trip to the Reno/Tahoe area I was surprised by the number of well-known designer courses, such as ones built by former PGA stars Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Peter Jacobsen and Johnny Miller.
To offer some insight into courses, accommodations and eats, this is the first of a two-part series on the region. Today, the focus is on courses in the Reno/Sparks area. Thursday, we’ll travel to Carson City, Tahoe and country hip/happening town of Truckee to detail more courses worth playing.
You might need to remember that, because of the thinner air, the ball flies 10 percent farther, lands harder and rolls longer in the Reno area, which is on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada at about 4,400 feet. Reno, the Biggest Little City in the World, can make you one of the biggest little hitters in the world.
Despite the elevation, temperatures are generally mild, even in winter, averaging around 46 degrees. It gets hot in the July/August, averaging in the mid to high 80s, but the fall is wonderful with temperatures in the 60s and 50s in October and November. There’s not a lot of snow so you can get out on the course virtually all year.
I-395 is a wide freeway that runs right through the city with easy entrances and exits. Rush hour in the morning and night can be like others cities but generally you can get anywhere quickly.
This is Nevada so gambling is promoted, and I’m not talking about a $2 Nassau. I’ve stayed in Reno twice over the years, once at Atlantis, a Las Vegas-like luxury facility that I found has loose slots, and, more recently, the Grand Sierra, perhaps the most visible structure in the city, just off I-395. Both have vast gambling halls, spacious rooms and quality restaurants.
You can ask the concierge about golf packages as well. Many of the hotels also can make time tees for you. It’s what they do.
Reno has a pretty cool downtown core, with the Truckee River cutting through the middle. There are some excellent eateries. We ate appetizers at The Chocolate Bar on North Sierra St. one night then crossed the street for our meal at Campo with a full-bodied Italian menu.
Red Hawk, about 20 minutes northeast of downtown, is a quality muni with great views of the Pah Rah mountain range. There are two courses, Lakes and and Talon, which is private. The Lakes course, designed Robert Trent Jones, Jr. – who also did, among others, Chambers Bay – has more than 100 bunkers and plenty of water holes. There are some forgiving holes, where you can bale out without much penalty.
The day we played Wolf Run the winds were howling, probably sustained at 15 to 20 miles per hour. That makes any course tougher. It seemed no matter which direction we headed, we faced the wind. It’s a nice course with a lot of elevated tees. There is a fair amount of creeping hazards, water, brush, trees, that, on a windy day, draws TaylorMades.
On one hole, however, the par-5, 513-yard eighth, the wind favored me. After a modest drive, I connected on a pure 3-wood with a strong wind behind me and a flight downhill to the green. It stopped on the green’s apron in front, about 12 feet from the pin. However, I missed the eagle putt and settled for a rare two-putt birdie. The wind can also be a friend.
Unfortunately, like many areas, the best courses in the best locations in Reno are the country clubs. There are some outstanding country clubs, in the hills about the city with break-taking views. If you can find a connection to play one of them, such as a member or as a reciprocal arrangement, cash in on it. They are worth it.
Two of the best clubs are Montreux, where the Reno/Tahoe Open will be held in three weeks, and Somersett.
Montreux is magnificent. The tudor-style 34,000-square foot clubhouse is about the size of Brazil. The Jack Nicklaus-designed course is at 5,900 feet so the ball can disappear over hills at times. The par-4, 464-yard No. 17 hole has a 100-foot tee elevation.
Another terrific course is Somersett, which looks much like a Tucson course because it’s well up on a mountainside, above 5,000 feet, with ribbons of green fairways among brown bordering fescue. It was designed by KBR, Tom Kite’s company, and opened for full 18 holes in 2005.
“We’re at 5,200 feet, same as Denver, so you get 10 percent more distance,” said Somersett club pro Stuart Smith, who could be describing many of the area’s tracts. “You hit the ball further. The higher you hit it, the farther you hit it. You get a lot more roll-out because the grass does not hold the water. But it’s by no means a links course.”
Some of the holes might be considered unfair, as with the firm-and-fast conditions a well-hit drive in the middle can finish in the brush on some of the slanted fairways.
The country clubs in the area have worked out deals with their neighbors to accommodate guest play. It doesn’t hurt to ask the club, or your trip planner, to see if it’s possible to get on.
(Thursday: Making your way to Tahoe)