(Second of two parts)
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – If there’s one thing golfers love to do – besides exaggerating the length of a birdie putt – it’s playing new courses.
As outlined Wednesday, when you venture to Reno and destinations beyond you can find an abundance of variety of courses and various degrees of difficulty.
During a recent trip to Reno and vicinity, I was amazed at the number of quality courses, as a fairly decent green fees, especially as you head toward Lake Tahoe.
My suggested journey would take you in a wide circle from Reno south and returning from the opposite direction. You begin by heading south on I-395 to Carson City followed by Dayton, Genoa Lakes, South Lake Tahoe and Truckee then back to Reno.
Carson City, about 40 miles south of Reno, is the venerable state capital. The historical value of the city is hard to measure. This place is authentic, not a facsimile. There are more than 60 landmarks around the city where famous settlers lived and eked out an existence. Explorer John Fremont discovered the area in 1843. He named the local river the Carson River in honor of the West’s most famous frontiersman, Kit Carson.
When word that gold was discovered in 1859, the Comstock Lode, the population soared. That led to the city being designated as the state capital, still the second smallest capital city in the U.S.
For a small town, there some quality restaurants, such as Red Hut in Carson City, Firkin & Fox, a restored building in downtown that was originally the city’s finest hotel during those gold rush days, and The Basil, with a wide and delicious Thai menu.
If you prefer games of chance, the Carson Valley Inn would be a good choice. But nothing matches the convenience and thriftiness of Carson City’s Hampton Inn, which is immediately off the freeway and right across the street from the first course we played, the Silver Oaks Golf Course.
Silver Oaks is quite unique. It’s really two completely different nines. The back nine is flat and crosses through a housing development. Not a big challenge. But the front nine is all hills and valleys – mountain golf in the city. There are no structures and it requires more exacting shots.
You can’t help but enjoy the front nine, unless, of course, you’re not so exacting with your drives. The par-5, 479-yard (516 back tee) third hole is a gem. It’s all uphill with a blind approach shot to a smallish green (there are several such approaches on the front). If you stray, the rugged, rocky edge can either hide your ball or prevent you from having a shot at the green.
The par-3 sixth hole seems relatively simple. It’s just 129 yards (187 back), it’s straight and the tee and green are on the same plane. But it’s a intimidating tee shot. There’s a rocky wall on the right, with a trap that collects even the slightest drift right. The left is dead, a ledge where balls disappear. It takes a precise shot. Anywhere on the green is terrific.
That hole is followed by another par-3, 169 yards (193 back) but this one is from an elevated green to a narrow green slanted both front and back. The best shot is hitting short and even resting below and off the green. Too long and you have a heck of a time getting close. This course – at least the front nine – is worth your time.
That afternoon, we played golf at Dayton Valley Golf Club, about 12 miles out of town. Dayton was the first permanent settlement in Nevada, during the gold rush days in 1851. It’s high desert terrain, as the Marilyn Monroe-Clark Gable movie “Misfits” was filmed in the area. In the background is a low mountain ranges where wild horses roam free.
The Arnold Palmer-designed Dayton course is a flat course but has a countless number of small rises. You will have frequent uneven lies. The two most distinctive holes are back-to-back and both involve water, the par-5, 529-yard No. 8 hole and the par-4 , 450-yard No. 9.
On No. 8, you have to clear nearly 300 yards of water, or bail out to the left. One bull golfer in our group sent his drive well over the water – traveling at least 330 yards – leaving just a wedge to the green.
But on No. 9, the long hitters have a lay up, as the water prevents a clean run to the green. So just about all the golfers are in the same spot as they approach the green, generally about 140-to-170-yard approach that is all carry over water.
On a previous trip we had played Genoa Lakes (there’s also a Genoa Resort course nearby). This is a can’t-miss. It’s a challenging and scenic layout at the base of the Sierra Nevada in the lush Carson Valley. It was a prominent settlement on the California Trail during the gold rush. The first hotel, newspaper and court were set up here in Genoa during the 1850s. Mark Twain and Teddy Roosevelt drank here while John Wayne, Clint Eastwood filmed movies here. The movie ‘Misery” also was made in this tiny country town.
Legendary figure Snowshoe Thompson, who lived most of his life in these craggy mountains, is famous for delivering mail between Placerville and Genoa in the mid-1800s. You look up to the treacherous slopes and perilous edges of the mountains and wonder how anyone can traverse through such an environment.
USA Today ranked Genoa Lakes among the Top 10 Courses to Die For. It’s really a lot of fun. There’s a lot of trouble from the Carson River that meanders through it and a fairly high fescue rough. Just off the third fairway, there’s an attractive farming property shadowed by an ancient oak that is said to be the John Quincy Adams family property. The winds can kick up here frequently, which changes your game plan dramatically.
Then it was time to head north – as in toward the sky – along the mountain side to South Lake Tahoe and the magnificent Edgewood course, site of this week’s American Century Celebrity Golf Championship.
Good quality, spacious hotels (and casinos) here, such as the Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe, Horizon Casino Resort and Montbleu Resort, which has a tasty steakhouse, Ciera Steak + Chop House.Edgewood, easily recognized on the right as you enter the city, is simply elegant. It’s one of the most exquisite courses you can play. It’s so well-maintained. It’s beautiful. Customer care is non-peril. If you can play one course in this region, this might be the one. The ball may travel further in these high elevations – 6,200 feet – but it has a lot to travel. The course spreads to 7,552 yards from the tips.
There also are no cheap par-3s as the four of them from the blue tees go, 188, 161, 187 and 175, with pines and bunkers to protect them. It’s like the place begrudges you from making par.
Edgewood has hosted the American Century Celebrity Championship for the past couple decades. It begins Friday. The event draws former athletes from all sports in a three-round tournament. Dallas QB Tony Romo this year is the favorite to win. Former pitcher Rick Rhoden is the eight-time champion. Others participating are Michael Jordan, John Elway, Brent Hull, Charles Barkley and comedian Ray Romano, among others.
There are any number of memorable holes but I’d would say the two finishing holes are with you will remember. The par-3, 175-yard No. 17, has Lake Tahoe and the beach on the right. The par-5, 501-yard, 18th, has a left-side pond serving as a moat to protect the green. There is not much bailout area between the green and the water on the right. Plus, there are pin positions where even if you hit in two, three- and four-putts loom, so it might be better to lay up, just to find the right part of the green.
When you think of Incline Village, you think skiing, not golfing. It’s an area full of endless pines. It’s apologetically hilly. But the Robert Trent Jones, Sr., designed course, which opened in 1964, is just a spectacular experience.
When I first arrived in the parking for our early-morning tee time, it was quite chilly. I asked the starter when the snow finally disappeared and he said, ”yesterday.” But as sun burned through, it was shirtsleeve weather through the furs.
Much like other courses, the most memorable holes come in succession. The No. 6 hole is fun to play. It’s a par-3, 156-yarder that is about a 80-foot drop tee to green. Keep the ball to the left because the green slants toward the water (right). Then after your birdie you walk a few feet and see a straight-away view of Lake Tahoe down the par-4, 407-yard seventh hole. Quite the sight.
No matter what your score, you come away from Incline with a smile. It’s just an entertaining place to play.
From there we traveled to Truckee on the opposite end of the lake. This might be the most underrated spot in the country for quality courses. We played three in the area, Old Greenwood, Coyote Moon and Gray’s Crossing. But there are others, I understand, worthy of considering, such as Schaffer’s Mill and Tahoe Donner.
Old Greenwood is a relatively new tract designed by Jack Nicklaus. It’s isolated, with just a few spacious, comfortable cabins well off the fairways. It’s long. It’s narrow at times. It’s unforgiving. Its greens are undulating.
What I like here are the par-3. All four are long, 196, 187, 220 and 230 yards, although that’s the back tee distance. Most of us move up but it’s still a mighty lift, especially with stuff between the tee and green, like a minefield of bunkers on No. 3, all water carry on No. 7, water and six greenside bunkers messing with your head on No. 15 and two large traps – front and back – ready to accept your drives on No. 17.
What Old Greenwood also has available – and I’d recommend looking into it – is a nationally renown, high-tech teaching center. There are outstanding accommodations in the Old Greenwood resort cabins. They are perfect for three or four couples or a group of guys. They are huge, with large kitchens, living rooms, pool table, big screen TV, an office with an Internet connection and three large bedrooms along with a pullout bed.
The next day we played two courses in Truckee, Coyote Moon and Gray’s Crossing. Coyote ranks among my favorites ever because of its views, its quirky layout and it’s memorable holes. It cuts through the pines with no structures anywhere beyond the clubhouse. It’s wonderful mountain golf. The only negative is it’s without a driving range.
Again, the two most unforgettable holes came back-to-back, the par-5, 519-yard 12th and the par-3, 227-yard 13th, with a 200-foot drop from a impossibly elevated tee.
The 12th is a dogleg right that you need to clear to see the green. It’s really a two-shot approach from there for most of us because it’s all uphill. The green is surrounded by gigantic boulders, all in back and sides.
Then comes my favorite hole on the tour, the 13th. I failed miserably on it, probably because I was so anxious to play it. It’s just a gorgeous view (as the picture to the left indicates). I was told where he hit from, about 187 yards, it’s not really that far because of the elevation. The suggested club was a seven iron. It looked all of that yardage and I used a 5-hybrid. My head was so messed up, however, I decelerated at impact (both attempts) and hit my drives into the craggy crap in front.
One day, I’d like another shot at that one.
Gray’s Crossing is not far away and it is also isolated, in the mountains and twisting through the pine. Gray’s is a bit more open than Coyote and perhaps a tad more difficult. It’s longer with some slanted fairways that can cause rolloffs into the purple sage.
No matter what your score is at Gray’s you need to finish to protect it on the tough par-5, 506-yard finishing hole. It just seems so long. It takes a couple shots to get to a 40-yard waste area in front of the green. The green is long and thin, giving up previous few yards to land and hold. A par is a wonderful outcome here.
After a few days on hacking, this might be the time to treat yourself for a trip to the Village at Northstar and a visit to the Ritz Carlton. Talk about lush. This is a real treat, even if you just get out of your car and walk around. It’s a fabulous structure high in the mountains, elegant, country chic. Take a few hours here to let go, have a cocktail at the second-floor bar or sample the superb menu at Manzanita. It’s one of the best meals you’ll ever have.
You also can’t miss a meal and a stroll through the historic town of Truckee, near the site where members of the Donner Party met their demise in 1846. There are some outstanding restaurants in this rustic town that also loves the arts. This is a cool town. The people are welcoming, the menus are inventive and the beer is cold. You’ll like this place.
My advice would be to check the web site golfthehighsierra.com. Those folks know everyone and everything. They can set you up with hotels and set up your itinerary.