RENO, Nev. - It's hard to imagine a more decadent option in golf real estate: Buy a $1.5-million-plus home in anything-but-trendy Reno just to play a 435-member Jack Nicklaus golf course the few times a year you are in town.
And that's just what some homeowners in the Montreux Golf & Country Club community do.
It's not for pro cache: Montreux may host the PGA Tour's Reno Tahoe Open, but it's a second-tier event that doesn't attract the top players. The attraction here is pure scenic golf, with dramatic drops and gulp-inducing forced carries into narrow, tree-lined fairways.
It's also a course that's arguably overshadowed by its mini-castle homes. Play a round at Montreux and you're liable to walk away talking less about the golf than about the hulking houses on the edge of several fairways.
This isn't a knock on the golf - which features giant (630-square-foot average) greens and four extra holes, one designed by LPGA Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan - so much as an acknowledgment of the homes' star power.
It seems like many of the homeowners feel like they're personally competing with Nicklaus. Stone walls, soaring entranceways, enough extra wings to make anyone but a Hilton sister envious - all par for a Montreux manor. On many holes, the houses are set back in the trees but still impossible to miss.
Low-key isn't in the design vocabulary.
This is seemingly just fine with Reno community and business leaders. When Montreux opened in 1997, many doubted whether its over-the-top real-estate component could be successful in the self-dubbed "Biggest Little City in the World." Today Montreux is still firmly high-rent, and the houses are only growing grander.
"A lot of the stereotypes about who ends up living in Reno are fading away,'' said Doug Flynn, president of Golf the High Sierra, a tee-time, lodging and transportation service composed of Reno-Lake Tahoe area golf courses. "You're seeing a lot of people from California moving in to take advantage of home prices that seem great to them. It's becoming a lot more than just the casinos downtown."
Montreux is no small part of the transformation. It showed that snobs can find happiness - and 6,000-sqaure-foot homes - in Reno.
Nothing wrong with that. Especially if you're in the golf business, which depends on active people with lots of discretionary income. Many of Montreux's grand homes appeared to be unoccupied on this beautiful summer day, and probably on many more beautiful summer days like it.
"Imagine having that as your third home," golfer Matt McKay said, shaking his head as he pointed at one dark mini-mansion with a balcony seemingly hanging in the towering trees.
One of the more popular options at Montreux is to just buy your own home site. This can cost as "little" as $375,000 a half acre. Once you have your land, you can have that $3 million home built from scratch to your luxury specifications, to be used as much or as little as you please.
With the course running through a forested mountain setting, with creeks rushing on a few holes and 11,000-foot Mt. Rose looming over it all, it's little wonder Nicklaus has called Montreux one of his top five designs (though it's worth noting that he seems to say these kind of things about a lot more than five courses). Montreux is striking, particularly if you're shooting at a par 3 over a canyon drop filled with tree tops or crafting your approach around a lake.
Still, even when you're measuring the semi-blind tee shot on the par-3 11th - yes, a blind shot on a par 3 - or shooting downhill on the postcard-framed No. 1, you can't help but think that the houses are mighty impressive too.
This is real estate theater on a golf course. Reno's never been quite the same.
September 27, 2006