RENO, NV - If this Wild West town has a cow chip on its shoulder it doesn't show.
First off, Reno was created as a toll bridge in the 1850s over the Truckee River so pioneers could get to California, which is less than 20 miles away.
Then, many years later, came the lights, glitz, glamour and gambling of the southern Nevada desert - that place called Las Vegas.
But what Reno has that Las Vegas can't construct is stated simply on a huge billboard. It shows a picture of the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains and the caption reads: "Build This Las Vegas!"
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. Reno didn't waste any time getting on that stagecoach.
Any dedicated golfer who loves the scenery and ambiance of the Wild West, some fun in the casinos and a good selection of varied golf experiences, can come to Reno and have a western ball. 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.
And sure, today's Wild West has luxury. You can stay overnight in the opulence, bright lights and glitz of a place like the Peppermill Hotel Casino where cowboys from all over the world can sit around a poker table and place bets. Or you can watch the Cowboys, Redskins and even the funny-talking Yankees at the Sports Book on zillions of televisions.
Jann Tilzey of Western Discovery gets lots of feedback from travel agents and golfers booking golf vacations in Reno through her 4 Reno Golf (see contact information below).
One travel agent said: "I had never been to Reno and expected a mini-Vegas. What a pleasant surprise to find a place that is not only beautiful geographically, but loaded with great golf courses, restaurants and entertainment. Although the properties are smaller and less "pizazzy" than Vegas, they are, in my opinion better."
Golfer comments: "Golf in Reno is just about perfect ... not too hot or too cold whatever time of year. They have an impressive variety of courses, too." Golfer: "The courses are almost without exception, so well-maintained ... a pleasure to play!" Golf tournament coordinator: "We booked our entire tournament package through Western Discovery / 4 Reno Golf ... hotel rooms, three days of golf, cocktails parties ... the whole nine yards. Their service was the best I've ever seen. It's obvious they really care about their customers."
Reno's Golf Buffet:
It took only one hole to find out why Red Hawk, The Golf Club at Wingfield Springs was named. A red-tailed hawk glided over head and he had a great view of the more than 100 sand traps on this Robert Trent Jones II course, which is in its fifth 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 essence of the upscale daily-fee golf courses being built today. You get 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.
There's a second course coming to Red Hawk, too. The Hills, designed by Hale Irvin, now has nine holes open, with another nine in construction. This one will have more elevation changes than The Springs course and different bunkering that includes white sand.
A coyote pup might just greet you on the first tee of Wildcreek Golf Course. 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.
Wildcreek, a 6,932-yard, par-71/72, is a very interesting layout. The senior tour visited this tract in the mid-1980s and they 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.
All in all, 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 striking.
Wildcreek, with slightly less costly green fees, is probably the busiest of the upscale courses in Reno and has the ProLink GPS color system which is outstanding - a better product than the ParView black-and-white system used by Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch in Genoa.
Wildcreek's No. 17, a 211-yard, par-3 is one of the area's best. 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 most talked about golf 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 danger on eight holes and man-made lakes to challenge you along with the elevation climbs into the foothills of the southwest part of town.
Built 31 years ago by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr., this 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 inclination is there's no way you can hit this watery target. 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.
Take a drive south on Highway 395 through State Capitol Carson City to Genoa and Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch.
The Wild West? You got it here, 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.
It's all upscale from the western monikers used for almost everything. 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.
The cowpuncher theme is a natural for the 350 acres that are centered in the Jacks Valley cattle country, 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.
But whoa, big fella. 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.
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.
Jann Tilzey of Western Discovery and her staff can set up your golf vacation with tee times and room reservations. Call 1-877-4RenoGolf or 877-473-6646. Visit their website at http://www.4renogolf.com/ to see photos of the hotels and lots of information and photos of the golf courses. Or e-mail Jann at email@example.com with your questions.
The Peppermill Hotel Casino has 1,070 rooms and 185 Jacuzzi suites. A huge outdoor swim and spa center, with animated mountain and waterfall, will help you cool off in the summer. Inside you will find concierge, business center, seven distinctive restaurants, 10 themed bars and lounges, free cabaret entertainment, 40,000-square feet of convention or meeting space and a free airport shuttle.
For views of the Peppermill's specialty suites log on to www.peppermillcasinos.com.
Use Advantage Rent A Car, the company that supplies Jeep Cherokee Sport 4X4s to the professional golfers of the Reno-Tahoe Open. District Managers Robin and Ted Thibodeau love golf and will make all golfers feel at home. Find them in the airport or 1250 Terminal Way, Reno, NV 89502. Phone number is 775-333-6677.
Want more Reno-area golf? Try Wolf Run Golf Club, Rosewood Lakes Golf Course, ArrowCreek Golf Club, Dayton Valley Golf Club, The Golf Club at Genoa Lakes, Northgate Golf Club and the just-opened D'Andrea Country Club, a Keith Foster-design.
Just over toward Lake Tahoe don't miss Edgewood Tahoe and The Golf Courses at Incline Village, both actually on the Nevada side. The 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.
Sierra Nevada Ranch photos: Photography by D2 Productions, Dennis Murphy/Dennis Scully and Chris Talbot.