SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. -- Whether you see Lake Tahoe from the air or from the twisting roads that lead here, it's one of the world's most awesome sights. The first time you visit you know this is a spot you will want to return to many times for the remainder of your life.
For golfers, the Lake Tahoe-Reno area is an undisputed winner for scenery, star-gazing and celebrity watching. During my first visit here back in 1976, I arrived at the No. 1 tee box at Incline Village to see Joe DiMaggio. He was in the group right in front of mine.
Don't ever be surprised to see celebrities on the practice tee at Edgewood Tahoe, home of the American Century Golf Championship. Former pitcher Rick Rhoden calls it the U.S. Open of celebrity golf and says the setting, on the banks of Lake Tahoe, is one of the most beautiful in the game.
The diversity of topogrpahy and golf is key here. Within minutes one can play High Sierra 70-degree golf among the Ponderosa pines and granite boulders at Coyote Moon or descend into the Reno-Carson City foothills and be challenged by ruggedly beautiful arroyo-forced carries and sagebrush rough in 90-degree weather at ArrowCreek.
Pick from noted golf architects of the modern era -- Robert Trent Jones Sr., Robert Trent Jones Jr., George Fazio, Tom Fazio, Robin Nelson, Arnold Palmer, John Harbottle, Peter Jacobsen, Johnny Miller, Fuzzy Zoeller, Hale Irwin, Dick Bailey and Robert Muir-Graves.
"It doesn't seem like very long ago that the only signature course in the Reno-Carson City area was Lake Ridge," said Jim Kepler, Director of Golf and part-owner of Dayton Valley Golf Club. "Now we have 15 or 20 of them. I think the quality of golf for the price is the best in the west. The lodging is cheap here, one can come for the casinos, and I've always thought if you are going to jump on a plane and go to Las Vegas, just change the destination to Reno."
Kepler said folks around the country are recognizing Nevada as the fastest growing state in the U.S., "but no one realizes that Dayton Valley Golf Club is located in the fastest growing county in the state. Most just think it would be Las Vegas," Kepler said.
And when they aren't building new golf courses they are improving existing award-winners. About 30 minutes away from Dayton Valley Golf Club, at The Golf Club at Genoa Lakes, things are buzzing. This year's $8 million renovation is nearing completion. The new cart paths are in and the bunkers are pure white.
"After Mario Antoci, our owner, saw the white sand of Augusta National on TV during the Masters, he called them," said Brian Lotz, assistant pro at Genoa Lakes. "Next thing we know is that white sand is on order from the same company in South Carolina where Augusta National gets its sand."
If you are thinking about game improvement, Lotz is the guy to contact. He is moving into the new Club Fitting & Learning Center at Genoa Lakes, where you can schedule time with him on the state-of-the-art "Swing Solutions" system.
"The great thing about this system is that we will be open year-round," said Lotz. "Does this mean you'll be taught by a machine? Absolutely not. You'll also find expanded practice facilities here as well as the computers, TV monitors and video equipment."
Also new at Genoa Lakes is a huge new clubhouse and pro shop where members or visitors can sit on a second-floor deck and watch their buddies with the aid of telescopes. "You can see almost the whole golf course from up here," said Lotz.
How about the golf course? "This is a very playable course from the correct tees, but during U.S. Open qualifying here this year only one guy was under par," said Lotz, whose father was head pro at San Francisco's Sequoia Country Club.
Like most golf courses in the area, schedule your golf as early in the morning as possible, because it can get windy.
The Golf Club at Genoa Lakes was ranked fourth "Best New Public Golf Course" in North America in 1994 and rated it the third "Best Course in the State" of Nevada in 1995 by Golf Digest.
Probably the most talked about new golf course in the Lake Tahoe-Reno golf zone is The Dragon at Gold Mountain, located near Graeagle, Calif., in the beautiful Feather River Canyon area bordering the Plumas National Forest. The Dragon will not only lure you to the brink of deep gorges overlooking the Wild and Scenic Feather River and to vistas of Gold Mountain, it will balloon your handicap.
"Most have come to the conclusion that when you play your first round here you should recognize the fact that this is a tough golf course and you probably will shoot higher than your handicap," Head Professional Blake Smith said. "In fact we have been kicking around the idea to give caps to anyone who shoots better than their handicap."
The Dragon's owners, Peggy and Dariel Garner, are probably the most visible owners you will ever find. You might see them anywhere on the property or in the spectacular Nakoma, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed clubhouse, spa and restaurant. Peggy plays a little golf, but Dariel doesn't play at all. So, why did they ask Robin Nelson to build such a tough golf course?
"I think Mr. Garner wants the golfers to be challenged, but not beaten," said Matt Ochs, The Dragon's Director of Golf. "He wants the golfer to come back a second time, determined he is going to improve his score."
The Dragon is a must-play, especially for the challenge. "I think the designer Nelson thought initially it was going to be just another mountain course," Smith said, "but now he really is proud that it turned out so special."
There's no doubt the word "special" describes golf in the Lake Tahoe-Reno area. And you don't have to shell out big bucks to find it. Probably the best golf course few have heard about is only minutes away from The Dragon. Don't miss The Golf Club at Whitehawk Ranch.
What's incredible about Whitehawk Ranch is that it was the first design effort by Dick Bailey, who waved a magic wand to create this award-winner that is sculpted through the Mohawk Valley. The course winds through tall pine, fir, cedar and aspen trees, and is dotted by ponds and water hazards. And in June there's a profusion of hybrid lupine, blooming in a purplish hue, along with the native grasses and other wildflowers.
So what does Lake Tahoe-Reno have that Las Vegas doesn't? That's easy -- spectacular mountain scenery and cooler weather. It also has desert-styled links golf with rocky carries and tricky putting surfaces. It has traditional layouts and the famous island green at Lake Ridge.
If you are searching for diversity, you will find it in the Lake Tahoe-Reno area.
April 22, 2002