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Where mountains meet golf - Golf in the High Sierra

Coyote Moon Golf Course
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Coyote Moon Golf Course cascades over a beautiful Sierra Nevada ridgeline. (Golf the High Sierra)

Perhaps no American destination is as naturally scenic as the Reno-Lake Tahoe area - at any time of year. The water, stunning mountains and greenery - or wintry snow - is second to none at this golf and ski destination. The High Sierra region of northern California and northern Nevada is a delightful summer retreat for golf and many other outdoor recreation activities, plus the 24-hour gaming, world-class accommodations, dining and nightlife the area built its tourism reputation upon.

The Reno-Tahoe area is special for so many activities, including fishing and water sports in the crystal clear waters of blue Lake Tahoe, rivers and trout-laden lakes, hiking and biking through 968 miles of trails, picnicking and family outings in the majestic mountains, auto shows, horseback riding, camping, relaxing and, of course, the nightlife. There's literally something for everyone here, especially golfers.

There are approximately 50 courses within a 90-minute drive of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, in an area that consists of four regions: Lake Tahoe, Graeagle, Carson Valley and Reno/Sparks. All of the courses are at 4,000 feet elevation or higher. In the valleys summer temperatures can average in the mid-90's but with relative humidity levels that average around 20 percent it is considered pleasantly warm. Mountain courses range around 10 degrees cooler with the added advantage that the ball flies about 15 percent further.

"Diversity defines this region, in terms of everything from golf courses to first-class places to dine and be entertained, to the outdoor activity," says Doug Flynn, head golf professional at Whitehawk Ranch Golf Club in Clio, Calif. "Golf is just part of the scene. There's exceptional fishing, boating and hiking. It's a great family destination, yet it has a 24-hour lifestyle, but not big and glitzy like Las Vegas. And as far as the golf is concerned you can find nearly any kind of experience. There's great mountain golf, there's desert golf, valley golf, and golf on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. That makes this a unique destination. There are a lot of great golf destinations, but most probably stop at golf. We go much further beyond golf."

Flynn is also president of Golf the High Sierra, a seven-year-old organization with a one-stop golf vacation reservation and information service formed by a strategic alliance of the area's premier public and resort courses. Golfers can use Golf the High Sierra to book a complete group or individual golf vacation to the Reno-Lake Tahoe area, including tee times, lodging and transportation. The service has exclusive access to tee times at 18 of the area's best courses that can be booked 90 days in advance and room availabilities with the area's premier hotel/casino properties.

"We are the golfer's welcome wagon for the area," Flynn explains. "All of the golf professionals in the region are proud and happy to share their part of the total experience with the many traveling golfers who come to vacation here." Flynn and a fellow golf professional from each of the area's regions provide a guided tour of its courses and attractions. These first-hand comments provide the kind of guide that the vacationing golfer is looking for because it's every golf professional's job to provide a pleasant golf experience with local area knowledge and recommendations that will bring players back to their course.

"The Graeagle, California area is one of the Sierra's hidden gems," Flynn explains in leading off the regional tour. "Near North Lake Tahoe and less than an hour from Reno, it's surrounded by recreation areas, lakes and clear, rushing mountain streams, and is an ideal setting for terrific golf experiences, such as the one offered at our 6,950-yard Whitehawk Ranch Golf Club."

The course at Whitehawk is etched from the natural terrain of the Mohawk Valley. Native grasses and wildflowers frame bright green fairways. Seven streams - meandering through tall pines, cedars, firs and quaking aspens - create ponds and waterfalls that contribute to the challenge and beauty of this 956-acre Dick Bailey design. In 2006, GolfWeek magazine ranked it the 11th best public course in California. The course condition is perpetually top-notch.

"Our neighbor in this region is the 6,504-yard Plumas Pines Golf Resort in Graeagle, bordered by the Feather River," says Flynn. "Its fairways are carved through tall pines. The course is noted for having the area's best greens. But it's also a great place for non-golfers, too. Condos line parts of the course. Longboards is an on-property bar and grill that serves award-winning cuisine and has incomparable views of the Sierra."

In the Graeagle area, fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, bicycling and horseback-riding enthusiasts will find some of the worlds most natural and invigorating places to enjoy their recreation in apparent solitude. The Mohawk Valley Independence Day Celebration is one of the West's finest. Many small town festivals such as Gold-digger Days, the Mountain Harvest Festival and Railroad Days bring out the fun character, background and hospitality of this unique area every July 4th.

With the exposure Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Lake Tahoe receives, as home of the annual American Century Celebrity Golf Championship televised nationally by NBC, there is no doubt it is the region's signature course. Golf Digest named Edgewood one of "America's Best 100 Public Courses" again in 2006. "We have the premiere course in the Lake Tahoe area," promises Randy Fox, head golf pro at Edgewood. "It's kind of the 'must play' course for people coming up to visit the area. And, the course and clubhouse have changed and evolved much like the region has."

"We have many really good mountain golf courses surrounding the lake," Fox says. "Incline Village Golf Courses have one of the great executive courses in the country and their championship course received a $4.8 million renovation in 2003 under the direction of golf course architect Kyle Phillips. They kept the original design concept of Robert Trent Jones Sr. while improving visibility from tees to greens and adding new cart paths and new natural landscaping."

Former PGA Tour player Brad Bell designed the 7,177-yard Coyote Moon Golf Course located 6,300 feet above sea level in a tranquil mountain setting in Truckee, Calif. The design cascades over a beautiful Sierra Nevada ridgeline and is very visually friendly to the player's eye. The new 7,518-yard Old Greenwood Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, also in Truckee, was recently named "4th Best New Upscale Public Course in America by Golf Digest magazine. Many area pros claim Old Greenwood may soon be recognized as the best course in Tahoe. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., the 6,931-yard Resort at Squaw Creek is nestled amid the tree-lined granite peaks of Olympic Valley, home of Squaw Valley USA and the 1960 Winter Olympics. Also near Truckee, Squaw Creek features a challenging, scenic layout that winds through and around its luxurious hotel and spa complex.

Of course, there's much more to do in Lake Tahoe, beyond golf. "It's especially nice if you're coming up here with your family," says Fox. "There's the new tram at Heavenly - the Gondola - which goes out of the Marriott. It takes you up to the top of Heavenly Mountain Resort in the summer, giving you a spectacular view of the entire area. There's a lookout platform at the top. In the summer, it's a terrific sightseeing venue. Then there are a couple of paddle wheel boats that go out on the lake and tour Emerald Bay, which is a little bay with an island. I hear it's the second-most photographed spot in the world, behind the Eiffel Tower. It's very beautiful. The gambling is a given up here, obviously on the Nevada side. On the South shore of Lake Tahoe, you have five casinos to choose from. The North shore has four of them. Other really popular activities here during the summer are hiking and mountain biking. There are also five marinas on the South shore that rent out boats and jet skis."

Take Highway 50 east from Lake Tahoe down into the Carson Valley to find four distinctly different and enjoyable courses to choose from. "This valley is framed by the eastern slope of the Sierra and the Pine Nut range and offers some of the most spectacular mountain vistas you'll find anywhere," says Jim Kepler, director of golf at Dayton Valley Golf Club in Dayton, Nev. "Arnold Palmer was stunned by the raw beauty of this area when he came here to design our course."

Dayton Valley has the distinction of annually hosting PGA Tour Qualifying since 1995, the longest consecutive-year stretch for any course in the country. With a new $6-million, 15,000-square-foot clubhouse that recently opened, Dayton is known for year round tour quality course conditions over its demanding layout.

"We have two courses south of Carson City that also have the design-stamp of a PGA Tour player, Kepler explains. "Peter Jacobsen and John Harbottle designed the Lakes Course at Genoa Lakes Golf Club and Johnny Miller and Harbottle laid out their Resort Course. The two courses are now under the same ownership and both offer very interesting shot values, excellent conditions and spectacular views. And, in Carson City, Nevada's historic state capital, Silver Oak Golf Course offers a diverse variety of holes and terrain that every level of golfer will find enjoyable at very reasonable green fees."

The Carson area provides a look back into the history of West. Nearby Virginia City is a national historic place and living museum of the great Comstock Lode era that gave Nevada its nickname as the Silver State. Carson City abounds with historic architecture, museums and local events. A walk through downtown on the Kit Carson Trail is a walk through the heart of western history in which you'll pass turn-of-the-century mansions, courthouses, a depot and a brewery. The Capitol grounds are open to the public year round.

The Reno/Sparks area has some spectacular golf offerings, including the private Montreux Golf and Country Club's Signature Jack Nicklaus course which hosts the PGA Tour's Reno Tahoe Open every year. The Resort at Red Hawk is one of Reno-Tahoe's most complete golf facilities. The 7,140-yard Lakes Course has more than 100 bunkers that dot the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design. "There are a number of ways our course stands out," says Greg Enholm, director of golf at Red Hawk. "For the most part, our facilities have the feel of a very upscale private club, but it is a resort property with many golfer-friendly amenities. The property also has a private Scottish links-style 7,106-yard Hills Course that was designed by Hale Irwin."

ArrowCreek Country Club recently re-opened its Arnold Palmer-designed Legend Course to public play. The course is located in the foothills below Mt. Rose and has an interesting layout with numerous elevation changes as well as spectacular views of downtown Reno and surrounding area.

D'Andrea Golf Club in Sparks is a 6,849-yard Keith Foster design that offers panoramic views of Reno and the Sierra. Reno's 6,715-yard LakeRidge Golf Course is home of the region's most renowned signature hole, the dramatic par-3 15th hole that features a tee shot from a hillside tee box 140 feet above the water to a true island green. Other premier courses in Reno/Sparks are the 6,966-yard links-style Northgate Golf Club that's nicknamed "St. Andrews of the Sierra," the 6,976-yard Wildcreek Golf Course that hosted three Senior PGA Tour events, and the 7,100-yard Wolf Run Golf Club, a challenging layout that meanders through native high desert foothill terrain below Mt. Rose and is known for its large, contoured greens.

Reno really lights up at nighttime, as well, but not only the casinos. "This area is a summer time home to some of the West Coast's largest activities," says Enholm. "Hot August Nights is a great example. This weeklong car show features more than 5,000 beautifully restored hot rods from 1969 and prior. All of the casino properties host 'show and shines' and concerts with the likes of The Beach Boys, Chubby Checker, etc.

This is an extremely festive week and thousands of people come from all over the U.S. to enjoy themselves. During this week, hotel rooms can be difficult to find so make plans and reservations early. Over Labor Day weekend, John Ascuaga's Nugget hosts its annual 'Best of the West Rib Cook Off,' one of America's largest. There are many other weekly events so golfers can plan a vacation around one of the special events or shows."

Click here for Reno golf and travel information.

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Edgewood Tahoe Golf CourseOld Greenwood CoursePlumas Pines Golf ResortThe Resort at Red HawkWildcreek Golf Course
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