Reno-Tahoe: Bright Lights, Big Nature

Originally a summer meeting place for three tribes of American Indians, essentially the Lake Tahoe area of Nevada has not changed in hundreds of years.  Oh, there might be a few more casinos, hotels and resorts, and a few fortunes may have been won and lost in number of ways, but at its core Reno-Tahoe is still a gathering place for friends and strangers alike.  The fact that is was the site of the first legalized gambling in the United States has a lot to do with that but there is a whole other bouquet of reasons as well.

The Lake Tahoe basin area is still not as overpopulated as you would expect from such an attractive tourist area thanks to clear foresight and a restricted development plan, a feature that only adds to its charm.  Try as they might, the commercial concerns will likely never outweigh the scope and spectrum of this region’s natural beauty.  And that is the way people there like it.  They know that all the resorts and casinos should remain a tasty side dish to the main entrée.

In contrast to the very manufactured feel you get when you visit Las Vegas, Reno-Tahoe is the place where all the glitz and glamour simply tucks in a stunning corner of the earth.  The lights of the casinos, try as they might, will never be more spectacular than a sunset viewed across Lake Tahoe.

Reno-Lake Tahoe can be found in the “elbow” of Nevada, only miles from the border of Northern California and 160 kilometres from Sacramento, California.  Framed by three major highways (Interstate 80, Highway 50, and Highway 395) the Reno-Tahoe is highly accessible from any direction.  Most major airlines also fly in to their international airport.

Golf can be enjoyed in the region all year long but most residents and visitors are happy to drop the clubs in favour of a snowboard or skis during the winter months.  If you prefer both, this is one place in the world where you can enjoy a few runs in the morning followed by a few holes.  Winter visitors with golfing plans should lean towards Reno and its arid desert climate which is much more conducive to off-season golf than the snowy mountainsides closer to Lake Tahoe.

Once the home to just a few golf courses, in recent times the number of golfing options has bloomed in Reno-Tahoe, and now covers a wide range of price, quality, and styles.  If you can pull yourself away from the gaming tables or the hours spent gawking at the scenery, golf is an admirable pursuit that you will find rewarding when you see the emerald fairways the region has to offer.

Home Base

If you are looking for a place in Reno-Tahoe to anchor your stay, as good choice among the many is the Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno.  Offering a wide range of services, including golf packages, Atlantis is commonly recognized at a national level for their service and gaming facilities.  One reason Atlantis has proved popular for a long time is the wide range of accommodation options.  They run the gamut from the value priced Motor lodge all the to the high rolling Grand Penthouse suites with hundreds of rooms in between.

Atlantis hosts top notch entertainment and their spa is open seven days a week.  Outdoor adventurers can take advantage of al sorts of packages that golf, skiing and even kayaking.  They have a lot of options, with packages that can be customized to fit your budget.

A Bounty of Fairways

When it comes to golf, most people would be shocked at the number of courses now developed in this region.  In a one-hour radius you will run across no fewer than 50 that the public can access with other properties left for the use of members and resort guests only.  No worry though – you can play some of the best with a simple phone call and the price of a green fee.

For starters lets look at option in Reno, close to the airport in case you need a quick golf fix.

As basic as you can get, Brookside is a nine-hole municipal course tucked just east of the Reno/Tahoe international airport and while it does not offer the manicured look of Augusta, a few good strong holes and a an economical green fee make it attractive, especially for the value conscious traveller.  Just don’t try to play on Christmas day, this the only time you will find them closed.

For something a little more upscale a ten-kilometre trip to Sparks will bring you to D’Andrea Golf and Country Club.  The relative flatness of Reno proper is left far behind here.  Traversing 450 feet up the valley, this layout that opened in 2000 winds up and down the Pahrah Hills.  Noted by many as being among the best courses in the region this public facility tops at (USD) $100 but is worth every penny simply for the views alone.  Whether you look to the city of Reno below or to the Sierra Nevada mountain range that dominates the skyline you will have an eyeful of every hole.

At less than 6900 yards long D’Andrea is not a long course on the scorecard but the elevation changes add to the amount of effort you must make to play many holes.  Break the camera out for the short par 4, second hole at this club.  Set on the bluff, it looks as if you can drive a golf ball right on to a casino floor miles away.  On top of a revered golf course, the club also feature amenities like Wi-Fi internet, full day use lockers and dining on a patio where the city lights sparkle at your feet in the evening and into the night.  A special place.

For top quality at a value price, look no further than Reno’s Northgate – referred to as the St. Andrew’s of the Sierras.  This looks like a links course laid out in a mountain valley.  It is solid enough of a test to a regular sight for professional events and U.S. Open sectional qualifying.  At a peak rate of (USD) $45 including cart you would be hard pressed to find more golf for the money.  To get a full “Scotland” feel you can even hire a caddie – a wise idea if you want to read the large greens with many subtle breaks.  Local knowledge is worth the investment.

An additional Reno gem is Wildcreek Golf Course.  A more mature design crafted by Brad Benz and Dick Phelps, this 27-hole facility has hosted the Champion’s Tour several times.  With panoramic mountain views, many of its holes could be singled out as being the most attractive but it is an argument rarely settled in their Bogies Bar & Grill.  Everyone has a tale when they reach the clubhouse, unfortunately with the demands of the golf course, many are about disasters rather than successes.  It is the type of course that is enjoyable no matter what you score.

Working your way closer to Lake Tahoe, down Highway 395 will bring you to Carson City, Nevada’s capital.  Although lightly populated compared to most state capitals, what it lacks in people it makes up in territory with more than 200 square kilometres of area within its boundaries.  Much of that land is covered in the fine grasses that make up fairways and greens.

A low price golfing alternative in the Carson City area is Carson Valley Golf Club.  With green fees peaking at just over (USD) $30, this public course may not make your top 100 list of courses you ever play but for what you pay, you get a lot.  The course stretches to just over 6,000 yards but stands out for features that make it like few other courses in Northern Nevada.  Large Cottonwood trees and the presence of the Carson River mark a large portion of the course.  Their shade of the trees keeps you cool while the site of the river on almost every hole is a great addition to the aesthetics.  Word is that settlers planted the Cottonwoods more than a century ago.  This might be the only golf course I know that starts with a par three and ends with two more.

Also along the picturesque Carson River is one of the most admired courses in the area, Genoa Lakes.  From when it opened in 1993, this John Harbottle III and Peter Jacobsen work has drawn rave reviews with good reason.

Recognition for the Lakes course at Genoa Lakes (they also have the 18 hole Resort course not far away) has come from many sources, but what is constant is it’s ranking as one of the best public golf courses in the state and country.  The location, set against the slope of the Eastern Sierras ensured a setting that would always draw awe and admiration from all golfers blessed with the chance to play it.  Genoa Lakes (Lakes) is bulky, at more than 7300 yards from the backs tees, and pricey, with a green fee over more than (USD) $100 even during the week, but it is a can’t miss for the golf purist.  Impeccable conditioning and a brilliant layout make it a constant choice for golf organizations of all levels to use as the site for tournaments.

Just as long but featuring a far more dramatic layout, the Resort course at Genoa Lakes paired John Harbottle III with Johnny Miller an the duo also came up with a beauty of a course, although slightly different than the Lakes course.  It is marked by high desert views, more than 100 bunkers and elevation changes of over 100 metres.  The resort course was formerly the Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch, which merged with Genoa Lakes and is now managed by Troon Golf.  If you have the time, play both at Genoa Lakes – you won’t regret it.

If you are feeling up to a physical challenge than you want to wander to Sunridge Golf Club.  Remarkably, after a round there you would think the course was laid out by one of the top designers in the world but you will be surprised to hear that it was an amateur, Bill Wellman who crafted the startling design.  The civil engineer was originally one of the contractors that worked on Sunridge, a golf and housing project, but after the developed experienced some financial difficulties he ended up as an owner, allowing him to build the course that had rattled around in his 8-handicap mind for many years.  The result is a course that one-minute soothes you with its fairways set in gentle meadows and then minutes later beats you too a pulp with a horizontally challenged tumbling hole that demands all your skills.  The final five holes, with their rocky borders marked with sagebrush are the highlight.  A surprising effort from an amateur designer.

Once you get to the golf course, the happiness continues.  That is of course, if you choose the right tee decks.  At almost 7400 at full stretch, you may want to move up a deck or two for maximum enjoyment.  Holes generally wander off in their own direction, leaving you with a sense of solitude and the thought that great care was likely taken to use the best terrain for each hole, rather than forcing them into the space provided.  It works well with hole designs varying as much as the landscape.  The 18 holes provide an intriguing mix of valley holes, elevation changes, and even an island green par three.

Continuing to truck further south ands slightly to the west, the Tahoe/Truckee area brings with it lake view, high end homes that are fun just to gawk at, and a smattering of public golf facilities interspersed between private ones.  Two accessible ones of note are Bijou Municipal and Coyote Moon – a real stunner.

Not many stories on Tahoe will mention Bijou simply because it is a nine hole executive course but “the Bijou” as it is known locally is a nice place for everyone in your group to tee it up, even if they are not an avid player.  Decent course conditions, a low price and great scenery add up to a fun time.  Not a must play but if you have some free time it can be a lot of fun.

For the ultimate Reno Tahoe golf journey my vote goes to Coyote Moon in Truckee.  Set in the mountains at an elevation of 6,300 feet, Coyote Moon is unlike any golf course many people have ever played.  It is not cheap at (USD) $150 but it’s worth every penny.  Every hole has the “wow” factor.  Designed by former PGA Tour player Brad Bell, the course tumbles up and down the mountainside including some positively shocking drops.  The 13th hole, for example, drops more than 200 feet on a par three that is only 227 yards long.  The sight of your golf ball sailing downward to the green protected by Trout Creek is a memorable one.  The seventeen other holes are similarly dramatic and incorporate features like granite outcroppings and lush, full tree lines.  It’s rugged, pricey, and simply awesome.

Something to Consider

Still not heavily populated, Reno-Tahoe has all the amenities of any world-class resort area while still retaining its simple charms.  The people are friendly with a lot of emphasis on enjoying life whether indoors at the casino or outdoors on the lake or the links.  As an emerging golf destination it has far to offer than most people would imagine.  Cooperative golf marketing efforts and packages like the “Divine Nine” offering up 171 holes at one price is a great example of their efforts.  With a growing number of layouts and everything to keep you occupied away from the course, it is a versatile choice for a golf vacation.

Fast Facts






Atlantis Casino Resort Spa

3800 S. Virginia St.,

Reno, Nevada 89502

Tel: (800) 723-6500


Golf Courses

Brookside Golf Course


D’Andrea Golf Club


Northgate Golf Club


Wildcreek Golf Course


Carson Valley Golf Course


Genoa Lakes Golf Club & Resort


Sunridge Golf Club


Bijou Municipal


Coyote Moon Golf Course




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