Let’s get this out of the way, right away: Reno is not Las Vegas. Far from it — 425 miles’ worth of far. And though the Biggest Little City is technically located in high desert (4,500 feet above sea level), it bears no resemblance to its southern Nevada sibling’s sere setting. It’s more mountain in flavor, nudged up against the Carson Range to the west and the Pah Rah range to the east, with more peaks guarding its southern and northern flanks. Its convenient airport welcomes millions of visitors each year, including intrepid golfers. Reno and its neighbor Sparks are enjoying a growth spurt, with plenty of great food, beer and culture to back up all the “traditional” gaming and entertainment. It’s a bright and fun gateway to the Tahoe-Reno Golf Trail.
A PGA TOUR SLEEPER
When Jack Nicklaus designed private Montrêux Golf & Country Club in the late 1990s, its developers had their own designs — on landing a PGA Tour event. By 1999 their dream was realized with the inaugural Reno-Tahoe Open, and nearly 20 years later it returns July 31-Aug. 6 as the Barracuda Championship. Set on the lower, pine-carpeted slopes of Mt. Rose and bisected by Galena Creek, Montrêux has become a tour player favorite for its flawless conditioning and flat-out beauty; for the rest of us it’s a great place to get up close to some of the world’s best players while planning your own rounds at nearby favorites such as LakeRidge (a Robert Trent Jones II classic near downtown Reno), the Resort at Red Hawk in Sparks (another Trent winner, the Lakes Course, shares public rounds with Hale Irwin’s Hills Course), Wolf Run and affordable munis Washoe County Golf Course, Wildcreek and Sierra Sage. Of course, walking Montrêux will have you jonesing for a guest round — or, perhaps look into a second home at Parc Foret, the surrounding development’s newest collection of custom homes.
A half hour’s drive west on I-80 from Reno, through the Truckee River canyon, takes you to its scenic, historic namesake town — a former railroad burg turned all-season recreation mecca. Over the past 20 years Truckee has brought some of the region’s best golf courses online to augment the original resort layout at Northstar California. Several are private — Lahontan started that trend, followed by the equally spectacular Schaffer’s Mill and Martis Camp — but a trio of upscale daily fee resort tracks are absolute musts — Coyote Moon, perched in dense, pristine forest above the city (not a power line or fairway home in sight, but plenty of wildlife in their place), and the twin challenges of Old Greenwood (Jack Nicklaus) and Gray’s Crossing (Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy), which occupy handsome stretches of mountain valley real estate just south and north of the interstate, respectively. They are sister properties with incredible homesites and unforgettable golf holes — the finishing stretches on both are among the region’s best, with high-end amenities greeting you after the final putt. Then head into town for a wealth of shopping, dining and “chilling” opportunities.
GROOVIN’ & BREWIN’ IN PLUMAS COUNTY
Head north from Truckee up lovely Highway 89 for an hour and you’ll arrive at one of the West’s prettiest and friendliest under-the-radar golf destinations. Northeastern California’s Plumas County also got its start as a railroad crossroads and crucial water provider for the Sacramento Valley to the west, thanks to its multi-forked Feather River, which also winds through several golf courses, among them the sublime Whitehawk Ranch, as delightfully bucolic a meadow-meets-forest routing as you’ll find in the West. The river also accompanies golfers at the area’s two oldest tracks, Graeagle Meadows and Plumas Pines, the latter of which also boasts a popular dining and watering hole called Longboard’s. But wait, there’s more, a couple outstanding mountain courses a few miles east — the late Bob Cupp masterpiece at Grizzly Ranch, home to a couple memorable par 5s (and plenty of great par 4s and 3s, too) and the Dragon at Nakoma Resort, which is strung seductively along sheer ridges and ravines and playing better than ever after some recent design tweaks. It’s also home to the area’s newest lodge, with a full-service spa/recreation center under construction. No matter where you nab a tee time up in these parts — we recommend playing all of them — make sure to swing by The Brewing Lair, one of the most unique brew pubs in the world. It’s outdoors, is dog-friendly, offers first-come-first-served barbecue sites and pretty much nails the ruling Plumas vibe: Live and let live, and pick up a few birdies and beers along the way.