ADVENTURER | DONALD VETTER
The education of a traveling golfer is not complete unless one becomes one with The Muni. It is the bastion of the every-man and every-woman golfer. A place of single-player solace, the welcoming $20 skins game and a gentle reminder of one's misspent youth chasing dimpled spheres amongst the reeds, trees and sage.
In Reno, NV there are a pair of such golf courses to draw to. They are playable, walk-able, cater to families, golf groups and lone wolves....and won't drain your wallet.
Washoe Golf Course, known as The Shoe, is in the heart of Reno, just two miles from the Virginia Street Bridge and the Truckee River. A bit further north, about nine miles from downtown, is Sierra Sage Golf Course -- The Sage -- a delightful high desert beauty.
Both exude the déjà vu of muni golf and all its trappings; the old guys sharing the same insults and settling bets at the bar, the high school golf team working on their putting, the tireless head pro giving Mrs. Johnson and the ladies a sand shot clinic.
Before it became The Shoe, Washoe was a private golf club opened at the end of WWI, its grounds adjacent to the Reno Air Mail Field. In 1927, Col. Charles Lindbergh landed his single engine monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, fresh off his trans-Atlantic fight. He said the runways were too short, so they moved the airport east and the flat lands became the front nine which was developed and improved by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), one of the 254 golf courses that were built and/or improved as part of Roosevelt's New Deal. So, Lindbergh was instrumental in making The Shoe what it is today.
Washoe hosted the first Reno Open Invitational and in 1948 a real good golfer named Ben Hogan set the competitive course record at the time (65) for one of his 11 wins on the PGA Tour that year and a $3,500 payday - what John Daly typical bets on a single hand of blackjack. Hogan massacred the par 5 14th and if you shape a shot to land on the left side of the fairway below the big hill, you too can reach the small green in two.
Washoe's history is reflected in the course design with mature trees and small, pinched up greens that don't have a lot of bunkering. Many holes present the wonderful skyline views that inner-city golf courses bestow us. (On No. 6 aim at the Atlantis tower) You don't have to hit it long, just straight as the course stretches to just 6,695 from the tips and maybe an old timer will show you some of the "secret tees" from the days gone by.
The Sage is the younger brother to The Shoe, born from the nine-hole layout designed and built in 1960 by the general who ran Reno Stead Air Base and wanted work on his game between flying helicopter sorties and training astronauts. Note: Sierra Sage is a great place to golf and watch the Reno Championship Air Races (Sept 16-20, 2015). The Air Force left in the mid 60s and Washoe County took over and built a second nine in 1970.
The Sage is grip it and rip it golf off the tee and measures 6,604 from the tips -- a lot longer in the afternoon winds. Second shots, you are faced with small greens that can really reject an errant strike. Miss either the fairways or greens and you are in the sagebrush ocean with the resident coyotes, red tail hawks and cottontails.
The Sage is a bit of a comeback story as five years ago the county was considering closure. PGA Professionals Denise and Mike Mazzaferri took over course management and maintenance and have resurrected The Sage into the one of the best kept muni courses in the state with abundant practice facilities, including grass tee driving range and two short holes.
The Sage is very family friendly with few forced carries and kids tees being installed in the fairways, though you can play from them too. The Sage has a variety of youth and ladies programs and in the summer hosts the regional qualifier for the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship, the finals presented in Las Vegas
Primetime golf with cart at both courses is a little over $40, but there are plenty of mid-week and twilight deals that will almost cut that in half. You don't need a power cart for either and they do rent golfer-propelled buggies to take the strain off your shoulders should you choose to walk. And you should, these are muni courses after all.
-Don Vetter is the very former golf writer at the Reno Gazette-Journal and a regular connoisseur of muni golf across the West.