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Renoblog1

By: Blaine Newnham


Editor's Note: Over the next week or so Cybergolf contributor Blaine Newnham will be a providing running travelogue while he visits the many golf courses in the Reno area. Here's his first installment.

I'm on a FAM trip. FAM stands for familiarization. I'm learning about golf in Reno and Lake Tahoe. A good thing for me, of course, but the week will end with the reality that I either publish or perish. Either write and report about what's happening, or don't get invited again.

I'll call these "reports" that I'm sending to Cybergolf, rather than blogs. I'm from a different era, from a time 40 years ago when we filed our stories on Western Union. When, at the 1966 U.S. Open, I could walk a few feet from Ben Hogan as he played his round at the Olympic Club.

I'm more comfortable with the notion that I'm looking through my notebook when the day is done than being some kind of super-cyber pundit. This trip is called "Golf the High Sierra." For me, it began very early one morning in the cloud-covered reaches of Puget Sound: A drive to the ferry dock, the boat from Bainbridge Island, a Seattle Metro bus to the airport and a 90-minute flight to Reno.

Reno has always been on Seattle's radar. There are plenty of daily non-stop flights on Alaska and Southwest. There is the lure of sun, gambling and nearby Lake Tahoe. It is closer, less expensive and less theatrical than Las Vegas. Certainly, the golf is more diverse.

No problem with the golf bag at the airport, although it was a hassle loading it on the 194 bus. But what a deal. They charged me 50 cents as a senior. A cab is $40 with a tip.

Southwest Airlines isn't charging for a second bag. The future of the golf bag on other airlines is less certain. Alaska will start charging for a second bag July 1. But can a golf bag be your lone checked luggage and thus free. Or is it oversized and extra?

Golf the High Sierra tour is different in that it isn't a group grope. You transport yourself around in a rental car and are often the only tour member at a certain hotel. You also play different courses. The fun is finding your way, doing it the way real people would. The reality is occasionally getting lost.

I started out at ArrowCreek, a ritzy residential complex in the hills behind Reno with expansive views of the city. The plan 10 years ago was that it would have two private golf courses. The plan seemed about to work three years ago when real estate was appreciating in Reno at the rate of 15 percent annually.

But the market is sluggish at best now, and the second course - a tough son-of-a-gun designed by Arnold Palmer's group - is helping to pay the bills. It is a popular tournament course. Green fees range from $55-$100 and include carts and range balls.

The members - there are about 400 of them - have exclusive play at the Challenge, or upper course, a links-type design by John Harbottle with drop-in help from Fuzzy Zoeller.

"Neither is obviously a resort course where you're going to have your best round," said Drew Yardley, the marketing director for ArrowCreek. The appeal is to the serious, if not accomplished, golfer, who may be forced to be more accomplished than he or she was to survive.

There are 1,000 building sites at ArrowCreek, 850 with homes on them. Only 25 or so lots remain for sale, the others bought up to preserve view corridors.

The setting, against the backdrop of the Sierras and well above Reno, creates a tumbling landscape that Palmer used to the utmost. There are canyons to be crossed, hills to be climbed and gulches to be avoided. In all, there is an 800-foot elevation change. Carts aren't mandatory but probably necessary.

The members get the use of not only their course, but two hours each day on Palmer's Legend course. There are expansive practice facilities and the teaching staff that comes with two courses.

The Palmer course has a spectacular finish, a long par-5 14th that hugs the rim of a canyon, a 200-yard carry par-3 to follow, a neat short par-4 17th and an all-you-want 18th hole on the edges of a gulch.

"We are absolutely one of the top two gated communities in Reno," said Yardley. "Montreux (a Nicklaus design and site of the Reno-Tahoe Open) is different. It is tucked into the tree line. We are more in the open but have a longer season."

Yardley said the goal is still to make the Palmer course private, too. But, until then, there is the chance to be a member for a day.

Now, where did they say I was staying tonight?

Blaine Newnham has covered golf for 50 years. He still cherishes the memory of following Ben Hogan for 18 holes during the first round of the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He worked then for the Oakland Tribune, where he covered the Oakland Raiders during the first three seasons of head coach John Madden. Blaine moved on to Eugene, Ore., in 1971 as sports editor and columnist, covering the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He was to cover five Olympics all together - Mexico City, Munich, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Athens - before retiring in early 2005 from the Seattle Times. He covered his first Masters in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman, and his last in 2005 when Tiger Woods chip teetered on the lip at No. 16 and rolled in. He saw Woods four straight major wins in 2000 and 2001, and Payne Stewart's birdie putt to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Blaine plays golf at Wing Point Golf and Country Club on Bainbridge Island, Wash., where his current index is 12.6. In 2005, Blaine received the Northwest Golf Media Association's Distinguished Service Award. He and his wife, Joanna, live in Indianola, Wash., where the Dungeness crabs out-number the people.