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Here you are, on a golf media trip to Reno and Lake Tahoe, and the first two courses you visit have the indelible hand of John Harbottle, the architect from Tacoma, Wash., who seems to understand better than anyone the concept of translating links golf to the American desert - even though he grew up with rain and trees.
Our first stop was ArrowCreek just up in the hills from the Reno airport where Harbottle was the principle designer of the upper and exclusive Challenge course. The members gravitate to Harbottle's design over the more penal and unpredictable Legend course by Arnold Palmer.
The next day we played at Genoa Lakes, a 15-year-old track down near Carson City that has remained an everyman's favorite and in retrospect was the trigger for Harbottle's career. I like Genoa Lakes. It nestles up against the Sierra, in a valley that is known for Nevada's first settlement. You're not much more than 30 minutes from Lake Tahoe, but a world away. I liked it because, off the 6,000-yard senior tees, I shot 77 when the day before I had played poorly and was punished for it with a 90 at the Palmer course.
In the early '90s, Harbottle worked for Pete Dye, where he learned his trade. The owner of the property at Genoa wanted Dye to design his course. But Dye was tied up with work at Kiawah Island for a course that would host the Ryder Cup. He turned down the Nevada job.
Said Harbottle, "The owner offered me the job and when I told Pete I had the opportunity to go out on my own he said it would be the best thing that could happen to me. He was right, I ended up designing Genoa Lakes, it was rated one of the best courses in America and was a springboard for my career. The owner of Genoa Lakes hired me to do ArrowCreek, as well."
It has been awhile since Harbottle has visited Genoa Lakes. "I'm not sure how the course looks today," he said this week, "but I do know my favorite hole, No. 3, a short par-4, has been totally altered." Admittedly, as a drivable hole that would cause backups. A new tougher, longer hole has been implemented and it seems to back up play even more. Should have left well enough alone.
Harbottle has been working on a private course in Truckee, at the north end of Lake Tahoe. It is called Timilick Tahoe. As far as dealing with desert, Harbottle, who has also had great success in mountain lushness, the architect said, "High desert golf is a lot like links golf, minus the dunes. Native vegetation adds a lot of indigenous character to the course and the wind up there can blow just like on the links. A great early American golf course designer, C.B. McDonald, designer of the National Golf Links on Long Island said some thing like: 'I believe you could have a good golf course without wind, but you could never have a great one.' "
As far as his role in affecting the future of American golf, Harbottle added, "We need to grow the game (increase the number of golfers). To do this, golf must be affordable. Golf is often thought of as an elitist's game and some of the high-end public courses being built today reinforce this belief. That should not be the case. Both my parents were great players on a national level, but they grew up playing on very affordable, public golf courses. For the game to grow it has to remain affordable and that is the direction new development should be heading. You don't always need to spend a lot of money to create world-class golf. The Olympic Course in Bremerton, Wash., and BanBury and Ridgecrest in Nampa, Idaho, were built on modest budgets. They have hosted national championships and provide some of the best golf in the country for a great price."
So tomorrow on Golf the High Sierra media tour we play at Edgewood Tahoe, the site of the annual celebrity tournament, before heading up north to Old Greenwood and Coyote Moon in Truckee.
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.