Mix history with your golf in Carson City

By Michael Pramik, Contributor

CARSON CITY, Nev. -- Travelers who want to know what Nevada is all about should roam for a while on the streets of its capital.

Walk north a block from the silver-domed capitol to the Paul Laxalt State Building, home to the Nevada Commission on Tourism. The grand, red-brick-and-sandstone building was built in 1891, reflecting Carson City's silver mining heyday.

Then look across North Carson Street. See that 15-foot guy waving at you? That's Cactus Jack, a larger-than-life Colonel Sanders look-alike, his raised left arm clutching a stack of bills that bid you a hearty "Howdy." Cactus Jack's and other casinos' proximity to the capitol typifies the Nevada experience -- gaming is the end game.

That's partly why almost 48 million people visit every year, most choosing Las Vegas or Reno. Fewer get to Carson City, but a day or two here is worth the effort. And pack your clubs. There are a half-dozen courses worth playing, most with beautiful views of the eastern faces of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Carson City is where the modern gaming industry meets the wild, old West. The state assembly chambers here once hosted a bar, and inmates at the Nevada State Prison once operated their own casino. It might seem tame now. But Carson City still has evidence of the wild days in the odd cathouse or two outside town.

Looking for something a bit less, well, stimulating? Carson City lays claim to the largest collection of historic homes in the West. Some are on display along the Kit Carson trail, a 2.5-mile self-guided tour that offers a glimpse into the vast fortunes that were made here during the 19th century. Start at Mark Twain's brother's house, 502 N. Division St., and follow the blue line. Landmarks include homes, churches and museums. One is the Nevada State Museum and Mint, where visitors can walk through an old ghost town, an underground mine or a somewhat curiously placed Earth and science gallery. Check out the extensive coin collection - the mint was in operation from 1870 to 1895.

Got an afternoon free? Take a side trip to Virginia City, 15 miles away, and you'd swear Ben Cartwright, Hoss and Little Joe were about to ride up at any minute. The Ponderosa Ranch theme park is at Incline Village north of Lake Tahoe. But the dusty, old town of Virginia City, which made silver miners rich in the 19th century, still reeks of the old West.

While history surrounds you here, golf is a more recent phenomenon. Upscale public courses are only a decade or so old and boast the signatures of Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer and Peter Jacobsen. And with a mere 12 inches of annual rainfall, weather is rarely an excuse for not seeking out the links.

One of the highlights of golf in the Carson Valley is the view, because the courses are challenging but not overpowering. They provide sometimes-inspiring views of the Sierra Nevadas and are fairly well groomed. If you're staying in south Tahoe, the courses near Genoa are only about a 30-minute drive over the Kingsbury Grade.


Dayton Valley Golf Club
51 Palmer Dr.
Dayton, Nev. 89403
(775) 246-7888

Think the desert's dry? This Palmer design could make you reject that notion. Several ponds come into play on 12 holes, most notably near the end of the front nine, just as many golfers have gotten the hang of this wide-open layout.

Dayton Valley is part of a housing development in the high desert, so the scenic vista is tempered a bit by backyards and picture windows. But the fine condition of the fairways and fast greens reward you inside the cuts of rough.

Things can get out of hand at Dayton Valley if you try to tee it up from the tips -- more than 7,200 yards. Leave them to the pros, who have battled during PGA Tour qualifying here yearly since 1995. The men's tees are 6,637 yards, plenty long -- they're rated at 72.1 with a 136 slope.

The challenge begins at No. 8, a 529-yard par-5 that has three water hazards. The tee shot requires a carry over water, and the more you try to cut off the dogleg the more perilous the shot. Water left of the fairway guards the approach or layup, and the green has water to the right.

No. 9 is harder. It's a 450-yard par-4 that goes left and requires a tee shot and an approach over water. Play it from the regular tees and it shortens to less than 400 yards, making it easy to drive into the second pond.

Golf Club at Genoa Lakes
1 Genoa Lakes Dr.
Genoa, Nev. 89411
(775) 782-4653

Genoa is Nevada's oldest settlement. But this John Harbottle/Peter Jacobsen layout, built in 1993 and updated in 2001, is steeped in modern touches, from the fairways lined with new homes and condominiums to the natural wetland areas on the course.

Genoa Lakes is a U.S. Open-qualifying course, and no wonder. There is water, including the Carson River, on 14 holes.

As with many of the courses near Lake Tahoe, the scenery's the thing. A hole as simple as the 217-yard, par-3 No. 6 is made special by the mountains in the background.

Then again, no scenery is needed to complement No. 18, a brawny, 449-yard par-4 that has water nearly all the way along the left side of the fairway. Keep it right and hit it long. Then carve a long iron into the narrow green guarded on the left by bunkers.

Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch
2901 Jacks Valley Rd.
Genoa, Nev. 89411
(888) 452-4653
Web: sierranevadagolfranch.com
Rates: $70-90.

OK, so the golf staff here dresses up like cowboys and the holes have names like "Tombstone." Don't let the tomfoolery fool you. This Johnny Miller/Jack Harbottle design is a good test of golf, with a wide variety of holes, several elevation changes and 114 bunkers. (The "sheriff" says so.)

The holes range from a 625-yard par-5 to a 150-yard par-3 to an island green. In keeping with the Carson Valley feel, there are rugged rocks and verdant valley views everywhere you turn.

The front nine plays through savannah desert, ascending about 300 feet. It comes back down a bit at the 618-yard No. 9, a rolling par-5 with a mid-fairway bunker that challenges tee shots and a dual fairway that lets you choose your angle of attack of the large green.

The back nine runs along the side of a mountain and winds downhill toward scattered creeks. There isn't as much water here as there is at Dayton Valley and Genoa lakes. Rather, the challenge comes in the subtly sloped fairways and high wind if you secure an afternoon tee time.

Troon Golf, whose standards are solid for upscale public courses, runs Sierra Nevada. The clubhouse is among the nicest (and largest, at 20,000-square feet) in the Tahoe area.

Where to stay

Bliss Mansion Bed and Breakfast
608 Elizabeth St.
Carson City, Nev. 89703
(775) 887-8988.

Carson City's best place to stay is an elegant Victorian mansion built in 1879 by lumber baron Duane Bliss. Located in the historic part of town that includes the Nevada governor's mansion, the Bliss Mansion offers four luxurious bedrooms with individual furnishings.

At one time the mansion was Nevada's largest private residence, and it was the first in the state to receive natural gas and telephone lines. The house was renovated in 1994. Its features include four marble fireplaces on the first floor, a 12-seat dining table and stately walnut stairway at the entrance.

Pinion Plaza Resort
2171 Highway 50 East
Carson City, Nev. 89701
(877) 519-5567.

This adobe-styled casino and hotel is a Best Western property with 184 simple, comfortable rooms. The casino offers the standard table games, slot machines and sports book. The resort offers three restaurants, a bowling alley, an arcade, and a swimming pool and sauna with a small exercise area.

Where to eat

Adele's Restaurant
1112 N. Carson St.
Carson City, Nev.
(775) 882-3353.

Adele's serves what can best be termed continental cuisine in a Victorian home built in 1875. Everything is great, from the small, classy bar to the stained glass to the varied menu. Just ask one of the dozens of legislators who eat here when they're in session. You can get steak, fresh seafood and creative chicken dishes here. The menu also includes caviar, escargot and foie gras. On a recent visit a featured dish was Indian-inspired chicken and vegetables over basmati rice.

Michael Pramik, Contributor

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