A cast of courses & characters highlight Tahoe Reno Golf Tour

All I can say is how lucky I am to be part of the golfing media.

Playing outstanding golf courses, visiting amazing establishments, sampling sensational fare and socializing with a group of talented, yet wacky golf writers. This is the life.

On this trip to the Reno-Tahoe region, I sampled three days of non-stop fun and frivolity with 30 or so golf gurus.

After landing at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, I whisked myself away,
thanks to Enterprise, to the beautiful town of Truckee, California, just a 40-
minute ride away and straight to my first assignment, Schaffer's Mill golf

This seven-year-old layout was designed by the late John Harbottle with
assistance from World Golf Hall of Famer Johnny Miller and is one of the
many gems in the area. In fact, the course was named the best new private
course in the state of California by Golfweek magazine when it debuted.

Ideal conditions, a great test and a whole lot of fun, as our fivesome played
in just under four hours. This "stellar" group consisted of our lead crazy,
"The Dinger," who makes this experience the best it can be. Also included were
Flip Flop Tim and Sandals Mike (they actually played golf in them) and M-
Squared, who blasted tunes on his mini-boom box, from reggae to rock & roll,
from Merle Haggard to Joan Jett and everything in between. But alas, no "In-A-
Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly. This was a first for me and I kind of liked

I suggest that golf enthusiasts take a page from this group on growing the
game. Play the right tees, enjoy yourself, meet new friends and you'll find
that not only will you play better, you'll find more time to spend with the
family outside of golf, as your pace of play will most-definitely pick up.

Anyway, enough preaching.

Following this terrific round of golf, I made my way to the Donner Lake Inn Bed
and Breakfast, just 100 yards from a serene and stunning lake. The delightful
retreat featured five units, each appointed with a specific theme, such as my
room, which boasted of bear paraphernalia.

The owners, Paul and Mindy Oesterman, were the perfect hosts, giving me the
lowdown of the area, not to mention some sagely advice to law enforcement and
much-needed directions to some of the spots on the media tour. My only regret
was spending just two nights at their inn.

That evening, we sampled some quality brews from the region at the Tahoe-Donner
Golf Club, not to mention some wonderful appetizers, as I got to "really" know
some of my peers. Hah, maybe more than I needed to know. There were some old
friends from previous meetings, such as proud papa Steve, money game Mike and
JL from my stomping grounds in Philadelphia. To say this is a diverse group
would be an understatement.

Day 2 was more of the same, as we started our golf day at a wonderful Jack
Nicklaus design, Old Greenwood Golf Club, which is rated as one of "America's
Top 100 Greatest Public Courses" by Golf Digest. My two partners and I toured
in the course in just three hours. It's not often when they tell you to slow
down, as we were keeping pace with the grounds crew.

The layout has consistently been ranked as one of the top courses in the state,
with many memorable holes, such as the uphill finisher that leads back to the
clubhouse. Make sure you stop by the pro shop for an engraved copper ball
marker. Although this was not my first visit to the Old Greenwood, I did notice
the addition of the Nicklaus tees for juniors. They are listening!

Lunch on the deck overlooking the closing hole was a Chicago-style hot dog
complete with all the fixins. As Guy Fieri would say, "Right on point."

Next stop was my afternoon round at Coyote Moon.

This time around, I have the boys from the southside of Chicago, lefty Dave and
foot-raising Greg, not to mention, M-Squared once again. We decide to play it
forward and move up a set of tees ... What a smart move.

At over 7,100 yards, picking the right tee box is critical. The course,
designed by Brad Bell in 2000, features some spectacular holes, such as the
uphill, par-5 12th and the jaw-dropping, downhill par-3 13th.

This time around, the music from DJ Matt consisted of some school fight songs,
marching ballads, with a bit of disco tossed in. What a character! We teamed to
shoot a better-ball round of 70, not bad considering the mist and chill in the
air and our foursome of hackers!

The evening featured dinner at an upscale local spot, Marg's World Taco Bistro,
in the heart of Truckee. A simple 45-minute dinner with my hosts turned into a
two-hour dining delight, as we closed the joint down with a shot of fruit-
infused tequila. The eclectic menu of food was only topped by the diverse
libation list. I heard the boys at other locations listened to some cover bands
and drank the local fare well into the night and closed Truckee down. I missed
it this time around, I won't the next!

My final day saw an early start as we headed north one hour to the mountain
region of Graeagle, in Plumas County for another 36-hole extravaganza.

As Sergeant Hulka said in the movie Stripes, "I'm getting to old for this

So off we went, as I followed Flip Flop and Sandals from Wisconsin.

Our first stop was Grizzly Ranch Golf Club in the town of Portola, California,
for an 8 a.m. tee time. Designed by Bob Cupp, Grizzly Ranch is rated as the No.
1 public accessible course in the Sierra Nevada and 11th in California by Golf

The course is outstanding and is definitely one of the finest courses I have
played in the region and the country. This coming from a guy who has teed it up
at Pine Valley, Pebble Beach, Olympic and Merion, to name a few. The layout,
the stunning vistas, the true test of skill and the impeccable conditions make
this course a must-play. What a challenge and we completed our round in 2
hours, 30 minutes!

To top it off, after our Chicago comrades finally finished ... an hour later,
we watched from Adirondack chairs overlooking the 18th, sipping a beverage or
two. What a sight, not to mention a great hole. The grilled cheeseburger was
just what the doctor ordered as we headed a few minutes down the road to ...
The Dragon.

Nakoma Golf Resort and Spa, in the town of Clio, is living at its best. As soon
as you approach the clubhouse, you know you're in for a special treat.

Designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the building was originally
slated for Nakoma Country Club in Wisconsin back in the 1920s, but that never
came to fruition. Nearly eighty years later, the original owners purchased the
design and the rest, as they say, is history.

The masterpiece is a sight to behold and the full story regarding is even
grander, but we will reserve that tale for another story.

After checking in, I slide down to my villa ... WOW!

A one-bedroom retreat located on the 10th fairway. Similar in architecture as
the main building, I am speechless as I stroll through my hacienda, complete
with all the amenities, including a walk-in shower, Jacuzzi bath and an
outdoor-enclosed hot tub. Are you kidding me!

That's just the beginning of this chapter, as golf awaits.

The Dragon Golf Course, crafted by the late Robin Nelson, can be stretched to
over 7,700 yards and is as difficult as it is beautiful. Nelson, along with his
partner Neil Haworth, designed courses all over world, from Australia to France
and India as well as several courses in Hawaii, including Mauna Lani Resort,
which hosted the Champions Tour Skins game for 11 years.

The course itself features beautiful vistas of the nearby Sierra Nevada
mountains, with each hole carved throughout the rolling mountain side. From the
opening hole, which drops some 70 feet to the fairway, to the par-5 11th which
boomerangs sharply to the right or the double-dogleg closing hole, the Dragon
at Nakoma is a sight to discover. It comes as no surprise that Links Magazine
called it "The Best in Golf."

Fifteen years later, the course has undergone several changes to soften the
layout, such as the removal and reshaping of bunkers and widening of some of
the fairways as well as easing the flow on some of the putting surfaces, making
it a more user-friendly design.

That group contained money-game Mike, professional Jon and Vegas Vic. We
splashed in our 6-6-6 matches ... thank goodness for Jon!

Following a quick clean-up, it's back to the main building for some cocktails
and dinner. Sitting atop the ridge, it's hard not to take notice of the sunset
over the mountains, stunning beyond belief, as we toast to a great trip ...
over and over again.

Although the group was thinned down to 20 or so, the conversations throughout
our sumptuous dinner were entertaining and enlightening. We learned about the
current construction of the 42-room lodge, which is slated to open this summer
and we got to know a staff that puts their hearts and soul into everything that
makes the resort as good as it is.

That certainly is the theme you realize when visiting the Tahoe Reno region.
Family might sound corny, but it's true. The passion of the locals is what
separates this part of the country from others.

We close with a breakfast stop with the Dinger and photographer extraordinaire,
Rod Hanna the next morning at Sharon's Cafe in the old town of Portola. Huge
portions, friendly service and interesting clientele. I still can't believe
the Dinger ate the hole damn piece of ham!

Not surprisingly, this is just a small sampling of what this region has to
offer, both in regards to golf, dining and lodging.

Next time, I'll tackle some of the area's other great spots, like Edgewood-
Tahoe, home to the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship or Gray's
Crossing, Whitehawk Ranch or the newest course in the area, Clear Creek Tahoe,
a Coore/Crenshaw design which opened just six years ago.

This is not just a gaming and winter wonderland anymore. This is as much a
golfing and living destination as anywhere in the United States.

Who know's, maybe you'll run into a character or two of your own.