Dawn Patrol in Tahoe: Meadows, Mountains and Marmots

On Sunday and Monday, we were up early and ready to get our warm-up rounds in. Not a lot of set up here, so let’s just go ahead and get started…

Northstar California Resort • Truckee, CA • 6/17/18

This is one of those I’m not exactly sure how to label. I’ve seen it referred to as Northstar Golf Course, Northstar at Tahoe and other variations. The scorecard, which I usually go by, just says Northstar. Whatever you want to call it, this was our Sunday morning round.

The weather was a big story on Sunday. The forecasts looked bleak everywhere we planned to play and it was dumping down rain on us as we drove from Reno to Truckee. However, the rain let up by the time we were there and it was just gloomy skies the rest of the day. We got a couple brief rain showers here and there, but never any lightning or anything that would remotely slow us down.

The good news is that the sketchy weather forecasts pretty much emptied out all the courses and allowed us to play very quick rounds on five different courses. You already saw two of them (Old Brockway and Ponderosa) in the previous Short Course Blitz review.

Northstar is where we got this day started, though. It’s still pretty early in the season up here, so they actually build in a slight frost delay. We were slated to be the first off at 7:30. I can’t say enough good things about the staff here. Everyone was super friendly and were essentially challenging us to play as quickly as we could. We did go through maintenance on the front nine, but otherwise breezed through. Speed-play challenge accepted and completed!

This was also one of our best value rounds of the trip. We bought a GolfMoose certificate that was $99 for two players. We also used a $25 gift card won at a Greenskeeper.org “GK Plays” outing, so it ended up being only $37 each.

Northstar really is a tale of two courses. The front side (which I believe was added later) plays out in a pretty open meadow setting. There are some water hazards and native areas in play, but it’s overall pretty forgiving on this side. It does, however, play longer than the back nine. The back is a complete change of pace as you get more of a true “mountain golf” kind of layout. It is hilly, narrow and tricky with more of a target design. I bet it’s not hard to guess which side I liked better!

The front nine honestly didn’t do too much for me, but the back nine definitely kept me very entertained. The holes that stood out for me were the 12th and 16th. The 15th is also the signature par-3 here with a fun downhill tee shot and a pretty setting.

The 12th is a very short par-4 that is pretty much a 90-degree dogleg right with an uphill approach. At the corner in the middle of the fairway is a small outcropping of trees, water and deep rough, so you have to figure out how much you want to challenge that off the tee as this hole will be a lay-up for most everybody except maybe Bubba Watson.

The 15th was a memorable par-4 that plays downhill and doglegs right with an intimidating approach shot over a creek. It’s a very pretty and well-designed hole.

The course was in decent condition as it rounds into summer form, playing better than it looked with kind of a dappled brown/green spongy grass throughout. The tee boxes were good. The fairways generally provided nice fluffy lies with some mushy sections thanks to the rain. The rough was not super deep, but the grass was tangly and the ball could easily sit down to make for a tough recovery. The bunkers were good. The greens were spongy, but still kind of playing firm with big bounces and roll-outs. They rolled fairly well at medium speeds on putts.

The gloomy skies and dappled colors didn’t really showcase the course’s best visual presentation, but the playability was good and the layout (especially the back nine) is enjoyable. It’s not a top-shelf option in the area, but it’s a good B-tier course that will satisfy your mountain golf cravings without breaking the bank.

Some pictures from Northstar California Resort (6/17/18):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

 

After Northstar California, we ended up playing both courses over at Incline Village. Those will be featured in a separate review that should go up in a couple days. Therefore, I will skip ahead to our next dawn patrol round on Monday…

Wolf Run Golf Club • Reno, NV • 6/18/18

The main round for Monday was an NCGA member outing at Montrêux Golf & Country Club. Wolf Run just happened to be one of the closest courses and they are one of the few in the area that gets started a little earlier. It was the perfect option for a warm-up round with a 6:00 tee time. Again, we were the first off and only slowed a little by maintenance. We did our best to help pull flags and clear the greens for them as we played through the workers.

We ended up paying the full weekday rack rate of $50 with a cart. As I mentioned, it really was our best and only option for a full regulation 18 before the 10:30 start at Montrêux. Because of this, I came in to Wolf Run with kind of low (or it may be better to say no) expectations. I didn’t really know much about the course and saw it as simply “filler” for the trip.

However, it turned out to be one of the more pleasant surprises. I really enjoyed the course. It didn’t hurt that we had a crystal clear morning and the course was aglow for my pictures. This is a desert course framed by distant mountains to the east and the not-so-distant Mt. Rose to the west. The conditions were very green and the sky was bright blue, so it made for some beautiful contrast and early morning shadows.

The layout is pretty good, though admittedly a little repetitive. Many holes have a small creek that cuts across in front of the greens (anywhere from 10-60 yards maybe). If you are not striking it well off the tee, you may be forced to make some lay-up decisions. Around the greens, however, the course is rather forgiving. None of the bunkers are too scary, there is generally ample bail out room on most sides and the greens don’t have too much undulation.

I should note that the greens aren’t crazily undulated, but they do present a challenge. These may be the fastest greens we played all trip and everything breaks hard away from Mt. Rose. Downhill putts had to be babied while uphill putts had to be hit pretty firm, though it was hard to be too confident because you didn’t want to risk putting yourself back above the hole too far.

What’s interesting is that they really watered the heck out of this course overnight (some rain may have come through, as well). It was green and well-manicured, but it was very mushy and wet from tee to green. The greens were also quite squishy underfoot, but they still played pretty firm on approaches and they were rolling lightning fast as I mentioned. I imagine the fairways and tee boxes would play really nice later in the day once things started to dry out, but I would fear what the greens would be like once dried out and firmed up even more. In fact, one of the guys we were paired with at Montrêux mentioned he had also played Wolf Run over the weekend. However, he played in the late afternoon with strong winds and dry conditions. He told us the greens were just about impossible during his round and we believed him based on what we experienced in the morning wetness and the wind we had at our other Reno/Sparks courses over the weekend.

Beyond the greens, the main thing I will remember about Wolf Run is the marmots. You heard me right. When we were on the 3rd hole, we noticed what looked like a big fat squirrel off to the side of the cart path. Once it waddled away, we realized it wasn’t a squirrel. We thought maybe it was a gopher or some sort of hedgehog. Then, we saw more and more of these cute, chubby little critters. They were everywhere on this course, just hanging off to the sides and nibbling at the grass.

After some extensive Google Image searches, I’m pretty sure they are yellow-bellied marmots—a species native to the Sierra Nevadas. Wolf Run is the only course where we saw them, however, and there were clearly no major predators around here because they were plentiful, fat and happy. Though they were eating the grass, they didn’t seem to be doing that much damage to the turf. I didn’t see any burrow holes anywhere (they usually retreated to the bushes when you would try to approach) and, as I mentioned, the grass was really lush and green everywhere. I’m sure the superintendent despises them and they probably are some sort of concern like most rodents are at golf courses, but they didn’t seem to be bothering anything too much and they sure were adorable.

I wonder if the course just puts up with the marmots because they have become kind of a part of the Wolf Run experience. Or, maybe they are a protected localized species and there’s nothing they can do about them. It still seemed odd that this is the only place we saw them all trip and there were so darn many on the course! I tried to get some pictures, but they were quite skittish and I didn’t get much more than a grainy zoomed-in shot or two.

Again, Wolf Run is not a top-tier option in this region, but it was much better than expected and I enjoyed my experience there. Now I just want a pet marmot!

Some pictures from Wolf Run Golf Club (6/18/18):

 

 

 

 

 

 

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