Image: Squaw Creek
Rod Hanna  /  AP
It's peak season for playing the course at Squaw Creek in Olympic Valley, Calif. Tourism officials and local business leaders are pooling their resources to help promote the Sierra's eastern front area as a golfing destination.
updated 7/16/2007 4:55:34 PM ET 2007-07-16T20:55:34

There were a few skeptics when tourism officials and business leaders first approached dozens of golf courses along the Sierra's eastern front about pooling their resources to help promote the area as a golfing destination.

Why would anyone want to help their competitors?

Nearly a decade later, from the Carson Valley to Reno and the mountain courses north of Lake Tahoe, the verdict is unanimous.

"It's a great promotion," said Darryle Fukano, one of the pros at Empire Ranch Golf Course along the Carson River.

"We kind of are competing against each other but also trying to help each other out. Everybody tries to find a niche. It runs the whole range of local munis (municipal courses), all the way through Tour qualifying courses."

Empire Ranch is one of the courses that make up the "Divine Nine" in Carson City and the neighboring Carson Valley. The nine courses launched their first media tour in 1998.

About the same time, a separate joint venture was hatched to the north — "Golf the High Sierra" — now with 20 courses.

Together, the Divine Nine and Golf the High Sierra ventures include courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., George Fazio, Hale Irwin, Peter Jacobsen, Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Both rely in part on annual promotions to fly sports and travel writers in from around the country to spend time playing the courses, dining at restaurants and chatting with business leaders to get a taste of what the region has to offer.

Ben Wright, the former CBS Sports golf commentator known for his British accent who now is a contributing editor to Links Magazine, made his first visit to the Tahoe area in June. He said the co-op is a "brilliant idea."

"The golf around here is phenomenal. I had really no idea how beautiful the country is around here. It reminds me of Scotland in a lot of ways," he said of his native country.

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This year, for the first time, the Divine Nine and Golf the High Sierra co-ops scheduled their promotional media tours the same week in June, when several writers tested their skills at what has become a recent tradition at the "Divine Nine" loop — hopping on and off a shuttle bus in an attempt to play two holes at each of the nine courses in a single day.

Visitors planning golf vacations here could also play one course in the morning and one in the afternoon, for two weeks or more, without ever playing the same course twice.

Guests from publications like Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times and Golf Digest have had a chance to play complete rounds at nearly two dozen courses, teeing-off in the morning at Nicklaus' Old Greenwood on the edge of Truckee, Calif., and playing in the afternoon in Reno at Jones Sr.'s LakeRidge with its signature island green. Or playing Irwin's The Resort at Red Hawk in neighboring Sparks at daybreak and Fazio's Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course at South Lake Tahoe as the sun sets over the Sierra.

The recent wildfire that burned thousands of acres on the south end of Lake Tahoe was, at the end of June, several miles from the nearest golf course in the group — Edgewood-Tahoe at Stateline, Nev., just across the Nevada-California line.

Phil Weidinger, a Tahoe-area public relations man in charge of local publicity for NBC Sports' American Century Celebrity Golf Championship held annually at Edgewood, remembers approaching the Nevada Commission on Tourism with the idea of the media tour to promote the cooperatives.

Weidinger said the tour has generated exposure to more than 48 million people.

The approach was appealing, in part, because Tahoe-area ski resorts had enjoyed success with a similar joint effort, according to Lynn Saunders, now the president and CEO of the Donner-Truckee Chamber of Commerce, who was marketing manager of the tourism commission at the time.

"It's helped get people to realize this is a great golf destination," said Debbie Casey, general manager of Tahoe Mountain Resorts, an affiliate of the Colorado-based East West Partners, which owns the two courses.

While golfing is year-round in the valleys around Carson City and Reno, there is often snow December-May at the higher elevations. So this is peak season for playing at the courses on top of the mountain range at Lake Tahoe and Truckee - like Squaw Valley, Old Greenwood and Grays Crossing.

"We have a short season, but it's a great one," said Casey.

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