Review By Doug Saunders, golf writer
Empire Ranch Golf Course adds a different wrinkle to the collection of golf in the Carson Valley. This golf complex spreads across a broad expanse of lowlands on the banks of the Carson River and offers a player the ultimate opportunity for marathon golf.
"We have three distinct nine hole golf courses here at Empire Ranch, which gives a player a lot of options for the day," explained Head Professional Keith Stoll. "You can create three different 18 hole course combinations, or you can set yourself up for a full 27 hole experience in one day." Empire Ranch takes the concept of playing in the wide open spaces of the West to the extreme. This huge open expanse of land offers views for miles as you look to the south toward the Sierra Nevada Range and off to the northeast toward the ridges of the Comstock Lode. But the open look from the clubhouse is deceiving as wetlands and water are sprinkled throughout the 250 acre site to grab a player's attention as you navigate the layout.
The three nine hole layouts: Comstock, River, and Sierra Golf Courses are all par 36 and all have similar slope ratings so the choice of routes really is determined by your own imagination. These nines also offer a consistency in design as Southern California based course architect Cary Bickler laid-out this public facility with the thought of providing an entertaining course at an affordable price.
Each of the nines stretches out to around 3,400 yards from the back tees. Many of the holes are wide open par 4s of medium length, but each nine has a least one par 4 over 410 yards long. Bickler does bring water and wetlands into play on several of the par 3s and also gives them some added length.
"I think one of the risk/reward features here is that all of the par 5s are reachable in 2. As there are no real hazards protecting the greens it gives any golfer a real chance to test his courage on them," Stoll explained.
This temptation is evident on the 1st hole on the Sierra Nine. This par 5 is only 478 yards long from the blue tees and 494 yards long from the back tees. A big drive can put you in position but it is a slightly uphill shot to get home in 2. If you miss the green you might find an awkward stance on the mounds that protect the green. The Comstock Nine might be the most scenic as it plays out to the east and before the old ranch house from the original settlement. The remnants of an old mill and numerous cottonwood trees also add to the beauty of this route. The Sierra Course heads off facing west and the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Range dominate the views here. The River Course fits in between the two and constantly flirts with wetlands and water.
A good example of this golf course design is the par 4, 9th hole on the Comstock Nine. This 356-yard par 4 asks the player to carry a large wetland with the drive. From here players need to avoid water that protects the right side of the elevated green on the approach.
There are no hidden secrets here at Empire Ranch. This is golf course that is not designed to crush your spirit but rather is a course design to let you find your full potential and while maintaining the essence of golf: to have fun. There is plenty of room to let you swing as hard as you want but still enough water and obstacles to make you think twice.
THINGS I LIKE - Bring your best friends and load up your favorite beverages because this is a golf course custom made for a LONG DAY of affordable golf and fun.
THINGS I DON'T LIKE - This is a very open and exposed setting. Be prepared for any changes in wind and temperature and don't forget the sunscreen.