Like the old-time casino operators who tried to steal away each other's customers with freebies and special jackpots, golf courses in Northern Nevada traditionally promoted only themselves.
Today, course managers in and around Reno are increasingly turning to cooperative ventures aimed at establishing Lake Tahoe, the Carson Valley and the northern Sierra as a regional golfing destination.
Tourism officials say the more than 40 golf courses within a 90-minute drive of Reno are an important selling point as they work to diversify the casino-driven economy while competing for travelers in a slow economy.
"Twenty years ago, people used to come to Reno just to gamble. Now the casinos are big on golf packages," said Tom Brooks, director of golf at the Carson Valley Golf Course near Gardnerville.
"It has changed drastically, all in just the past six or seven years," said Brooks, whose course was the only one in the Carson City area when it opened in 1963.
"We went from being starved for golf to being healthily spoiled. Instead of butting heads and trying to rob rounds from each other, we decided to form a co-op," he said.
The Carson Valley's Divine Nine and Golf the High Sierra are two of the co-ops formed in and around Lake Tahoe and the Sierra.
Co-op officials claim their variety of golfing opportunities is hard to match — from a $35 round under the shade of tall cottonwoods along the Carson River to a $50 outing among the high-desert sage brush, a $75 mountain course meandering through towering pines or up to a $200 investment to play on the breathtaking shores of Lake Tahoe.
Courses include designs by Robert Trent Jones, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller and Peter Jacobsen.
"The variety of courses is one thing. The variety of climate is another," said Don "Snoshu" Thompson, a local businessman and golf writer.
"If you go to Myrtle Beach (S.C.) in the summer, it's always going to be muggy. In the desert, if it's hot, it's hot everywhere in the desert," he said. "Here, if it's hot, we go up in the hills to play. If it's cold, we go down in the valley."
Thompson hit tee shots at 40 different courses in a 13-hour span in August 1998 to bring attention to Reno-Tahoe courses. In April 1999, he teed off at 27 courses and made runs at 13 ski resorts in the same day.
"I've played golf in five continents and 12 countries. I hit a golf ball off the Great Wall in China. But I don't think you could do this anywhere else in the world," Thompson said at the time.
Since then, he said he's seen more cooperation among former competitors.
"There is more organization than there has ever been before. Now they're going after a national market," Thompson said.
More than a dozen travel writers and sports reporters are taking part in this year's Divine Nine promotion. On Tuesday, the tour will stop at each of the nine courses in the Carson City area, with golfers playing two holes at each.
"The tour really helps increase the awareness of the variety of golf courses we have and the proximity to lodging properties," said Bill Henderson, sales and marketing director of the Carson Valley Inn. "We've gotten some excellent coverage in the media, major travel magazines and golf magazines as well as newspapers."
The writers have different views about whether the region will succeed in becoming a recognized golf destination.
"They already have," said Ted Johnson, who writes for Sports Illustrated and took a tour sponsored by Golf the High Sierra this summer. "There are some very good courses with stunning settings. The value is there, too."
But Johnson said the courses are quite spread out.
"It takes awhile to get from, say, Coyote Moon (near Truckee) to Genoa, or from D'Andrea (in Sparks) to Whitehawk (in Clio, Calif.)," he said.
Mike Bailey, equipment editor for PGA Magazine, said after a Divine Nine visit last year that hotel-casino lodging combined with reasonable green fees make the area attractive to golfers.
"People don't think of this as a golf destination," he said. "But if you get some hard-core golfers to come here and play six or seven courses, it's going to be a place they want to return."