October 10, 2011 - 11:18 pm
It’s early Thursday morning, and I’m on the loneliest highway in America heading toward Ely. Earlier in the week, I played golf in the boonies, in Mesquite, Hawthorne and Fallon. Today, it’s the White Pine Golf Course in Ely. Stick with me as I drive this loneliest Highway 50 to Ely, some 255 miles away, for a great story.
Once a Pony Express route, only the small towns of Austin (pop. 270) and Eureka (pop. 500) keep the drive somewhat interesting.
Ely was established in the 1870s as a stagecoach and Pony Express stopover. Copper mining led to further development in the early 1900s. It has grown to be the largest city in eastern Nevada with a population of more than 4,000. Historic significance, -9-.
The White Pine Golf Course was built in 1957 and features 18 holes stretching to more than 6,800 yards, playing to par 72. The course has a slope of 188 and a rating of 71.1.
The 18 holes are wide open, and the layout has a minimum amount of hazards. I counted just two sand traps on the front nine. Big hitters will have a field day here. The clubhouse/pro shop is welcoming and serves as a mainstay for community activities. Its beer is as cold and hot dogs as tasty as any course in Las Vegas. Rating, -7-.
The best is yet to come, however. Friday is golf in Pioche.
Pioche is home to the Lincoln County Golf Course. In 1860, Pioche was a mining camp with a reputation of being one rough town. History has it that 72 people died there before a natural death was recorded. A report in 1873 stated that half of the community were thieves, scoundrels or murderers. And the population was more than 8,000 at the time.
Today, Pioche is a remnant of a ghost town and historic curiosity, with only 800 people living there. Historic significance, -9-. But here’s the problem: There are a lot of golf lovers in the area. And the nearest course is more than 100 miles away in Ely. What to do? Build a golf course, of course!
And that’s what Richard and Peggy Decker did 10 years ago. With the help of 25 or so volunteers, they carved from the rugged desert terrain a par-29, nine-hole course measuring 1,656 yards. Don’t get me wrong; there is not a lot of grass on the course — very little, in fact. No clubhouse, no waterfalls, no golf carts, no beverage carts, not even an attendant. The fairways are desert landscape minus the local shrubbery.
“It was an undertaking of love,” Peggy said. “Ten years ago, we put an ad in the newspaper, and 100 people showed up to help build the course. Groundbreaking was July 1, 2001. We held our first tournament on Labor Day of that year.”
The tees and greens are constructed with artificial grass. Special take-along pads of the fake grass are available for use during your round so you won’t damage your clubs.
“It’s a most unique golf course, that’s for sure,” Peggy said. “It’s not beautiful, but it’s a real tough layout. We refer to it as the golf course of the future, considering the lack of water.”
The county owns the land. It is leased to the Parks and Recreation Department, which allows the course to operate. Donations for play are requested through a donation box at the course.
That first tournament turned 10 years old this year.
“We held the tournament on Labor Day. Sixty-six players showed up from across Southern Nevada,” Peggy said. “The name of the tournament? The ‘Do It In the Dirt Classic.’ ” Rating, -10-.
The love of the pure game of golf is readily apparent at the Lincoln County Golf Course. With just 800 residents, this could just be the world’s loneliest golf course, too.
My last thought for Peggy? What if you were bowling fanatics? Yikes.
John Asay is a longtime golfer and local freelance writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.