LAKE TAHOE (KGO) --There is a benefit to our recent, light Sierra snow winter. You'll find it in lusher fairways and smoother greens that suffered less, and recovered more quickly.
I took advantage of these conditions in late June, playing Edgewood in the south, and then moving to the California side for Old Greenwood, The Links at Squaw Creek, Gray's Crossing, and Coyote Moon.
Here are some photographs and impressions from a relaxing and enjoyable getaway. Tahoe Golf has never been better.
COYOTE MOON GOLF CLUB
Public, 18 holes
Depending upon the state of your swing, your game, and your patience, you can have either a very good round at Coyote Moon or else an extremely frustrating one. Either way, you will appreciate the scenery and challenges.
Architect Brad Bell sculpted a course that presents wonderful shot angles and excellent birdie opportunities, assuming you keep your golf ball in the landing areas. Err right, left, long, or short, however, and Coyote Moon will be all about struggle. You'll tread a thin line between safe and sorry. I have played the course two times in the past year, scoring in the mid-70's one time, and close to triple digits the other.
What does that tell you?
Three of Coyote Moon's holes are particularly memorable. You will play them back-to-back-to back.
The 519 yard, par five, 12th, plays down a hill and then up as a gentle-but-frightening, dogleg right. Strategically, it is not particularly difficult. The fairway broadens in the middle. Manufactured mounds may alter your stances. But, you will remember the elevated green set among large, granite boulders. It can be like an amphitheater of either the futile or sublime.
Ever watched a golf ball plunge 200 feet? You will on the 227 yard, par-3, 13th, which features a vertical drop to an oblong green fronted by a creek. Play the shot with less club, and then order a pizza and wait for it while the ball descends. It's darn good drama.
The dogleg left, par-4, 14th, can be the simplest hole on the course. Good players need little more than a mid-iron into the narrowing, uphill fairway. Then, they use a wedge to navigate the forced carry across Trout Creek to a wide, narrow green. It's a beautiful hole.
At Coyote Moon, aren't they all?
When paying three figures for a round, a golfer should expect an interesting layout with all the proper amenities. Old Greenwood provides them. These eighteen signature holes by Jack Nicklaus wind through the pines, around lakes, into valleys, and over mountains. They will tease you, trick you, taunt you, torment you, and thrill you. Play this course ten times, and it remains interesting.
Old Greenwood is tight in places. As with ever other course in the area, holes do not play nearly as long as they look because of the thinner air at altitude. It's a ten percent distance bonus. Or maybe ten years. Choose appropriate teeing grounds and adjust your club selection.
I prefer Old Greenwood's front nine to the back, though both are fun. The 6th, a 578/568/500/436 yard, par five, is a splendid hole, snaking left around a lake, with water becoming a factor at 236 yards from the pin. A big hitter could easily dunk one with a drive pulled left. Or, if he lands safely, he can try to reach the green in two with a long shot over the lake.
Mere mortals among us should break the hole into three shots. The 6th is the best hole on a course that does not have a bad one.
THE LINKS AT SQUAW CREEK
Squaw Valley, California
When you mentally conjure Squaw Valley, it's natural to think, first, of winter sports, and this area's history as home for the 1960 Olympics.
You may not have played golf, there. If so, then you already know about The Links at Squaw Creek and its quirky, sometimes infuriating challenges.
Artchitect Robert Trent Jones ,Jr. put his name on this course, but Kyle Phillips did much of the design work, which adds to the allure of this track. Phillips was working for Jones at the time, then opened his own shop, and has since built a worldwide reputation of his own with courses like Kings Barns in Scotland.
Squaw Creek is all about your tee shots and restraint in making them. Accurate golfers might use their drivers three times during a round -- twice at the par fives, and once at the 17th or 18th, depending upon the wind. Otherwise, leave the big dawg in your bag. Play long irons or a lofted wood.
Greedy golfers do not fare well on this narrow, mounded golf course. Miss a fairway and it will cost at least a stroke. As there is no out-of-bounds, play lost balls as lateral hazards.
From the tips, Squaw Creek's par-71 measures 6931 yards, and rates 72.9, with a slope of 143.
Expect a more natural look as you play through this wetlands meadow. The course uses no fertilizers or pesticides. It's golf a-la-natural, so embrace the dandelions.
EDGEWOOD TAHOE GOLF COURSE
Edgewood Tahoe is certainly one of the must-plays in this region. Your round may cost more than $200 a person in primetime, but that's the going rate for scratching this this George Fazio design off your bucket list.
Part of Edgewood's appeal stems from the nationally televised, American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, played on the course every July. After playing the course, you can say you chewed it up less than, say, Charles Barkley, but probably more than some of the more accomplished celebrity players.
Edgewood is a regular on Golf Digest's Top 100 list. As one of those panelists, I can testify to its pristine conditioning, the sensational views of crystalline Lake Tahoe, snowcapped peaks, and an interesting-yet-playable series of holes. Edgewood is a fader's paradise. The majority of its holes swing from left to right.
The most memorable, though, is a straight shot along Lake Tahoe's south shore. The 107-207 yard, par-3, 17th is fortified heavily with bunkers in front and back, with a beach on the right side. It's not the best hole on the course, just the one you will talk most about.
Play it once. Watch it on television for the rest of your life.
Best to make par.
THE GOLF CLUB AT GRAY'S CROSSING
I found Gray's Crossing to be a pleasant surprise. This Jim Hardy/Peter Jacobsen design winds through a few homes and looks manufactured in places, but it's a lot of fun, and, with four sets of tees, it tests golfers of every level, especially the longer hitters.
The 206-340 yard, par-4, 6th, is a traditional risk-reward hole, memorable mostly for a cluster of bunkers guarding the right side of the fairway. A good drive challenges them, and lands some twenty yards short of the green.
Grays Crossing has two par-5 holes that stretch more than 600 yards from the tips. The 452-624 yard, par-5, 7th plays into an exceptionally beautiful, two tiered green complex framed with bunkers, rocks and wildflowers. Take a deep breath when you get there, and maybe a photograph, too. I did. Even at high noon, it pops the frame.
One could argue that Gray's Crossing saves its best hole for the last. The 414-613 yard, par-5, 18th combines brawn, beauty, and strategy. The fairway splits, requiring golfers to either cross wetlands to the right fairway with their second, or else to carry that hazard when approaching the green with their third. It's a strategic decision that could make the difference between a win or a loss in any close match.