Golfing around Lake Tahoe

Coyote Moon
Old Greenwood
Schaffer's Mill
Tahoe Donner
The Resort at Squaw Creek
Edgewood At Tahoe Golf Course

Has your swing lost some pop? Does the ball not fly as far as it did in the old days? What would you do for ten percent more distance?

Some of us might sell our souls. The smart ones, however, drive three hours up Interstate 80 and seek the higher, more empowering, six-thousand feet of altitude around Lake Tahoe. We're not just talking distance, anymore. For some of us, it's like turning the clock back by 20 years.

Whether staying in a tent out of your car, or a home or cabin, or a big casino like Harrah's or Harvey's, or a posh resort like The Resort at Squaw Creek, the Tahoe region is rife with quality golf experiences. Here is a quick guide based on three, golf-filled days in bright sun and warm, dry, blissfully forgiving thin air.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

As the home course of the annual Celebrity Golf Championship, these are certainly the best-known eighteen holes in the region. Edgewood is essentially a resort course with immaculate conditioning and some stunningly beautiful surroundings.

Everyone knows Edgewood's iconic 107-207 yard, par-3, 17th, which plays along the shore of Lake Tahoe. The hole is picturesque, but not difficult, even if the water hazard is prehistoric in origin. If you're not intimidated knowing that the likes of Michael Jordan or Michael Chiklas played this hole, then you will do fine.

Many holes play right-to-left at Edgewood, beginning with the par-4, 343-436 yard, par-4, 1st. Despite the repetitive pattern, the scenery is so distracting that you are not likely to notice. In designing the course that way, noted architect Tom Fazio created a fader's dream come true, provided those fades do not become full-on slices.

Edgewood's most beautiful hole falls into that category, the 315-472 yard, par-4, 6th. It's downhill, sweeping right, past a bunker, along or over a lake into the green. The hole offers risk, reward, and options. When you finish, look back from the hill beyond, and admire the hole you just played, especially around sunset when that lake reflects both trees and sky.

Truckee, California

You will appreciate architect Brad Bell's routing through the mountains more with every playing. Coyote Moon is by no means easy, but offers four sets of tees for players of all levels, and drama from whichever they choose to play. Our group moved up a set and was happy to have done so. On a course that can be so visually challenging, it alleviated some of the pressure.

Coyote Moon will test a player with uneven and manufactured terrain in some spots, even after decent shots. Still, the course looks more intimidating than it plays, assuming a you can hit the ball straight.

Coyote Moon begins with a classic par 5/4/3 sequence, just to get a player wet behind the ears. The front nine is formidable. The back nine stiffens with one of the more memorable one-two punches in California. As Pebble Beach has its 7th and 8th, and Cypress Point its 15th and 16th, Coyote Moon has its 12th and 13th.

The par-5, 387-19 yard, 12th, presents simply enough from the tee, with a downhill, fading tee shot into what looks like a narrow, slight dogleg right. Trees pinch that fairway around the landing area. Your second and third shots play uphill into a spectacular green complex framed by massive granite boulders. Try not to hit into them, or this Sierra dream scene may devolve into a pinball machine.

The 108-227 yard, par-3, 13th, is more than a signature hole. It's the most memorable shot in the region. Where else can an average guy hit his 8-iron 225 yards into what looks like a tiny little green far, far below? Experts advise giving the shot 2-3 clubs less. The 13th is extreme enough to almost be a caricature. Balls climb into the bright blue sky and then plunge straight down. They do not so much land on this green as practically marinate it.

Truckee, California

We never saw Jack Nicklaus the day we played Old Greenwood, although we heard so much about him that he might as well have been there. For example, when I asked, the starter on the first tee, "What's the altitude adjustment---ten percent?"

"Jack says, 'twelve percent'," he corrected.

Old Greenwood is a Nicklas signature layout, so expect to pay top dollar with all the proper amenities. Jack's eighteen holes wind through the pines, around lakes, into valleys, and over mountains. Old Greenwood will tease you, trick you, taunt you, torment you, and thrill you. Play this course ten times, and it won't get old.

The front nine feels more interesting than the back. The 436-578 yard, par-5, 6th, is spectacular. It snakes around a lake, with water becoming a threat at 236 yards from a middle pin. A big hitter could easily dunk one with a drive pulled left. But, if he hits it big and straight, he can reach the green in two with a long iron over the water. It's an exciting shot, a 'what the heck' shot, and possibly a four- dollar shot if you play premium golf balls.

Having challenged the lake in one direction, Jack demands that you do so, again, on the 187/161/138/110 yard, par-3, 7th. It slopes steeply from right to left, with fortifications in front. It's almost a Redan.

Your favorite hole may be the 345/330/270/221 yard, par-4, 11th, which bends right around yet another lake, and begs to be challenged. A conservative player can use a mid or long iron, and then wedge over the water. A bolder player can opt to drive past it, down the left side of the fairway. From the front or middle tees, a gambler could conceivably drive the green. Weigh the risk, however. There's the water in front, junk to the right, and a steep slope of sticky rough, behind.

Truckee, California

The sign at the entrance, here, should read, "Welcome to the course formerly known as Timilick Lake Tahoe." This is a John Harbottle/Johnny Miller design with plenty of risk and reward, often created by water flanking six of the greens. Those lakes are a redundant, but pulse-quickening theme.

The front nine plays through mostly level terrain and some very nice new homes before climbing into a more rustic environs. The most memorable holes at Schaffer's Mill are par-4's, the 9th, 10th, 15th, and 17th. Each is radically different.

The 370-480 yard, 9th, plays straight-away, but it's one of those water holes. A lake enters play on the left side at about 115 yards, and wraps around the back of the green. From behind, that green looks like an island.

The 335-445 yars, par-4, 10th isn't particularly challenging, but is very pretty. This dogleg left winds uphill across a creek, with two bunkers guarding the inner elbow. The green is well-defended.

The 295-370 yard, par-4 15th, is gorgeous and stout, with perfect strategic bunkering and another uphill shot into a well-defended green. This may be the best hole on the course.

The 350-435 yard, par-4, 17th, feels a bit conjured, but it's a lot of fun. From the tee, play a blind shot over a hill that rollicks down the other side to yet another green fronted by a lake.

See the photos to appreciate the descriptions.

Truckee, California

At less than $100 per round, this is one of the better values in the region. In recent years, this Cary Bickler design did not receive much publicity despite being a stout, straightforward, test of golf. Tahoe Donner is not as pretty, spectacular, or overt as its competition. What Tahoe Donner lacks in water and visual excitement, it makes up in shot values and resistance to par.

The par-4, 359-452, uphill, par-4, 1st may put you off at the start. It's uphill, narrow, and feels more like a short par-5, but once you're finished, relax. It's the number one handicap. From there, Tahoe Donner gets easier, although not easy.

As a bookend, the par-4, 340-417 yard, par-4, 18th, plays downhill to a landing area defined by a creek in front and bunkers long. If the shot scares you, lay back with an iron in front of the creek.

Tahoe Donner is plenty of fun and quite challenging. It's a favorite of the locals. Play it once or twice, you will appreciate why. After your round, check out the fish tacos. They're awesome.

Squaw Valley

Golf in the Squaw Valley will never be as famous as the skiing, there, but if you're staying in the area, this Robert Trent Jones, Jr. quirky design provides unique, and sometimes infuriating challenges.

Actually, it's a Kyle Phillips design. He did most of the work while employed by Jones before branching off and making a name for himself with such world-famous courses as Kings Barns in Scotland

Squaw Creek is all about placing your tee shots. On most holes, keep your driver in your bag. The place is a good option for shorter, straighter hitters. Greedy golfers do not fare well on this narrow, mounded, and sometimes confounding golf course. If you miss a fairway, it will cost you at least a stroke, and possibly your ball. As there is no out-of-bounds, play those lost balls as lateral hazards.

Case in point, after a playing partner hit yet another wayward shot, the marshal approached and gave him four 'experienced' balls. "We know where people hit 'em, and we know where to find them," he told us.

We found the par-5's at Squaw Creek to be the most interesting.

The 554/525/495 yard, par -5, 5th plays as a mild, but blind dogleg right down a hill. It's a narrow fairway with the hotel and a severe drop to the left. A good drive leaves a shot of about 200 yards to the hole. Go for it. You're on vacation, and have nothing to lose.

The 513/496/480 yard par-5 13th, tees into a valley, and then routes up to an elevated green. Again, for those with a little pop, it's reachable.

In late afternoons, the signature, 124-210 yard, par-3, 6th, is as pretty a hole as you will play anywhere. It's a simple shot over water, set against a backdrop of the mountains and ski lifts. Catch your breath and just swing.

If you like links-style golf, Squaw Creek offers a mountain version in its flatter areas. The fairways have a certain capricious quality to them. You might hit a questionable shot and find yourself safe. Or, you may hit a fairly good one, and lose your ball to a bad or never-ending bounce. The course requires patience. If you can't find it in this gorgeous meadow, take up automobile racing.

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