Whatever your skill level and time schedule, you’ll find a course to accommodate you around Lake Tahoe.
By Cuyler Gibbons
Golf is an old game, with the first standardized rules dating back to 1744. In that time, both the course and the game have evolved considerably.
As equipment has improved and the athletic approach to the game has grown more sophisticated, golf course design has evolved to defend against the improved technology and physicality, principally by getting longer—and more penal.
There’s certainly a place for the “Championship Layout” design mentality, where even a pro’s game will be challenged, but more often than not, for the average player those courses can be more like the Bataan Golf March than a day of recreation. Fortunately, with 44 courses within 90 minutes of South Lake Tahoe, whether you truly enjoy the ultimate challenge or prefer a casual round on a more forgiving layout, one thing all Tahoe courses have in common is the decidedly uncommon natural surroundings from which they emerge. From forested mountain slopes and high upland meadows to the shores of Lake Tahoe itself, there is a course for every school of golf.
“Muni golf,” a pejorative to some, connoting flat uninteresting design and unkempt conditions, is also a badge of honor to others. Public golf is not only the most affordable option, it’s where many people get their first taste of the game. The Lake Tahoe Golf Course is a municipal course designed by “the dean of California golf architects,” William Bell. Surrounded by often snowcapped peaks and rolling through a mountain meadow, the course is also an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary where wildlife abounds. Bell’s skill, evident in famous designs across Southern California, here displays an old-school preference for strategic shot-making over brute force. The fairways are generous and the greens large, but there is ample rough, and the Upper Truckee River comes into play on seven holes. The most difficult hazard may be the scenery; it can be hard to concentrate on golf when surrounded by so much natural beauty.
The par-71, 6,741-yard 18 holes | par 71
Yardage | 5649-6683
Slope | 115-124
Ratings | 67.1-71.3
Golf remains an immensely popular pastime and recreational activity but modern society has created new challenges for the continued popularity of the game. The time required to play a round of golf has long been an issue, and, in a resource-conscious world, golf courses are difficult to maintain responsibly. Both problems have been exacerbated by the trend toward longer and more difficult layouts.
Par three, or “executive” length courses are a potential answer, but by and large such courses hold no appeal for the “serious” golfer because of their typically unimaginative design aesthetic. Enter the Incline Village Mountain Course. Measuring just over 3,000 yards with a par of 58, it was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., one of the best-known and most prolific of American golf course architects. The Mountain Course is at the highest elevation of any course in the Nevada and Tahoe basin, and Jones brought all of the same design care and attention to this executive layout as to any of his hundreds of full-size projects. Yes, its short, but the copious pines, elevation changes, and deep bunkers require superior accuracy. What it doesn’t require is a four- or five-hour commitment.
18 holes – par 58
Yardage | 3029 – 3519
Slope | 97 -104
Ratings | 58.9 – 60.2
Named one of America’s top 100 public courses by Golf Digest, Edgewood-Tahoe, a George Fazio-designed layout, is not only a true championship test of golf but one of the most beautiful courses in the country. Site of the U.S. Senior Open in 1985, Edgewood also hosts the American Century Celebrity Challenge, where celebrities and athletes from other sports tee up for a large and enthusiastic gallery.
Tee boxes are ample, allowing the length to be adjusted for all skill levels, but the views are consistently scratch no matter where you stand. Nearly every hole brings a gasp, and will have you reaching for a camera. The final three holes are the real stars; Lake Tahoe comes into play on all three, even washing across the green side cart path beside 18. Nearly 7,500 yards from the “tips” (Edgewood-Tahoe can play as much as 2,000 yards shorter), this course can school even the pros. Come in spring when the surrounding mountains are snowcapped and summer crowds have not yet arrived.
18 holes – par 72
Yardage | 5343 – 7529
Slope | 133-145
Ratings | 71.1-75.5