September is a sweet time in the High Sierra. The summer crowds have fled but the snow has yet to fall and the air has taken on an autumnal crispness. Winter may be coming, but not for a few months. And for now there is golf and plenty of it, etched along the peaks and valleys of Lake Tahoe, a region with no shortage of post-round appeal. In preparation for your excursion up, up, up into the mountains, we’ve mapped out a plan for a three-day trip.
If you’re like us, when you picture Tahoe golf, you sketch a mental postcard of mountains, lakes and fairways, blighted in the foreground by Charles Barkley’s swing. That scene unfolds each summer at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, where Sir Charles joins Steph Curry, Tony Romo and a gaggle of A-listers at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament, an event now verging on its 30th year. Barkley’s action sure is ugly, but the course itself is stunning, set hard along Lake Tahoe, astride the California-Nevada border, backed by Sierra peaks. It’s the perfect spot to start your thin-air swing.
Though there’s no bad hour to tee it up at Edgewood, we recommend the bookends of the day, when the winds are down and the grounds are cast in dappled light. Celebrities or not, the course is kept in tournament condition, its fairways pure, its greens rolling faster than a black-diamond run. Nearly every hole cries out for a shout on Instagram, but none more so than the par-five 16th, which points due west through a colonnade of conifers on a lilting path toward the lake.
Designed by George Fazio, Edgewood opened to the public in 1968. And while its essential character remains unchanged, several of its holes have been reworked for the better, including the dogleg par-four ninth, which now bends closer to the water. That improved routing was adopted recently to make room for the Lodge at Edgewood, a lakeside retreat of unpretentious luxury that that welcomed its first guests in 2017.
Replete with a spa, a rustic-chic bistro and a heated outdoor poor that overlooks a secluded stretch of sandy beach, the Lodge represents an understated departure along the South Shore, a region with a plenitude of hotel casinos. It’s tranquil, tasteful, a place apart. Word to the wise, though: accommodations book up quickly. That’s what happens when Travel & Leisure puts you atop its 2018 list of best hotel and resorts in the United States.
If the Lodge is sold out, you won’t have to pitch a tent: there’s Harrah’s—among others— across the street.
Post-Round Wind: True to its name, Van Sickle Bi-State Park spreads into California and Nevada. Directly accessible behind Harrah’s and Gondola Vista, it beckons you to take an easy two-mile walk to an alpine waterfall and views of the Lake.
Were you up late playing blackjack? A brisk walk in the fresh air ought to get you back in action. Or maybe a big breakfast and a jolt of caffeine. Revive Coffee & Wine is a local favorite for fresh-made morning fuel, its menu ranging from a “Crack of Dawn” croissant, stuffed with bacon, ham, egg and spinach, to a hearty wedge of toast topped California-style, with goat cheese, avocado, arugula and pesto. Grab some grub, gulp down your coffee and you’re good to go.
But where, exactly? Great golf awaits in almost any direction. A drive north into Truckee takes you toward a constellation of high-end private courses, from Lahontan and Schaffer’s Mill to Martis Camp, where the initiation fee has a comma and six digits. Nice work, if you can get it. And if not, there’s no shame in pegging it at Coyote Moon, a top-notch public track that combines a killer routing with endless Sierra vistas and the ego-boosting thrill of golf at altitude.
Up here, drives are exciting. They’re also scenic. To wit: The 90-minute road trip from Lake Tahoe to Portola, which leads you through a frontier landscape of ranches, pasture and small hitching-post towns. By journey’s end, you might be whistling the theme song from Bonanza. And there’s no shame in that either, so long as you pipe down when get to the 1st tee.
The quietude of the courses here is stunning.
At Whitehawk Ranch Golf Club, for instance, a sylvan layout in the sleepy town of Clio, the soundtrack is the trill of birdsong and the gurgling of creeks. At Grizzly Ranch, meanwhile, graceful homes are being built, but they don’t encroach the course, a intensely entertaining Bob Cupp design where each rollicking hole bucks and rolls in lovely isolation.
The whole place has the feel of the Ponderosa. If you come across a guy playing in jeans and cowboy boots, it could be Van Batchelder, an outsize character, plucked from Wild West central casting, who doubles as Grizzly’s director of golf. But it could also be a lot of other folks from town.
That town, Portola, sits a few miles up the road, along a fork in the Feather River. Among its draws is the Western Pacific Railroad Museum, a slice of living history that houses one of the country’s largest collections of diesel locomotives; and the Chalet View Lodge, a boutique resort with its own nine-hole par-3 course and a terrific onsite restaurant with an ever-shifting menu of locally sourced Cal-Med cuisine.
Post-Round Unwind: The Hangar Taproom and Bottle Shop in South Lake pulls a rotating selection of 30 beers beers on tap, in a setting enlivened by corn hole games and bocce, and a patio warmed by a fire pit. If you haven’t had enough of actual golf, there’s a putt-putt course right next door.
“Invest in land,” Mark Twain advised. “They’re not making it anymore.” He probably regretted not snatching up acreage when he swung through Tahoe a century-plus ago. Local real estate hasn’t gotten any cheaper.
Which doesn’t mean there aren’t budget-friendly spots to play.
You’ll find one on the North Shore, at Tahoe City Golf Course, a humble 9-hole muni with a vibrant history. The oldest Tahoe-area course, it was designed in 1918 by May “Queenie” Dunn-Webb, who was born in England to a pedigree golf family before crossing the Atlantic and becoming the first woman golf professional in the United States.
All this summer, as Tahoe City commemorated its centennial, the course reduced its greens fees on Throwback Thursdays, charging a paltry $19.18. But even at full price, a round here is a bargain: $35 gets you nine unhurried holes in the fresh air.
In the 1950s, when the boys from the Rat Pack were in full stride, Tahoe City was the site of big money matches involving Frankie, Sammy, Dino and Bob Hope. Harvey Ward and Ken Venturi also got in on the action.
But not Ben Crenshaw. He was born in 1952.
Gentle Ben matured into a two-time Masters winner, and, more recently, into a big-time architect, working in tandem with Bill Coore. The dynamic duo of modern minimalism, Coore and Crenshaw have made their mark from the Carolinas to Kapalua. They’ve also left an imprint in the mountains with Clear Creek, a rough-cut beauty that serves as centerpiece to a private residential community, along the eastern shoulder of the Carson Range. In true Coore-Crenshaw style, the layout surges and spills naturally along the lilting slopes, without ever once feeling forced or goofy. It’s golf architecture as artistry — an elevated course in rarefied air.
Because it’s private, you’ll have to work your Rolodex to play it. Or rustle up the $40,000 you’ll need to join.
Membership has privileges, and not just at the golf course, but also by Lake Tahoe, a 20 minute drive away. Here, along the water, right next door to Edgewood, Clear Creek has taken ownership of Twin Pines, a historic property designed by Julia Morgan, the architect best known for dreaming up Hearst Castle. Once a private home, Twin Pines now serves as a rustic-chic redoubt for Clear Creek members, with its own stretch of beachfront, a pier, a boat and a fleet of paddle boards and kayaks.
On a September afternoon, with the sun slanting low over the lake, you can sit beside the water, buffered from the winds, adjacent to the course where Sir Charles and Co. compete, and feel as if the world is all your own.
Celebrity has upsides. But it’s got nothing on anonymity.
Post-Round Unwind: If the Lake is smooth, rent a kayak at Round Hill Pines, a few miles into Nevada, or stop to nosh and sip at their new restaurant/deck bar.