The popularity of casino gambling has sparked golf growth, playing to two of man’s enduring obsessions-even in areas betterknown for world-class skiing and high-alpine meadows. Such a place is Lake Tahoe.
Straddling the state line between California and Nevada, this brilliant blue lake has the ingredients for a mile-high blowout: nearly 50 courses within a 90-minute drive of Reno, plenty of glitz and entertainment in Nevada, plus quiet, piney retreats on the California side. When the round is done, games of chance await at the booming casinos. (And you thought that slippery three-footer was risky.) The region divides neatly into two parts, North Shore and South Shore. Each has its benefits.
North Lake Tahoe:The North Shore is less developed and more laid-back than the South Shore. No Vegas-style casino strips here. Instead, you can venture to smaller haunts on the Nevada side where gambling is legal-places like the legendary Cal-Neva Casino, formerly owned by Frank Sinatra and a favorite hideaway of the Rat Pack in its heyday.
Two California ski resorts northwest of the lake, the Resort at Squaw Creek and Northstar-at-Tahoe, offer tight, strategic tests, but the region’s brightest story this summer is the scheduled reopening of the Championship Course at Incline Village on the Nevada side. This superb layout, set at 6,500 feet and renowned for its panoramic views, was described by designer Robert Trent Jones as his “ideal mountain course.”
Opened 40 years ago, the course has undergone a number of modifications. A $13 million renovation, which includes a new clubhouse called the Chateau, should reestablish this classic Trent Jones track as the North Shore’s finest challenge.
As before, slim pine-lined fairways, thick wiry rough and numerous water hazards emphasize accuracy, not distance. Strategically placed bunkers and slick, elevated greens add to the challenge. The Championship Course was also treated to a new landscaping scheme that has reintroduced native grasses, shrubs and flowers. The facility’s Mountain Course, a pleasant 3,513-yard, par-58 executive course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is a nice sideshow to the big course.
If you’re a Trent Jones fan and don’t want to stray too far from the tables, there’s a vintage track located a mere throw of the dice from the action. In fact, Lake Ridge Golf Course is set squarely within Reno city limits. This hilly 6,703-yard layout is known for its signature island green at the lengthy par-three 15th, which drops 120 feet from tee to green. The city views are splendid, while the greens are as smooth (but not as flat) as a felt blackjack table.
South Lake Tahoe:The reigning showgirl of the South Shore is Edgewood Tahoe. This world-class course is one of the few layouts where the golf experience and the natural setting are equally exalted. Set at 6,200 feet, this 7,445-yard masterpiece, laid out by George Fazio in 1968 and updated by his nephew Tom in the mid-1990s, hosts the annual American Century Championship, a celebrity golf event. Stretched across an open meadow and carved from a thick forest of conifers, Edgewood Tahoe will put most players’ softspikes to the fire. Only here, the drop-dead gorgeous setting tends to take the sting out of double bogeys. The finishing holes, routed along the shores of the lake, are exquisite. Edgewood Tahoe commands the highest greens fee in the area ($200), and tee times can be hard to come by, but the price and wait are worth it. Be sure to stick around for a sunset cocktail or meal in the lakeside clubhouse.
For an Old West experience, sidle over to Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch on the outskirts of Carson City. Laid out on a high-desert savannah by Johnny Miller and John Harbottle, this 7,358-yard spread is walled in by 10,000-foot peaks and offers stunning views of the valley. The opening holes trace the valley floor before climbing 350 feet up the sagebrush-covered foothills of the High Sierras, wherre mountain lions and golden eagles live. The course lays naturally on the land yet presents a mighty test. Creative shotmaking is required to score, and that includes a steady putter: The sloping bentgrass greens are as slick as polished marble.
Where to stay? Most of the major casino hotels are located in Stateline?Harrah’s, Harveys, Caesars Tahoe, Horizon Casino-Resort-all of which promote golf packages. If you like the ambience ofthe South Shore but can do without the nonstop clatter of the casinos, check out Embassy Suites in South Lake Tahoe on the California side. It’s a quiet refuge, yet a short drive to the action.