Golf Has a Lot to Measure Up to at Scenic Lake Tahoe

By: Steve Habel


Lake Tahoe is, without a doubt, one of the most enchanting and gorgeous destinations in the United States. Its pristine, mountain-fed waters are kept that way by regulation, conservation efforts and the lovers of the mountains ringing the lake.

Edgewood Tahoe GC

Golf in the area is, as one would expect, equally picturesque. The courses here employ the Sierra Nevada and the lake as backdrops that both enhance the golf experience and drive players to the point of distraction. The surroundings here are all about yin and yang, setting a lofty bar for the courses in the region to measure up to.

In the case of Incline Village Golf Club's Championship course, which is set at more than 6,500 feet above sea level, and Edgewood Tahoe, with two holes hugging the banks of the big lake's southern edge, the courses are as iconic as their environs.

Perhaps the best complement one can give to these two courses is that both live up to their spectacular setting.

The Championship Course at Incline Village GC

Up & Down at Incline Village

The Championship course at Incline Village, situated about halfway between Reno and Stateline, Nev., on Lake Tahoe's northern banks, was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and opened in 1964. It, like so many of the courses of Jones that bear his mantra of "tough par, easy bogey," has always been a combination of beautiful vistas and demanding golf.

In 2003, the Championship course (one of two tracks at Incline Village) received a $5 million facelift by Sacramento-based golf course architect, Kyle Phillips. The freshening added new life to the course, granted players some new risk-reward opportunities over trees and bunkers, while placing a premium on accuracy and the short game.

Phillips' renovation restored several of Jones' original design characteristics, and updated the course's playability to provide a true test of golf with today's technology. The Championship course's short par-5s are now more challenging, with features like elevated, well-bunkered greens - some of which were reduced in size and/or shifted closer to hazards.

Jones designed the Championship course on property a mile from the lake. It drew water from two creeks, and he involved those creeks to make players think about strategy. The actual building of the course was arduous, as the back nine was routed through a field of boulder-strewn granite. More than six feet of fill was brought in to cover the rock, but the hard subsurface continues to present problems for the drainage and irrigation systems.

Playing at a par of 72 and carded at 7,106 yards from its back set of five tees, the Championship course carries a rating of 73.9 and a 146 Slope from the tips. The longest par-4 is a relatively mere - at this elevation anyway - 437 yards, and just three of the two-shotters exceed 430 yards, an indication that Jones expected players to golf their ball with some forethought.

No. 16 at Incline Village GC's Championship Course

The fairways on the Championship course are pine tree-lined and unusually generous for a mountain course, tightened only on the few occasions when the landing areas are pinched by bunkers. The front half climbs to higher elevations for better views of the lake, while the meandering creek is most prominent on the home half, where seven of the nine holes have water in play, usually near the greens.

The 514-yard par-5 second is the initial risk-reward hole. The dogleg-left moves around a complex of bunkers that are very difficult to carry from the tee. Staying just right of them, however, allows for a good shot at flying another bunker 30 yards short of the green.

The 432-yard third is a dogleg-right with OB left and deep bunkers right. From the tee, the player can lay up into a low area short of a fairway bunker, or try to fly it to set up a short iron into the green. The putting surface has a large tier in its midsection and slopes severely to the right.

Incline Village GC's Championship Course

The 203-yard sixth ranks as one of the most difficult par-3s anywhere. It plays slightly downhill to a green with no bailout short; a deep creek cuts right in front of the putting surface. Anything right or long will catch a bunker or deep rough. The green tilts radically as well. The seventh (a par-4 of 407 yards) is considered one of the prettiest holes here because of its lake views in the background.

The back nine is the cat's meow, with its first real challenge coming at the 494-yard 11th. This short but wonderful par-5 is all about the approach; either clear the creek with a long-iron or fairway wood or lay up. The 11th green is very shallow and multi-tiered, and there are bunkers at the rear to catch overly aggressive shots.

At 437 yards, the 15th is the longest par-4 on the course. From its slightly elevated tee the player will need to shape a shot to avoid bunkers and the creek crossing the fairway. The second is to a putting surface that slopes sharply right to left, with bunkers on both sides narrowing the focus.

The 175-yard 17th is the shortest par-3 here. The tee shot is through an incredibly tight chute of trees, with even the slightest push or pull sending balls caroming off the pines. There's also a large bunker short-right of the green, and anything long will end up in a hazard aft.

The uphill, dogleg-left 413-yard 18th is the toughest test. The best way to attack it is to take a shortcut over the bunker along the left, which also leaves a better angle into the green. On the right side of the landing area is a series of small ponds that extend up to the right of the green; adding to the equation is a large bunker short-right.

Incline Village was created in the 1960s as a vacation-home community and has only grown in popularity over the decades. Residents enjoy the use of two beaches on the lake, a recreation center as well as the two golf courses.

Its Championship course is a fine mountain-style layout. Golfweek magazine listed it at No. 8 on its listing of the "Best Courses You Can Play" in Nevada in 2013. For more information, visit www.golfincline.com.

Aerial View of Edgewod Tahoe GC

Edgewood's Best Holes Away from the Lake

Anyone who follows golf is familiar with Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, the site of the PGA Tour's annual American Century Celebrity Golf Championship. Most of the broadcast of the event centers on shots of celebrities - most of them very good golfers - and of boats bobbing in the gleaming lake alongside the 17th and 18th holes.

Located on the Nevada side of the California-Nevada border in Stateline, Edgewood Tahoe is the only course along the shores of Lake Tahoe. It was designed by George Fazio in 1968 and was updated and renovated in the late 1990s by his famous nephew Tom. Positioned just up the lake from the South Shore's casinos and hotels, its setting in a lush meadow is memorable, with the Sierras so close it seems they can be touched.

Edgewood Tahoe has hosted a variety of major golf events, including the U.S. Public Links in 1980 (the first USGA event ever held in Nevada) and the U.S. Senior Open in 1985, when Miller Barber captured the title as the only player in the field to break par on the demanding layout. And there's the Celebrity Golf Championship featured on NBC; the 2013 event will be held July 16-21.

The 17th at Edgewood Tahoe GC

There's more to this course than the show it puts on for television. Edgewood Tahoe is more playable than punitive, and asks players to hit a variety of shots (especially left-to-right) and have perseverance and skill on and around the greens. The par-72 itself can be quite a bear, especially when played from the tips at 7,552 yards. From there, it merits a rating of 75.1 and a Slope of 142. But there are three other sets of tees to make the course playable for all skills.

Early on, players get tested with the first par-5, the 599-yard third. The fairway is wide, with the adventurous given the option of flying a large bunker at the corner. The second shot must be played right of a water hazard and either short or past cross-bunkers. Positioning here is crucial as the uphill approach must be hit from a good angle to find a well-bunkered green.

The 472-yard par-4 sixth heads downhill to a broad fairway that narrows quickly for those hitting driver. Being aggressive is rewarded, however, as the approach plays over a lake that laps the front of the green. This putting surface, surrounded by sand, is deep and bears a lot of contour.

Edgewood Tahoe's 458-yard par-4 eighth is one of two holes (along with the 16th) with a lone tree in mid-fairway. A shot on either side of it sets up an ideal second. No. 10, a 441-yard par-4, is a slight dogleg-right where the tee ball must land between pines right and a lake left. The approach is played across part of the lake, which borders a rolling and multi-tiered putting surface.

The 214-yard par-3 12th descends to a shallow, steeply pitched green. The real attention- and ball-grabber here is a large bunker front-right with a tall pine. Shots hit short will find the trap, and those landing long must deal with a downhill pitch shot off a hill.

The 14th, a 447-yard par-4, embodies all that's great about Edgewood Tahoe. After a drive through a piney alleyway, the hole turns right to present a wide-open view of the green, with Lake Tahoe and Mt. Tallac directly behind it. This is a strikingly beautiful hole.

Approach to the 18th Green at Edgewood Tahoe GC

Edgewood Tahoe's impresses with its last few holes, with the lake in a starring role after supporting the cast through the first 16. No. 17 (a 207-yard par-3) is hard by the lakeshore and buffeted by winds off the water. While the focus is on the beach at the starboard side, a tall pine front-left of the green also influences play.

The finisher is a 572-yard par-5, whose fairway is sandwiched between a smaller lake left and the much larger Lake Tahoe right. The super-fine Edgewood Tahoe clubhouse rests behind the green. Because the golf here is so good, players may be less inclined to imbibe a few than drive straight to the golf shop and check if there's a chance for a replay round.

Edgewood Tahoe GC is meticulously maintained and arguably one of the most scenic golf courses in the world. It's rated by Golf Digest as one of "America's Top Golf Courses."

The launch of the 2013 season comes on the heels of more than $1.6 million in course improvements, including upgrades to the irrigation system and the incorporation of a drought- and stress-tolerant turf. For more information, go to www.edgewoodtahoe.com.

Steve Habel is a freelance writer contributing Cybergolf news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, and is a contributing writer for Golfers' Guide and Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) chronicles his many travels, including playing more than 600 golf courses since 2008. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.

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