From Bing Crosby to Rita Hayworth to Dean Martin and beyond, Tahoe’s golf courses are steeped in history
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This story has been adapted from the current 2016 summer edition of Tahoe Magazine, a product of the Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe Action.
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TAHOE-TRUCKEE — Renowned as a golfer’s paradise, the Tahoe-Truckee region of the Sierra is home to about 30 beautiful courses that offer stunning views and challenging fairways, many of them designed by top tier professional players or noted course architects.
There is a public or private golf course here for every ability, budget and mood. From the challenging world-class championship level to hackers who enjoy 9 holes in their sneakers, no matter how you slice it, playing golf in the beautiful Tahoe Sierra is a winning game.
There are too many to mention here, but I can highlight a few of the region’s popular public courses — and a bit of history behind each:
Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course
Edgewood at Stateline on the South Shore may arguably be the most well-known golf course in the area for its role hosting the annual American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament.
Well-publicized and nationally televised by NBC Sports, it showcases players who are top professional athletes and sports figures, as well as the hottest music and film entertainers from around the country. The tournament is a made-for-TV event and the nation’s premier celebrity golf fundraising effort that raises money for local and national charities.
This year, the star-studded competition celebrates its 26th anniversary. Among the 80-plus sports and entertainment figures expected in 2016 are Charles Barkley, Aaron Rodgers, Ray Romano, John Elway, Jerry Rice and Robert Wagner. The tournament is held on a 54-hole modified Stableford format, with a top purse of $600,000 for the winner.
Learn more: edgewoodtahoe.com
Lake Tahoe Golf Course
In South Lake Tahoe is the Lake Tahoe Golf Course, a scenic par 71, 6,471-yard championship course designed by William Bell. Each tee box offers jaw-dropping views of nearby mountain peaks that are among the highest in the Tahoe Basin. The Upper Truckee River runs along the fairways, nourishing lush foliage and aquatic wildlife
Water is a prevailing theme on this course and it comes into play on 15 of the 18 holes, offering challenges to golfers of all abilities. The Lake Tahoe Golf Course is the only one at South Lake Tahoe to earn Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary status for its commitment to protecting the environment.
Learn more: laketahoegc.com
Incline Village Championship and Mountain Golf Courses
On Lake Tahoe’s North Shore, the community of Incline Village offers two signature courses that are open to the public. Its par 72 Championship Course is a classic Robert Trent Jones Sr. design with a distinctive layout and expansive views of Lake Tahoe. The nearby Mountain Course is an 18-hole, par 58 executive course that features old growth trees, elevation changes, and a fun, affordable atmosphere; it was also designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Learn more: yourtahoeplace.com/golf-incline
Old Greenwood & Gray’s Crossing Golf Courses
Public golf course opportunities in the Truckee area range from the 9-hole, 3,018-yard Ponderosa, to a pair of par 72 beauties in the Tahoe Donner subdivision, Coyote Moon and Tahoe Donner. Northstar California and the Resort at Squaw Creek each boast courses with stunning layouts, challenges and views.
Just a mile or so from downtown Truckee are two world-class courses — Old Greenwood and The Golf Club at Gray’s Crossing. Old Greenwood is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Designed Course, while Gray’s Crossing, designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy, is fun, but challenging.
Both of these courses are Audubon International Gold Certified Sanctuaries, representing the highest level of environmental commitment. Only 16 courses in the world have achieved this level of distinction.
The name “old Greenwood” dates back to the 1840s when mountain man Caleb Greenwood helped guide the first wagon train up the Truckee River and into California. The 1844 Stephens Party is credited with opening the legendary California Trail. Joseph Gray was the first settler of Truckee, who in 1863 built a toll station and an early hostelry along the Truckee River for weary travelers.
But in the Truckee-Tahoe region, it’s actually three 9-hole golf courses which dot the perimeter of Big Blue that hold the strongest links to Tahoe’s early history.
Learn more: oldgreenwood.com | golfintahoe.com/Grays_Crossing
Old Brockway Golf Course
The venerable Old Brockway Golf Course located near the corner of highways 267 and 28 in Kings Beach on the North Shore boasts more colorful history on its nine holes than any other set of links at Lake Tahoe.
The cast of characters who have strolled Old Brockway’s fairways is a veritable “who’s who” of noteworthy celebrities from 20th century America. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Dean Martin are among many who have enjoyed the scenic course.
Designed by the renowned Scottish architect John Duncan Dunn, Old Brockway opened in 1926. Dunn was a leading golf course architect in the early decades of the 20th century. His sister “Queenie” Dunn had designed the Tahoe City Golf Course several years earlier.
Every hole on this storied 3,400-yard course affords beautiful views of Lake Tahoe. Historic Old Brockway has been owned and operated by Lane Lewis and his family for more than 30 years.
The Golf Channel ranked Old Brockway as one of the Top 10 Best 9-hole courses in the United States, an accolade made even better with the recent on-site opening of the popular Spindleshanks Restaurant that caters to players and the public.
Learn more: oldbrockwaygolf.com
Tahoe City Golf Course
The Tahoe City Golf Course is a well-maintained 9-hole and the oldest course at Lake Tahoe. It has been a locals’ favorite since 1917 when the legendary Tahoe Tavern Hotel and resort commissioned Isabella May “Queenie” Dunn to design it.
Queenie Dunn was a member of England’s most famous golfing family. Her grandfather, William “Willie” Dunn, was the instructor and Keeper of the Green at London’s prestigious Blackheath links, where he was a top player as well as a club and ball maker. His two sons, Tom and William Jr., followed in their father’s footsteps as ball makers, as well as club and course designers.
Born in England in 1880, Queenie learned to play golf on a course laid out by her father Tom. Considered one of England’s best woman golfers and instructors, Mrs. Dunn Webb was among Great Britain’s first female professionals.
She immigrated to Boston in 1915 where she wrote golf instruction articles for the New York Herald and taught the sport to girls at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Queenie was America’s first female professional golfer and instrumental in establishing tees especially for women.
In 1916 she moved to Reno, where she helped organize the Reno Golf Club and laid out the Washoe County Golf Course. It was the first in the Silver State and the first in the United States designed by a woman architect.
In 1917 she came to Tahoe City at the request of the Tahoe Tavern and designed a 6-hole course in the meadows near the mouth of the Truckee River. It was expanded to nine holes in 1926, the same year her brother John Dunn laid out the Old Brockway Golf Course in Kings Beach.
One of Tahoe City’s pioneer families, the Bechdolts, purchased the course in 1948. In the 1950s, the links were also popular with Sinatra, Crosby and the crew who appreciated its similarities to Old Brockway. In recent years charity tournaments at the Tahoe City course hosted by its golf club have raised more than $200,000 for the Tahoe City Little League program.
Learn more: bit.ly/1pB36Mp
Glenbrook Golf Course
The 9-hole Glenbrook Golf Course, which opened in 1927, is a private venue on the East Shore of Lake Tahoe in bucolic Glenbrook. Originally the site of industrial-scale lumber milling operations in the 19th century, run by timber baron Duane L. Bliss, the land was later developed into a gated community.
The Glenbrook Golf Course is unique in that each hole has two tee areas, giving players an 18-hole experience over two rounds. The ninth tee, perched high on a hillside, leads to a scenic fairway that descends to a green close to the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe.
Due to its status as a private club and community, Glenbrook didn’t get the same exposure to the celebrity traffic of Tahoe City and Old Brockway. But when Ben Hogan, one of the game’s greatest players, took to the Glenbrook greens on a summer day in 1948, the boutique course gained notice.
Hogan had been playing in a Reno tournament and was persuaded to stop at Glenbrook before returning home to Texas. Hogan played an 18-hole exhibition round — scoring five under par — and then offered a teaching clinic using demonstration strokes and shots. Admission to the exhibition cost $1.50 plus 30 cents federal tax.
Hollywood actors like Rita Hayworth and Clark Gable enjoyed playing golf at Glenbrook while waiting to establish Nevada residency in order to file for divorce. In the late 1940s, Gable had introduced his golf caddy, Robert Wagner, to a movie executive, which launched Wagner’s successful acting career.
Learn more: glenbrookclub.com
Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at local stores or at thestormking.com. You can reach him at email@example.com. Check out his blog: tahoenuggets.com.