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The Martis Camp Club

High in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains north of Lake Tahoe, this ultra-luxe, four-season private community offers golf, skiing, arts, fishing, hiking, biking, and strong family values

By: James A. Frank

Appeared in 2012 Fazio Premier Clubs

That’s in a name? According to general manager Mark Johnson, finding the right name for this three-year-old community took time.“We must have gone through 500 names,” says Johnson.

“Eventually, we settled on ‘Martis,’ for the valley we’re in, and on ‘camp’ for the people who’ve been coming up into the mountains for 100 years. It ties into everything we are doing at Martis Camp—family, nature, land, environmental stewardship—and it just felt appropriate.”

That’s not all that feels right about this 2,177-acre property that sits at 6,100 feet in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe. It’s obvious that everyone involved in envisioning this “camp” was paying close attention to the details so that the good feelings would resonate with all ages.

As Johnson says, the emphasis is on family and creating an atmosphere in which different generations can gather for quality time together, enjoying the natural surroundings and having fun in a year-round environment. High among the attractions are spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and tall Ponderosa pines, as well as crystal-clear lakes and streams for fishing, miles of trails for hiking and biking (they even provide the bikes), and many other fresh-air activities. Also within the property are areas designed for kids and adults—a Parks Pavilion with stone labyrinth, soccer field, basketball courts, and playgrounds—even strategically placed freezers stocked with Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

There’s also an immaculately manicured Putting Park, designed by Dick Bailey, that offers the serious player a challenging practice session while entertaining families with 18 holes of swales, dips, and slopes.

And how many golf communities have a “Lost Library” housed in a picturesque cottage in the woods? It’s just steps from an outdoor meditation garden and at the trailhead for 26 miles of hiking and cross-country skiing trails.

At the heart of the multi-generational experience is the Family Barn, an 18,000-square-foot building with a nostalgic soda fountain, two bowling lanes, a movie theater, arts-and-crafts loft with folk-school programming, indoor basketballcourt, pinball machines, video games, board games, and whatever else kids desire. The Barn is also home to a summer concert series held at an outdoor amphitheater. There won’t be any “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do” complaints here.

Complementing the majestic vistas is the Tom Fazio-designed golf course, which is as lush as the pine forests and as roomy as the great outdoors. Most holes are wide across the fairway and long from tee to green (luckily, playing at a mile high is akin to hitting a club or two less than normal). Greens are similarly spacious—and surprisingly deceptive—each fitted with an under-the-surface SubAir aeration/moisture system to keep them healthy in the sometimes fickle mountain climate. (Late-spring snow is not uncommon.) Students of golf architecture will be interested to note that the bunkers—steep, flash-faced, and plentiful—feature ragged edging that Fazio included to make the course feel like other classic California designs.

The views are especially epic on the front nine, which looks primarily to the east and the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada’s Carson Range. The back nine actually feels a bit like going up and down those mountains, while bordering Martis Creek for a few holes. There are also more yardage extremes on the back, from the longest hole on the course—the back-breaking 10th, which from its high-above-the-fairway medal tees reaches 645 yards—to the shortest, the tight par-three 14th that with a short iron for most players plays to a 3,000-square-foot green.

It’s likely one of the most exciting holes will prove to be the 16th, a par four that could be drivable when challenged from the proper set of tees (even all the way back the hole is only 315 yards): The long, skinny green is perched on a raised portion of the fairway’s right side; the smart bailout to the left leaves the golfer facing a semi-blind half-shot to a thumb-thin putting surface. Attackable from the right, the 16th will demand careful study and numerous rounds to determine the wisest battle plan.

The final hole—wide yet lined with bunkers and dropping off into a pine forest on the right—climbs to an angled green that sits below the 50,000-square-foot Camp Lodge. Carved from wood and stone (it would be at home in a national park), the Camp Lodge is the club’s center, containing the golf shop, well-appointed men’s and women’s locker rooms, a day spa, outdoor lap and vitality pools, even residents’ mail boxes. There’s also a choice of dining facilities with four cozy indoor dining rooms and five outdoor terraces. An octagonal dining area named the “cliff room” wraps around a grand stone fireplace and is capped with a vaulted ceiling covered in a colorful hand-made quilting. The room is as warm and inviting as it is charming and unique.

The Camp Lodge will be to adults what the Family Barn is to the kids, a place to hang out and unwind. Which isn’t to say that youngsters aren’t welcome, or that there isn’t room for them on the golf course. Club Professional Gus Jones is an avid supporter of junior golf and hopes Martis Camp will introduce a new generation of players to the game. To that end, every hole has a set of junior tees and kids, with or without grown-ups, are encouraged to squeeze in mini-rounds—four, six, however many holes they want. Making it all work, the golf staff is acutely aware of their obligation to accommodate all levels of players without infringing on anyone’s good time.

Even the practice field at Martis Camp is unusually accommodating, as scenic and well groomed as the course. Three tee levels stretch out into what look to be two downhill holes complete with bunkers, trees, and target greens, the snow-capped mountains looming in the distance. It is hardly anyone’s idea of a “rock pile” and should help encourage practicing.

Martis Camp sits at the base of the Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort and has half a dozen trails running from the mountain into the community. Currently under construction (with a planned completion date of late 2012) is a private Mountain Clubhouse at the base of Lookout Mountain with direct ski-lift access. A number of homes will have ski-in, ski-out access to their front doors.

The property’s master plan calls for 653 lots, most of them between one and two acres. And despite opening the camp’s doors just as the world economy started to tumble, sales have remained robust. Many residents come from the San Francisco Bay Area, about a three-hour drive away. With general aviation Truckee-Tahoe Airport across the street from the Camp Gatehouse, owners from throughout the West have found it convenient to make Martis Camp the easy choice for a family compound.

New sections are opening up for development and sales: Cabin homes are limited to 3,250 square feet, while custom homes can go up to 9,000 square feet. The community gives owners and architects latitude in home design with the results ranging from log-cabin deluxe to “mountain contemporary.” Many homes incorporate walls of windows that bring the majesty of the mountains, trees, and deep-blue-sky viewsindoors while taking advantage of passive solar opportunities. Other homes follow the traditional Tahoe style of mountain architecture.

Martis Camp takes camping to a whole new level.

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