Frugal Golfer: Lake Tahoe Golf

Tahoe is a generic term for a 300-square-mile rectangle in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (plus Reno 30 miles to the northeast) whose centerpiece is the stunningly blue Lake Tahoe. Two thirds of the lake is in California, the rest in Nevada.

Best known as a ski destination, there’s also a lot of very good golf in Tahoe, more than 30 courses including some of the most attractive and challenging anywhere. Averaging 6,400 feet above sea level, you’ll get a few more yards off the tee, but first you must adapt to the altitude: Locals recommend deep breaths through the nose expelled through the mouth and drinking a lot of water. 

The Tahoe golf season runs mid-April to late October, with the best deals on rounds and rooms early and late. The fall adds a visual bonus, the colorful foliage, and if you also ski, the cooler weather might allow that and golf on the same day.

There also are deals on twilight rounds, some with neat little tweaks. For example, at Incline Village’s short Mountain Course, after 5 p.m. you pay by the hole, two bucks per plus $5 for a cart. And members of the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) get substantial discounts at many Tahoe golf courses.

The following Tahoe golf courses are those particularly worth visiting. Yardages range from 5,500 to 7,600, with green fees from $30 to $200 depending on time of day and year. For deals on hotels, green fees, and more, visit VirtualTahoe.com.

Incline Village (Championship)
Incline Village, Nev.
When it opened in 1964, this became the icon of first-rate golf in Tahoe. Most tee shots—from high points that offer dazzling lake views—are into gracefully sweeping fairways. For a mountain layout, the greens have only moderate undulations.

Edgewood Tahoe
Stateline, Nev.
It brings to mind Pebble Beach, enhanced by the white-capped High Sierras. Standing on each tee you can’t wait to play the hole. No forced carries, old-school small, smooth, fast greens. Hit the green and you’ll have a birdie chance. Site of the American Century Celebrity Championship.

Genoa Lakes (Ranch)
Genoa, Nev.
An inland course that looks and plays like a links. Developer issues knocked out the original first seven holes, but their replacements are worth getting through to reach 8 through 18, all visual and strategic gems.

Genoa Lakes (Lakes)
Genoa, Nev.
Two miles from the Ranch and on the same basic terrain, a river runs through the property and comes into play on 14 holes. It still has a links quality, but the water doesn’t allow a freewheeling driver swing. The flatness of the land makes the near-distant, snow-spackled (even in June) mountains stand out. It was a 2014 U.S. Open qualifying site.

Old Greenwood
Truckee, Calif.
This course has the same aura that its designer, Jack Nicklaus, projected as a great golfer—size and a singular character. Major-championship golf is written all over it from the tips, but the average golfer won’t be overwhelmed from the shorter tees, and the conditioning is pristine.

Coyote Moon
Truckee, Calif.
Superb mountain golf with lush, sweeping, pine-lined fairways, impressive granite outcroppings, strategically situated ponds, and tour-quality greens. In the upperprice range, but well worth it.

Off the courses you’ll find glitzy casino hotels in Reno and Stateline—Harrah’s, Hard Rock Hotel, Montbleu. Or take the opposite tack and stay in little Truckee, Calif., which evokes the area’s gold-mining past while speaking to today’s millennials with art galleries, smart clothing shops, and fine dining choices: Pianeta Ristorante is excellent; Jax is a classic American diner; and there are plenty of craft-beer hangouts.

Between these two “cultures” is the chrome-and-glass ambiance of The Squaw Valley Lodge, on the California side, where nearby Sandy’s Pub offers gourmet-style meat and potatoes and excellent seafood. Incline Village reflects the understated elegance of mid-20th-century America. There is also a B&B, the Donner Lake Inn, in Truckee, and, of course, the mainstream American hostelries such as Hampton Inn & Suites (the suites have Jacuzzi bathtubs), Hyatt Regency, and Marriott.