Incline Village Championship Course: A Joy to Play... If you Can Get a Tee Time

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

INCLINE VILLAGE, NV-- Massive Lake Tahoe is the jewel of the High Sierra and through its history it has been an inspiration to Native Americans, early settlers, skiers, gamblers, and vacationers. This huge body of water that straddles the California-Nevada border is 26 miles long, 13 miles wide, and over 1000 feet deep. Even with its immense size the startling clarity of the water forms a blend of blues where it is possible to see eighty feet down into the depths. The setting of the shimmering lake surrounded by mountain peaks that tower to 10,000 feet high creates an unforgettable setting.

Tahoe is well known as a ski destination, with the 27 different ski areas found around the region drawing winter visitors here for decades. But it is in the summer time that Tahoe really shines. Rains rarely fall from May to October and the average daily temperature in the 70's offering a great escape from the triple digit heat that hits the rest of California and Nevada. The bluebird sky contrasts with the pine covered granite peaks to create a perfect backdrop for boating, fishing, biking, and hiking. Since the twenties golf has been part of that list of things to do in Tahoe.

There are eight golf courses located in the Tahoe Basin and its delicate environmental balance has brought strict controls on any construction in the region to preserve the lake's clarity. Because of these concerns the chances of any other golf course ever being built near the lake are nil. Four of the courses are nine-hole tracks that were built in the twenties. The two 18-hole courses near the waters edge are Edgewood at Tahoe on the South Shore and Incline Village Championship on the North Shore.

Incline Village was created in the sixties as a vacation home community and it has grown in popularity over the years. Many have sought residence here to take advantage of Nevada's lack of state income taxes. The town has become a haven for many well heeled residents who have made their millions in California and have bought refuge here. Incline Village residents enjoy the use of two beaches on the lake, a recreation center, and the use of the two golf courses, the 18-hole championship course and an 18-hole executive course.

The Championship course was built in 1965 under the direction of the America's most prolific golf course architect, Robert Trent Jones Sr. During his lifetime Jones designed over 400 golf courses worldwide and his distinctive bunkering, use of water hazards, and design philosophies changed the entire approach of golf course architecture. Jones's philosophy of creating golf holes "that are a tough par, but an easy bogey" is one that rings true not only in his golf courses but is a concept that all golf architects since certainly hold in the back of their mind. Many of his ideas and concepts are evident at the Championship Course at Incline Village.

The developers brought Jones to the High Sierra to add a name of distinction to the development and his layout did not disappoint. Jones chose a stretch of property a mile form the lake that offered two creeks and enough elevation change to create a challenging and visually stunning golf course. But the construction of the golf course was no simple task.

The front nine was a field of granite with boulders strewn through it. Over six feet of fill dirt were brought in to cover the terrain. The rugged granite sub surface has presented challenges for drainage and irrigation lines for years. Compound these variables with a climate that averages over 300 inches of snow annually as well as a short growing season and it is a wonder that the golf courses come back each summer in such good condition.

Incline Village's other golf course is the Executive Course, and 18-hole par three course built higher up the mountainside. This course was built in 1971 and was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. When the big course is crowded this layout is a great alternative. But for vacationers the goal should be to get in a round at the Championship layout.

The Championship Course is set up with just three tees and plays from 5245 yards from the front tees to 6447 yards from the white tees to 6931 yards at the tips. From the first tee the expansive backdrop of the mountains frames the first hole and calls you to play this great course.

On the front nine the meandering creek makes its presence known on the first seven holes as Jones Sr. worked the course routing in such a way that the creek protects each green. This is classic Trent Jones design work as it forces the golfer to hit pure shots to carry to the protected greens. Hit it short and you pay the price by having to go fishing for your golf ball.

Jones Sr. also believed in large fairways and this is also evident through the course. This big bold feeling is a switch from many mountain courses where tight fairways cut into the trees can make a golfer feel claustrophobic. Here at Incline Village you get a sense that there is plenty of room out there so you can hit away without fear.

But with these big fairways placement of your tee shots still is critical. At the 394 yard par-4 3rd hole the hole makes a 90-degree dogleg to the right. You have to favor the left side of the fairway with your drive. If you flirt with the right side at all you are completely blocked out by trees for your approach shot.

The same is true on the massive 4th hole. This par 5 is 622 yards long from the back tees; a rarity for a golf course built in the sixties, and no doubt was made so long to compensate for the added distance a player gets from playing at 600 feet. This hole sweeps gradually to the right so, once again, if you drift to the right you have to fight the rough and the trees on your way to the green.

The first five holes you are slowly dropping in elevation and the large greens are receptive to approach shots. At the 191-yard par 3 5th hole a pond cuts in front of the green to catch a weak tee shot. This pond is another classic Trent Jones Sr. touch. He loved water around the approaches to par threes.

Now you have to work your way back to the clubhouse and the next four holes begin that climb. 6 is a straightaway par 4 from a slightly elevated tee and is one of the best driving holes on the front nine. The creek protects this elevated and undulating green and the large bunker cut into the front right is another Trent Jones Sr. signature addition.

The eighth hole is only a 146 yard par three, but the sloping green is a tough one to hit and is well protected by bunkers and trees. Jones Sr. follows this up with a tough uphill par 4 of 402 yards. There is no creek here but a pond to the right of the green will catch s weak fade every time.

The back nine is a little bit different in that the routing takes you up in elevation. But this nine holds some great surprises. First off be ready to hit into a lot of elevated greens. The greens here at Incline Village are mostly poa grass and are very receptive to shots. As you work this nine remember that the greens all break to the lake so give it some thought on your putts.

This nine also can be good for scoring as the two par 5's on this side, the 468 yard 11th and the 486 yard 14th are very reachable in two shots. Both of the greens on this hole are large but undulated so try to get your shots close to the pins.

Two par 4's, the 12th and the 13th are great examples of Trent Jones Sr. design. Both are sweeping doglegs with well-bunkered elevated greens that your have to hit up to score on.

But the best holes are at the finish here at Incline Village. The 15th is a 179-yard par three over the mountain stream with a drop of 60 feet. The backdrop of the mountains adds to the beauty of the hole and club selection is critical to hit the rather small green.

16 is the signature hole of the course. From the elevated tee Lake Tahoe is the backdrop for this par 4 .the hole doglegs right so play straightaway for a good angle to the green. 17 is another good par three at 197 yards from the tips to the largest green on the course. 18 is a par four that plays awkward. This hole seems like they ran out of room as the hole is bordered by condos and just goes left to the only land left for a green. Still the blend of holes makes for a great course.

This is the good news at Incline Village; this golf course is a joy to play. The rough news is getting out to play it. As this is a community golf course 67% of the tee times are reserved for Incline Village residents. To secure a tee time takes planning and perseverance. Tee times can be secured 14 days in advance by calling 1-800-236-8725. If you are taking a Tahoe vacation be sure to call well in advance to secure a time. Walk-ons are a risky venture but cancellations do happen so as a single you have a chance of getting on.

The other tough deal at Incline is the pace of play. If you play early in the day you can play at a reasonable pace. But in the afternoon as more residents get out on the course it can be painfully slow. Marshalling on these resident courses seems to be more of a social affair than an effort to move the golfers along. Patience is the name of the game out here in the summer.

Hyatt Lake Tahoe in Incline Village is a perfect spot to plan a golf outing from. The recently completed Grand Lodge expansion and transformed this casino property into an excellent vacation spot. The Hyatt can also arrange a complete golf package.

DIRECTIONS- Take Nevada State Highway 28 to Incline Village. Take Northwoods Blvd. To Fairway Blvd. Golf Shop is on the right hand side.

Doug Saunders, Contributor

Doug Saunders has covered more than 20 major championships and his unique perspectives on the game have appeared in numerous publications including Golf World, GolfWeek, Golf Course Management, Golf Course News, Golfdom, and the USGA Golf Journal. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, California Golf Writers, and the Sierra Nevada Golf Course Superintendents Association.

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