Course Review(s): Lahontan Golf Club

The finale of my most recent Northern California road trip was a grand one, indeed. In fact, it was such a good get that we had to add an extra day onto the trip and drive pretty far out of the way from San Francisco to Truckee. Then, we drove all the way back home to SoCal on Wednesday night. It was well worth it, though.

If you read my Olympic Club review, you will know that I put in quite a bit of effort to reach out to some of California’s top private clubs (more specifically, the best ones I hadn’t played yet) as possible options for my 1,000th course celebration. I sent out numerous emails without much luck. However, just after my round at The Olympic Club was locked in, I got a friendly response from Lahontan Golf Club. They offered to have me out there and that a staff member would host me and a guest for a round on the main course, as well as a loop around their excellent 9-hole Par 3 Course.

It was an offer I could not refuse. Even though this would technically not be my 1,000th course with Olympic already lined up, I considered Lahontan my “1,000-B” course as another top-shelf addition to the whole trip celebrating this personal milestone.

Lahontan may not have as well known a name as Olympic, but honestly it’s more my type of course and it is ranked among the best golf courses in the state on many lists I looked at. It was beyond worthy to be my 1K round, which is why I reached out to the folks here in the first place.

I make no secrets here that I love mountain golf and the setting in the Martis Valley is truly inspiring. As mentioned before, I recently overheard the nickname of “golf’s best cul-de-sac” when referring to this area just south of Truckee where the high-end golf communities of Lahontan, Schaffer’s Mill and Martis Camp all sit right next to one another. I had the opportunity to play Schaffer’s Mill last month and loved it. I think I liked Lahontan even more. I pray that someday I get to play Martis Camp!

We had a 1:30 tee time and we played along with a member of the staff who was serving as our club host. We played behind a group of ladies, but they moved along well and we finished in well under four hours.

Speaking of the staff, I have to commend the staff at Lahontan along with the facilities. Olympic was a neat experience and the staff was nice for the most part, but we always felt a bit out of place as “outsiders” at such a prestigious club. At Lahontan, we truly felt like premium members for the day. Everyone was so friendly and overly helpful, especially down in the locker room where the attendant walked us around, gave us our choice of guest lockers and made us feel welcome. The locker room/clubhouse was incredible with all the amenities you could want.

Championship Course

Both courses at Lahontan were designed by Tom Weiskopf, and obviously the main Championship Course gets all the attention it deserves. I felt like each hole design offered something a little different and there are a few different “sections” to the course, from tighter wooded areas to hilly/rocky/rugged desert terrain to more open meadow holes. It’s a really good mix and interesting around every turn.

The course offers numerous tee boxes that allow for players of all skills to find what they are looking for. You can really stretch it out and make the course super difficult from the back green tees (7,335 yards 73.8/138) or you can move way up and play the whites (6,040 yards 68.4/119). I decided to play the blue tees (6,496 yards 70.3/126), which I felt were the perfect fit for me thanks to a little distance help from the elevation in Truckee.

It’s hard to say what the signature hole is at Lahontan because the whole course is great, but four holes come to my mind as favorites. This includes the 2nd, 9th, 12th and 16th. One thing I also liked about Lahontan is that it features five par-3s and five par-5s in the routing. The course does have a unique finishing stretch that consists of back-to-back par-4s followed by back-to-back par-3s and then culminating in back-to-back par-5s.

The 2nd hole really gets you fired up early. It is a long, sweeping dogleg right par-5. As you near the green, it kind of becomes a peninsula with water right, left and long. There is water running most of the way along the right of the hole, as well. I just like how this hole builds in drama. Its waterfront green complex is one of the first parts of the course you see when driving into the community, so it’s clearly one of their showcase holes.

The 9th hole is the shortest par-4 on the course that definitely offers some risk/reward opportunities. It was 302 from the blue tees, but plays slightly downhill with some natural slopes toward the green if you catch the right spot. The hole doglegs left, but there is a direct line to cut off the corner and try for the green. Some nasty bunkers protect the fairway to add some challenge if you mis-hit your tee shot just slightly.

The 12th is another great par-5 that is extra fun. It’s also a dogleg right overall, though it does kind of curl back left at the very end with a hillside protecting the left half of the green on approach. Water also comes into play here to the right and behind the hole. Beyond the green sits a little boathouse and dock (also a bathroom for the course). I guess this is a popular little “catch and release” fishing hole for residents.

Lastly, the 16th is the second of the two back-to-back par-3s near the end of the course. It’s the shorter of the two, maxing out at 158 yards. It features an elevated tee complex that has you hitting through some trees and down to the green below. It is just a beautiful signature par-3. The 11th is an awesome par-3, as well, but I can’t highlight all 18 holes!

The course was in excellent condition. The tee boxes and fairways were fantastic with minimal flaws. The rough was super lush and thick, done in two cuts. The primary cut somewhat low so the ball would sit up nicely, but the grass underneath was still just grabby enough to make you work. Then the next cut was a little deeper and the ball would tend to settle down more. There are lots of native deep grass and desert areas around, too, that you obviously want to avoid. The bunkers were perfect with sparkly white sand. The greens very firm and very fast.

They are actually getting ready to shut down nine holes in August to start a complete overhaul of the green surfaces, eventually redoing all 18. Poa annua has invaded the bentgrass over the years. They have kind of speckled look now, but they were were cut and rolled extra tight so there was never a bump and they rolled super pure. Still, they want to start fresh with all pure bentgrass again and it’ll be a major project. It just worked out that we got to play here just in time before the renovation begins. Judging by the practice putting green, which was already redone last year and is still crazy firm, it will take a couple years for the turf to mature as desired.

After my experience at Lahontan, I can understand why it is considered one of California’s top courses. It may not be a name that many people recognize, but it should be. This is an exceptional course and an exceptional private club facility. If you ever have a chance to play here (once the greens renovation is complete), take advantage of it. You won’t be disappointed!

Some pictures from Lahontan Golf Club (Championship Course) (7/18/18):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

Par 3 Course

But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget we also played the Par 3 Course at Lahontan after we finished the main round. Our staff host was supposed to play this round with us, as well, but he decided he needed to get back to work. However, we were still free to play it and we were the only ones over there for most of the round. It sounds like the short course doesn’t get as much play and it is probably more popular with the staff for after-work rounds than it is with members. It will get more action, however, while the main course is being renovated nine holes at a time.

It’s a little sad that the Par 3 Course doesn’t get that much member play because it is a true gem. It is easily one of the top five short courses I have ever played. It was also designed by Tom Weiskopf and has all the same qualities that make the championship course so special. It’s just a smaller version of it.

Seriously, the conditioning was just as nice. The short course was pretty much immaculate all the way around. The greens were probably a tad more receptive, which is a good thing. There is a lot of bunkering and the sand was excellent outside of some wildlife footprints in a few of them.

This is simply a fantastic little course, and I may be doing it a disservice by calling it “little.” If you play the tips (Weiskopf Tees), you will have two holes over 200 yards and two more over 180. We actually played the middle tees, and that was comfortable with holes ranging from 115 yards up to 184. Basically, these are 9 (technically 10) legit par-3 designs, any one of which you can pick up and put on the championship course, where it would blend right in.

I mention the “technically 10” holes because the 9th hole here is quite interesting. It is actually two different holes. You hit from the same elevated tee box, but there are two completely separate green complexes. The one to the left plays a little shorter than the one on the right, so both yardages are listed on the scorecard and tee box.

It’s an interesting quirk and a nice change of pace if you happen to be playing an 18-hole double-loop here. Or, you pick which one you want to play to on any given day. Or, you hit two balls like we did, so we could officially say we played “all” the holes at Lahontan!

If you do ever get the chance to play Lahontan, make it a priority to play the Par 3 Course before or after your main round. If there’s such a thing as a must-play short course, this is it. I absolutely loved it, just as I loved my entire experience at Lahontan Golf Club.

I did have a couple minor disappointments. The first is I didn’t have the opportunity to play the Cliffs Course at Olympic the day before. It was also designed by Weiskopf and the two are kind of sister short courses separated by a couple hundred miles and several thousand feet of elevation. It would have been neat to play both on subsequent days.

Also, if I am really getting nit-picky, the Lahontan course has foot golf holes integrated as you may notice in some pictures. I imagine these get even less play than the real golf course. Ultimately, I think the big ugly holes and extra flags kind of cheapen the overall presentation of what is truly a world-class par-3 golf course. This is just my opinion. I would feel the same way if there were disc golf baskets, even though I actually love playing disc golf and this would make for a really fun course. I’d just rather see something as nice as this be purely a traditional golf course and nothing else.

Some pictures from Lahontan Golf Club (Par 3 Course) (7/18/18):

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