The original plan for this last Northern California trip had Gray’s Crossing and Old Greenwood as my final two rounds on Tuesday before a long drive home. However, you may have noticed that a couple rounds got played earlier than anticipated along the way and that left only Old Greenwood to play that morning.
Ultimately, it was the perfect excuse to tack on a couple more before hitting the road. It was time for a little overtime action in a place known for world-class competition…
The Links at Squaw Creek • Olympic Valley, CA • 7/30/19
It made a lot of sense to try and squeeze this course (and the next one below) into this trip from a geographic sense. From a Tahoe region standpoint, I still have three courses left on the California side of the border (Lake Tahoe GC, Tahoe Paradise and Bijou). However, those are on the far south side of the lake, whereas Squaw Creek and Tahoe City are definitely closer to Truckee on the northwest side of the lake.
Fortunately, it worked out to play here on this trip. Another convenient excuse is that GolfMoose had put up a twosome voucher that made Squaw Creek a much more appealing price than what it normally is. I’ve never been too keen about paying full rack rate here because I didn’t have super high expectations. Plus, I happened to be traveling with my friend who hadn’t played here yet either, so it would be foolish to pass it up—even though I was very tired at this point and looking forward to getting back home.
The tee sheet looked wide open online as we were finishing up at Old Greenwood, so we didn’t bother moving up our tee time. Arrival at the course was very confusing. They have a lot of construction going on at The Resort at Squaw Creek, which the course is part of. I dropped my clubs off up top at the valet, but didn’t opt to pay for valet parking. The self-parking lot is back down the hill and kind of a mess right now with all the construction.
Then, it was a long and aimless walk back up into the resort lodge, where there is no signage whatsoever to point you to the golf shop. After a little trial and error searching, I eventually asked someone and they gave me weak directions. At least they pointed me somewhat in the right direction, though, and I finally found the pro shop. The course did not look very busy, but they acted like it was packed with walk-ups all morning. After some negotiations with the starter to get out early, it really wasn’t a big deal and we were teeing off around 11:00. There were some groups on the course, but things were kind of spread out, so we did have to get “creative” with our routing to jump around and avoid the other players. My buddy had a flight to catch back in Sacramento, so we had to do what we could to get around as quickly as possible. Not every move we made paid off, but we still got in all 18 holes in about three hours.
Undoubtedly the coolest aspect of Squaw Creek is the setting. Squaw Valley (or Olympic Valley as it is now known) is one of California’s top ski resort destinations and it was host to the 1960 Winter Olympics. Though we’re in the dead of summer, it still feels like a skiing town with the lodges, lifts and snowless ski slopes encircling the valley below.
A majority of the golf course is set in the open part of the valley in kind of a marshy area. There are a ton of rickety wooden bridges/paths throughout the course that look pretty cool, but man are they loud when driving a cart across! As much as we had to keep driving around and playing through/around other groups, I was very sick of that sound by the end of the day.
The first four holes of the golf course are very different from the rest. They are up along a hillside and have more of a mountainous feel. You never get too high up, though, but it is definitely a different feel in this opening stretch than when you get out in the open.
The Links at Squaw Creek was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. There is a lot to like about the course from a design standpoint. In spirit, you might say this is a “links-inspired” layout as the name would suggest. It is open without many trees (other than the first few holes), the majority of it is built for windy conditions in the valley, there are a lot of deep native grass areas along the edges, and it has some mounding and undulations to keep the mostly flat landscape from feeling flat. However, it really doesn’t play like a links course. There are quite a few forced carries over the marshy areas and there is not much ground play to be found like on a true links design. The way the greens are elevated and surrounded by rough and hazards, there aren’t any options to run the ball up. To have any chance of scoring well here, you need to come in high on your approach shots and hope the greens will hold.
Despite the argument whether this is a links style course or not, this is a truly unique layout that’s very different from anything else I’ve seen in the Tahoe region or the Sierras, in general. Plus, the Olympic Valley setting is pretty neat. I would say this course has more of a Colorado feel (based on my very limited experience there) than anything I’ve visited in California. I might even say the marshland kind of layout is kind of reminiscent of some southeastern U.S. courses I’ve played in my travels.
Where Squaw Creek fell short for me was the fact that it seems like the golf course is kind of an afterthought at a resort designed for winter sports. It seems like they get plenty of visitors in the summer, too, but golf clearly isn’t the top seller compared to other outdoor adventure sports (hiking, mountain biking, river rafting, etc.) that draw people to this mountain playground.
Also, you have to consider they have a fairly short summer season here and that takes its toll on the course conditions. Squaw Creek was not in great shape and obviously doesn’t get cared for like the top Truckee/Tahoe resort courses. I’m sure they face more challenges here with the high elevation and the terrain. The holes up on the hillside had a lusher, greener look, but were also very soft and chewed up. The holes down in the valley marsh just had spotty grass coverage and were very rough around the edges. I imagine things are frozen over and flooded as the winter snow melts off, so keeping high-quality golf turf must be difficult.
Many of the tee boxes were devoid of grass and some were just kind of cut down weeds and dirt. The fairways were adequate for the most part, but again just kind of a mix of stuff. Sometimes very soft and other times hardpan. The bunkers were pretty crusty. The greens were very firm and also quite bumpy without a ton of consistency.
I was glad we played here when we did and were able to take advantage of the GolfMoose deal. Had I paid full price, I would have been very disappointed in the conditions and service. Though it is a part of a nice resort and in the Lake Tahoe region, it is not anywhere near the top Tahoe resort courses that I got to play this year and last.
The sad thing is that with a good renovation and more TLC effort (even with a short season that all courses around here must deal with), this could be an excellent golf course. The layout is distinctive and the setting is really cool, as I’ve already mentioned a couple times. The bones of something truly special are there, but it needs some love to breathe some life back into it.
I think the pictures below will make Squaw Creek look a little nicer than it was, but that just goes to show what kind of potential it has.
Some pictures from The Links at Squaw Creek (7/30/19):
(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)
Next, you can be sure I wasn’t going to detour down to Squaw Creek without also playing this next course…
Tahoe City Golf Course • Tahoe City, CA • 7/30/19
With their close proximity to one another and the fact both are a little separated from other Tahoe courses geographically, there was no doubt I would pair Squaw Creek and Tahoe City together whenever the time came.
After finishing reasonably quickly at Squaw Creek, my friend and I went our own ways. He had already played Tahoe City, so he headed back to Sacramento to catch his flight and I forged ahead to try and play Tahoe City as fast as I could.
Unfortunately, it was rather busy out here. The course didn’t look completely packed, but the clubhouse seems to be a popular local hangout and there were several people milling around in the pro shop. I paid my $45 for nine holes with cart (yuck) and teed off right away. I jumped around a little bit when I saw open holes, but otherwise just kind of had to wait on other groups much of the time. Though this would be a nice course to walk, the cart was worth renting so I could get creative with the routing as needed. Plus, I was dead tired at this point in the trip. Walking another nine would have been painful, especially before a really long drive back home.
Anyway, Tahoe City is more interesting from a historical perspective than a layout perspective. Its roots date back to 1917-1918, when it was originally opened and designed by English-born May “Queenie” Dunn Hupfel and was one of the first golf courses in the Tahoe region (definitely the oldest on the California side of the lake). It evolved from a 6-hole oil-sanded green course into the par-33 9-holer it is today. The Rat Pack apparently played here a lot and there are some other interesting tidbits you can read about on the course’s website.
As for the layout, it’s pretty basic and has the feel of many other 9-hole tracks I’ve played throughout Northern California. It has some quirky elements and one really tricky little hole in the par-4 5th, but it is mostly pretty straightforward and simple.
The conditions were okay and probably comparable from tee to green as what I experienced over at Mt. Huff to start the trip. Plenty playable, but definitely a hodge podge of different grasses and lumpy ground underneath. I will say the greens were a lot better here, yet still nothing too inspiring.
This is just a friendly little course (very dog-friendly, I might add) that has its regulars and kind of is what it is. It has some history and a bit of local charm, but as a golf course it’s nothing to write home about.
Some pictures from Tahoe City Golf Course (7/30/19):