Golf is just one excuse to visit this paradise
Golf courses with stunning views can be tricky for amateurs. The 18th hole at the Edgewood Resort in Lake Tahoe typifies the classic ‘risk vs rewards’ golf hole. The green is flanked by a pond and Lake Tahoe on the right. I succumbed to the views of the shimmering lake and was relieved to shift base to the 19th hole, in this case the Brook’s Bar. As I sipped an Old Fashioned within the confines of Brook’s Bar and took in the views, my thoughts rushed back to 1844. I wondered if John Fremont – the first person of European descent to spot Lake Tahoe– enjoyed the same views of the lake back then. Fremont wasn’t just one of America’s best known 19th century explorers but also the first-ever Republican candidate in the 1856 elections. Explorers like Fremont were modern America’s first true heroes.
In many ways Edgewood defines Lake Tahoe’s status as a luxury travel destination. It’s a cosy alpine lodge in the winter and a golf and outdoor resort during the rest of the year. This 2010s resort has won numerous critics’ and reader accolades. It’s hardly a surprise. Brook’s Bar and Deck was envisioned by Frank Gehry, whose impressive CV includes contemporary architectural marvels like the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. Few 19th hole bars can compete with the views or the elegant décor that include vaulted wood-beam ceilings and glass windows. One reason why Golf Digest listed it as one of the Best Golf Pubs in the world.
Golf is certainly one excuse to visit Lake Tahoe. There are at least ten courses between the Northern and the Southern shores of the lake that make it one of America’s golfing paradises.
One of my favourite courses here is the Tahoe City Golf Course that recently celebrated its centenary and was designed by one of the area’s most accomplished female pros – May “Queenie” Dunn Hupfel. You can tee off where the original Rat Pack (a term used by the media in the 1950s to refer to Las Vegas entertainers) stars like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr golfed. It may not boast of the same sweeping lake views as Edgewood but is one of the most charming 9-hole courses in the area.
Edgewood is part of South Lake Tahoe, one of the only spots along the Lake with a big town vibe. Aside from casinos that first put Lake Tahoe on the US tourist map in the 1920s, the area is home to some fine restaurants. After modest returns at the golf course (of course, I blamed my failings on the distracting views), I spent the evening catching a brilliant sunset at Riva Grill, a hallowed local establishment that serves scrumptious seafood, including dishes with an occasional Asian twist. The coconut crusted prawns served with a mango mustard marmalade was one of the highlights of my culinary discoveries around the lake.
I came back the next morning to Edgewood to try my hand at another outdoor activity where the views wouldn’t impact my scores. It turned out to be more gruelling though — a 16km long kayaking trail along the lake shore. The beautiful lake more than compensated for the tough three-hour expedition. It’s during this trip that I came up close with the crystal-clear waters and the gorgeous blues of the lake. There’s no marine life to spot and almost nothing stands in the way of the clear views of the lake bed. It’s deceptively deep though. The lake’s deepest point is 500 metres, the second deepest for any lake in America. It’s also why it packs more volume than much larger lakes or water bodies (it is larger in volume terms than the Dead Sea). The kayak trail took me past scores of million-dollar homes that dot the lake and straight back to one of my favourite movies of all time – Godfather 2. It was Lake Tahoe that was the backdrop for some of the most legendary scenes in the film, including Michael Corleone’s imposing lake-side villa that was recently put up for sale for close to $4 million.
It’s easy to understand why the ‘Washoe people’ made this home about 6,000 years ago. There are few places that can match Lake Tahoe for its picture postcard charm all year-around - the combination of an azure blue lake with mountains that morph with the seasons. The word Tahoe owes its origins to ‘da’aw’ that translates to lake in the Washo language. Lake Tahoe was the hub for this large Native American community that lived in California and Nevada, the two states that share the Lake’s shoreline.
A steep trek brings me to yet another sweeping view of the lake. I soon realise that such lookout points are a given on both sides of the Lake. But it’s not the view point that’s the most photographed point within this park. More than anything, it’s the Nevada-California state line. For the next few days I kept flitting between Nevada and California as the state lines keep crossing along the lake’s shoreline. Of course, you know you’re in Nevada when you see a large Casino, given the state’s liberal gambling laws.
Fremont’s discovery of Lake Tahoe took place just before the onset of the California Gold Rush in 1848. The 1850s witnessed the next wave – the discovery of the Comstock Lode, a massive silver deposit that saw Virginia City in Nevada become one of America’s wealthiest towns. I was pleasantly surprised to see the town’s Main Street largely unchanged. A long and winding road took me all the way from Tahoe to Virginia City and the highlight of this drive was a stop at the Geiger Lookout; more panoramic views, this time of Reno city and its surrounds.
My favourite views of Lake Tahoe came from atop Eagle Rock along the North Shore – a short yet steep trek with just rewards in terms of the views. Even before Lake Tahoe became a busy summer tourist destination and a magnet for adventure seekers, it was America’s premier skiing destination. A position that it consolidated after the area (at Squaw Valley) hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960. For about six months this is a busy winter sports destination and these same facilities and ski-lifts are now used by mountain biking enthusiasts.
I tried my hand at mountain biking at the Northstar Downhill Mountain bike resort. Of course, I didn’t try to ape the pros and their well-rehearsed stunts. But even those adrenaline highs didn’t quite beat the high point of my trip. A para-sailing experience where I could take in 360-degree views of the Sierra mountains and the azure blue lake in one breath from a 1000-feet high. I didn’t even bother whipping out my mobile shooter. Somewhere along, I figured even a stellar camera is no match for the human eye or an endearing memory.
Best Time to visit: Round the year.
Getting there and around: Lake Tahoe is a three-hour drive from San Francisco and an hour away from the Reno airport. It’s best to pre-book a car and pick it up on arrival from the Reno airport.
Stay: At the Edgewood resort (www.edgewoodtahoe.com) in South Lake Tahoe. This resort offers some of the best views and most luxurious, well-appointed rooms. The views don’t get better than the Edgewood restaurant, one of the most scenic restaurants on the West coast. The Ritz Carlton (www.ritzcarlton.com) Lake Tahoe is arguably the most luxurious resort in the area with its unique mid-mountain location. The resort’s mountain concierge services and active Après ski experience are its biggest draws.
For more information: You can find out about all the action and activities on either side of the lake on www.gotaheonorth.com or www.tahoesouth.com
BEST GOLF COURSES IN THE LAKE TAHOE REGION
Edgewood: Located on the edge of the lake with its own beach, Edgewood is also home of the annual American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament. It’s scenic, boasts of world class facilities – a constant in Golf Digest’s listing of America’s Top Golf Course, but is also equally challenging with numerous ponds and sand traps
Northstar Golf course: It’s not just lake views that are spectacular around the area, this one’s all about its breath-taking mountain and valley views. This 18-hole, par-72 course is close to Truckee and also offers private lessons that could impact your backswing.
The Resort at Squaw Valley Golf Course: This ski resort is open for golfers during the summer months. This 18-hole championship course prides itself on its environment conscious initiatives and is encircled by the tall peaks of the Sierras.
Old Greenwood: Rated among the finest public-access courses in the US, this 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus also has one of the finest academies in the area. The course’s amenities are a big draw, including a massive 2000-sq. ft. golf shop on the 18th green.
Eagle Valley East and West Course: This facility combines two 18-layouts including a links-style West Course. The driving range and chipping and putting greens are among the finest in the region and visitors also benefit from pro-tips from PGA professionals.
LAKE TAHOE AND THE MOVIES
Godfather 2 (1974): “I knew it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart”. Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) famous lines were uttered at Fleur du Lac, now commonly referred as the Godfather 2 villa on the lake’s west shore.
The Gold Rush (1925): Even before Tahoe became a popular ski resort, Charlie Chaplin and his production team camped here for two weeks. Truckee’s (a town in the Lake Tahoe region) Donner Summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountains was staged to resemble Alaska’s Chilkoot Pass with 600 extras playing prospectors.
The Bodyguard (1992): Built in the 1960s, this home was an integral part of the Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston blockbuster. The Fallen Leaf lake, southwest of Lake Tahoe was also used for the famous scene where Costner dives off a snowy pier to save a boy from a boat that explodes.
City of Angels (1998): Fallen Leaf lake and Tallac House were used for this romantic hit which starred Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan.
Smokin’ Aces (2005): Ben Affleck, Alicia Keys and Ryan Reynolds made South Lake Tahoe home during the filming of this multi-starrer shot extensively at the MontBleu Resort and Casino. Hotel guests were forewarned about the production that also included loud gunfire in a film with plenty of mobsters and hitmen.