MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. -- While the 6,000-plus feet of elevation at California's famed Lake Tahoe and Truckee golf courses generally rise to the forefront of the state's acclaimed high-altitude plays, fans of Cali mountain golf need to know that one's game can rise even higher.
From Mammoth Lakes to Big Bear, here are three popular California ski destinations that further serve as choice courses come the warmer seasons.
Sierra Star Golf Course
The state's highest course at 8,000 feet above sea level, Sierra Star G.C. in Mammoth Lakes is an illuminating play in setting alone. Which is to say that resort guests, newcomers, high handicappers and rusty players will want to adopt a "Pebble Beach mentality" when dusting off the clubs: Don't sweat the score; just absorb and enjoy the Eastern Sierra surroundings.
Cut with rustic flair through towering pines and placid lakes, Sierra Star is tight, tough and game for the refined player. For first-timers (or even 10th-timers), a thorough review of the course Web site or grabbing a yardage book is well advised.
Though gettable in distance at 6,708 yards from the tips, the par-70 Cal Olson design employs the natural terrain to continually challenge with doglegs, subtle fairway undulations and tiered green structures. Clubbing-down from the box on forward tees proves key to placement and, of course, playing at 8,000 feet provides the ongoing (fun) test of crunching yardage numbers to avoid over-soaring your ball on approaches. The setting proves spectacular from the outset at the potently backdropped, 374-yard first and begins an excellent run of holes through the turn.
On Sierra Star's 413-yard, doglegged, par-4 third -- a precise tee shot splitting fairway sand -- is key before addressing a downhill approach with a well bunkered green sporting water to the right.
On the meaty, 469-yard sixth, two fine shots are required to find the back-to-front sloped green. Bogey (or worse) is well in play on this no. 1 handicap, so be sure to turn around after holing out to assuage any frustrations with what proves one of the course's best views.
Two holes later, the 525-yard eighth is the first of Sierra Star's two par 5s and matches a beauty of a view with the demands of a stream-guarded green and lake water to the left of the fairway.
Turning the corner, the 555-yard, par-5 10th is a lengthy challenge playing uphill with mounding guarding the green; big hitters will be thinking eagle, yet playing to the pin in three is a more sensible run at scoring.
Just down the way from Mammoth Lakes, the nine-hole, par-35 Snowcreek Golf Course will prove an amenable tune-up for nearby Sierra Star.
In contrast with its neighboring play, Snowcreek offers wide landing areas, benign rough, further opportunity to run-up approaches and continual tee-to-green pin views.
Per comparison to Sierra Star: The views at Snowcreek are also exceptional, presenting consistently superb 360-degree views of the mountains.
Designed by Ted Robinson, "The King of Waterscapes," Snowcreek sports water features on seven holes; yet unlike the wealth of Robinson's prolific SoCal work, the hazards herein are more of the ornamental variety -- save for two testy closing holes.
On the 402-yard, par-4 no. 8, water is in play deep right of the fairway, making club selection key on the approach.
Snowcreek's 398-yard ninth proves an excellent closer. The shot-makers' hole asks for a prudent drive to avoid running into the lake-guarded green, followed by a short, but tight, uphill approach that will prove penal off the left of the putting surface.
Eastern Sierras Travel Note: For Mammoth accommodations offering easy access to both Sierra Star and Snowcreek, place The Village Lodge atop your list. A nexus of mountain activity (and readily popular for family trips), the Lodge is an all-encompassing campus of drinking, dining and shopping options all within strolling distance of one's room.
Big Bear Mountain Golf Course
For SoCal players seeking alternate but no less engaging altitude, a 90-miles drive from Los Angeles or Palm Springs takes one's game 7,000 feet through the San Bernardino National Forest up to Big Bear.
Built in 1948, the nine-hole Big Bear Mountain Golf Course tips out at just 2,730 yards but presents ball-soaring elevation considerations akin to the Eastern Sierra plays.
Wildlife sightings complement the grounds, which prove a tame and inviting test for all levels of player, and two mid-round tests highlight the round.
On the 344-yard third, an exacting drive is needed before addressing an intimidating, uphill approach over trouble to a mean green sloping from back to front. The ensuing, 463-yard, par-5 fourth hole poses an engaging rise, sporting an elevated tee toward a wide swath of fairway that will find even the most prudent player tightening the glove and swinging away with eager aplomb.