SOMEWHERE ON LAKE TAHOE - At this point, I don't know if I'm in California or Nevada.
And I don't care. I'm cruising Lake Tahoe with my family, being driven by a trusty captain who knows every secret swimming spot and jump rock on the lake. 'Louise', our vessel, is a beautiful vintage Chris Craft wooden boat.
Scenery surrounds us. Looking down reveals crystal-clear blue water where you can see to the bottom. Looking up, snow pack still lingers on peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains thanks to a record-setting snowfall that fueled business at the area's ski resorts until mid-summer.
All I kept thinking: Now this is a golf club I'd love to join. A golf club? What does a golf club have to do with any of this?
'Louise' is owned by Clear Creek Tahoe, a rapidly developing private golf club and real estate development set on 1,576 unspoiled acres of forest on the outskirts of Carson City, Nevada. Members can play golf in the morning and rent 'Louise' in the afternoon, much like I did on a recent visit. This is what the modern-day country club looks like. Golf isn't the star anymore. It's merely an amenity to a lifestyle of luxury.
Private clubs like Clear Creek that have been built since 2000 have had a tough go of it at times. That's right before the wheels of the great America recession started grinding and when smart phones and social media began changing habits forever.
These modern clubs have had to be more creative than ever before. No longer could they just survive with a great golf course or by selling lots. Economic realities forced them to adjust to changing demographics. They needed to adopt more casual attitudes toward dress and phone use. More activities for the whole family. A more fun atmosphere. More contemporary facilities. More inclusiveness.
With that in mind, I've chosen an exclusive Deegan's Dozen, 12 of America's best private clubs built in the 21st century. Some great clubs in the continental United States (Hawaii wasn't included) didn't make the cut: Sebonack, Colorado Golf Club (site of 2013 Solheim Cup), Trump National Golf Club Bedminster (site of 2017 U.S. Women's Open, 2022 PGA Championship), Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club and Liberty National (site of the 2017 President's Cup) are just a few of the more famous examples. Simply being a great course or a rich man's playground wasn't enough. While elite private clubs built only for golf will always command a corner of the market, it is the new family-oriented, amenity-rich clubs that will likely serve as the lifeblood of golf moving forward. There must be fun for all ages to be a "cool club" in this brave new world.
Here is what the country clubs of the future look like today:
Clear Creek Tahoe, Carson City, Nev.
The Clear Creek Tahoe community is surrounded by six million acres of the largest national forest in the lower 48 states, offering miles of hiking and biking trails. It's also less than a 30-minute drive to the shores of the club-owned cabin where we launched the boat and the ski slopes of Incline Village or Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Californians love the tax advantages that building and living in Nevada brings.
The selling of its first lots in 2016 - prices ranging from $350,000 to $1,750,000 - signaled a shift in momentum for Clear Creek, which, like a lot of clubs of this era, has moved forward in small fits and spurts since opening the golf course (2008). Construction is surging forward, not only in homes but club amenities. The invitation-only private club has broken ground on a health and wellness center – home to a spa, multi-purpose movement area, and a year-round outdoor saline lap pool – and a family tennis and pool campus with an indoor/outdoor play area and bocce court. They will complement what's already there. Guests can dine inside a small clubhouse or on the patio for any meal of the day. My family stayed in the two new luxurious cabins nearby that can be rented by members and guests.
The Club at Clear Creek, built by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, feels like golf's version of a Rubik's Cube. False fronts, blind shots, elevated tee shots and slick greens will leave you amused and confused.
It's the second campus that sets Clear Creek apart. Twin Pines is a beach/ski house designed by the legendary architect Julia Morgan, best known for Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif. This two-story cabin hugs the shores of Lake Tahoe near the new Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe in South Lake Tahoe. It's here where 'Louise' is docked. My family and I spent the following afternoon at the private beach, using the club's kayaks and standup paddle boards to explore the shore. While the rest of the public beaches were mega-packed, we could relax in our own private playground. Membership has its privileges.
Pine Canyon Club, Flagstaff, Ariz.
Pine Canyon is a 620-acre development of Symmetry Companies, a residential and lifestyle company committed to offering premium, resort-influenced amenities and first-class hospitality.
Lovers of Arizona desert golf won't believe what lines the Jay Morrish design at Pine Canyon (2004) - towering pines not cacti. The land adjacent to the Coconino National Forest is ideal for golf, sweeping up and down foothills near the San Francisco Peaks. Flagstaff is mountainous at 7,000 feet in elevation, and that means snow will terrorize the course every winter.
The 35,000-square-foot clubhouse sits above an island green, which is an extra par-3 'bye' hole to settle all bets. The men's locker room, built separate but adjacent to the main clubhouse, has an interior bar that's a favorite hangout.
The main building has a homey feel with multiple fire places, a bar, several areas for private parties and a 1,700-bottle, climate-controlled wine room. Downstairs are the workout facilities and spa.
The children of summer gravitate toward the pool just across the parking lot or to the Trout Creek Park, a community recreation area of barbecue grills, a custom children’s playhouse and playground equipment with slides, swings and a rock wall. In addition, the park features a shuffleboard area, horseshoe pits and a badminton court. Four-legged friends can run free at a private dog park. The creek itself is stocked with rainbow trout for catch-and-release fishing.
A short two-mile hike from Pine Canyon leads to the spectacular Walnut Canyon, where the Sinagua Indians built their dwellings on the cliff faces, sheltered in caves more than 800 years ago. In 1915, it was declared a national monument.
Lots in Pine Canyon can cost anywhere from $94,000 to nearly $1 million. A premier custom home can run north of $4.5 million. New Club Cabins are available for members who have guests in town or residents who want to be on-site while their dream home is being built. The neighborhoods in Pine Canyon are a mix of detached mountain cabins, paired homes, townhome trios and custom estate homes and home sites.
Gozzer Ranch Golf & Lake Club, Arrowpoint, Idaho
The legendary service of the Arizona-based Discovery Land Company has made Gozzer the place to be on stunning Lake Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho, which has seen numerous posh clubs pop up around its shoreline. The surrounding landscape of national forests, state parks and tiny towns offer limitless outdoor action - hunting, biking and hiking - not to mention the watersports on the lake: Skiing, paddleboarding, boating, fishing, kayaking, sailing, etc. Gozzer has become a favorite summer hang for ex-athletes. Wayne Gretzky and his son-in-law Dustin Johnson have been spending plenty of family time there.
Within the 700-acre community are miles of natural streams and hiking trails and a community area with a pool, tennis courts, sport court and baseball field. A restored 'Big Red Barn' entertains all ages with a movie room, pottery studio and game rooms. The 267 homesites range from three-quarters of a acre to more than four, plus 34 detached cabins, 28 homestead cottage homes and 28 waterfront condominium lodge homes. Two marinas deliver the lake life, including a water taxi service into town.
The mountain clubhouse has its own spa and fitness center. Heavenly mountain and lake views accompany a round on Gozzer Ranch Golf Club, one of Tom Fazio's most scenic designs (2008).
Mountaintop Golf & Lake Club, Cashiers, N.C.
Mountaintop is another Discovery Land development, one of only three east of the Mississippi.
Nestled at an elevation of 4,000 feet atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, between the historic mountain towns of Highlands and Cashiers, the 731-acre community offers a private retreat of 251 estate lots, ranging in size from half an acre to five acres, and 75 cabins and lodges.
The clubhouse includes a spa and salon, a resort-style swimming pool, tennis facilities, fitness center and members lodging. A concierge service created by Discovery Land Co. can set up lake or land excursions, such as trail adventures, white-water rafting, fly-fishing and more.
Like Clear Creek, Mountaintop has a lakefront campus. At 3,100 feet, Lake Glenville is the highest lake east of the Mississippi River. The lake's crystal-clear waters, with a maximum depth of 125 feet, are fed by three cascading waterfalls. The Lake Club offers a large pavilion with an outdoor fireplace, a private marina with club-owned jet skis, boats, canoes and kayaks, and casual dining.
Fazio, who lives in North Carolina, designed the stunningly beautiful course at Mountaintop in 2006. Its comfort stations, Discovery Land's gift to golf, are located after the sixth and 13th holes. At these unmanned outposts, golfers can stock up on whatever they crave - drinks, snacks, ice cream and more. That is if they aren't full from the food at the turn, where a chef prepares the special of the day.
Speakers pump music out onto the range, where pros hang out to offer free swing tips. Now that's service.
The Creek Club at Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Ga.
Built by Jim Engh in 2007, The Creek Club might be the best of all the courses at this resort and lake community east of Atlanta on the way to Augusta. Members of the Creek Club have 99 more holes of golf within the community to choose from, so they'll never be bored. Members have access to the resort's other courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Fazio, etc.
The Reynolds community offers a wide array of recreational opportunities along the more than 350 miles of Lake Oconee shoreline. The new Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds debuted this fall, featuring a 20-station sporting clays course, five-stand shooting range and air rifle facility, as well as archery and instructional/games areas and a hiking course. It is adjacent to the existing, 1800s-era Sandy Creek Barn and a 40-acre lake where fishing and water sports activities (kayak, canoe, motorized paddleboards) are also available.
The community of 2,600 single-family homes, cottages and condominiums has lots that range from $100,000 to $1.5 million. Existing homes sell for $300,000 up to $4 million. Access to a tennis center, a recently enlarged fitness center and 21 miles of biking and walking trails are just a sampling of the many luxuries of ownership. Discounts for dining, spa appointments and rooms at the Ritz Carlton are another.
Cordillera Ranch, Boerne, Texas
Once a working cattle ranch within 20 miles of San Antonio, this 8,700 master-planned community in Texas Hill Country has pioneered the club within a club concept. It provides endless recreation and leisure pursuits at seven resort-style clubs - The Golf Club, The Social Club, The Tennis and Swim Club, The Equestrian Club, The Rod and Gun Club, The Spa and Athletic Club and The River Club – all within the community’s gates.
Golfers are spoiled by the scenic Cordillera Ranch course (2006) by Jack Nicklaus that rolls through hills, limestone rocks, live oaks and native grasses. The equestrian center regularly loans community horses for family rides on eight miles of trails. Kayaking, canoeing, tubing and fishing on the Guadalupe River are the staples of the River Club. Five lighted outdoor hard courts and four outdoor pools including a water slide with plunge pool and an infinity adult-only pool are the backbones of the Tennis and Swim Club.
More than 1,300 lots have been developed and sold, while 800 homes have already been built. At completion, the community will have approximately 2,500 lots. Lots start at $100,000 and homes in the $500,000s.
Shooting Star Jackson Hole, Teton Village, Wyo.
Being located in one of the West's premier vacation destinations is a big selling point for Shooting Star, where the residential development on 1,300 acres will be limited to 100 home sites, and 82 cabins and lodges. The average lot site in Shooting Star is 1.3 acres, and most adjoin ponds, lakes or streams.
The year-round clubhouse has a dining room and bar, men's and women's locker rooms with inviting lounges, fitness facilities, a spa, and the adjacent Alpine Barn that provides ski and snowboard lockers with concierge services that connect directly to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The Barn also incorporates children's activities (video games, movies) and is a unique venue for social events with its own catering kitchen. Outside the clubhouse is a 25-meter tension edge lap pool, a kid's pool, two year-round spas, a fire pit and an event lawn.
Outdoor adventures are abundant in the Teton Mountains. The Shooting Star staff is dedicated to scouting unique expeditions for both adult and children's adventures. Guides can take you fly-fishing on the nearby Snake River, mountain climbing, river rafting or hiking and camping overnight in the both the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Grand Teton National Park. Day trips to Yellowstone National Park are popular in both the summer and winter.
An indoor simulator allows golfers to play if bad weather ruins a round at Fazio's impressive Shooting Star course that opened in 2009.
Martis Camp, Truckee, Calif.
Across Lake Tahoe from Clear Creek sits Martis Camp, the 2,177-acre mountain playground with 653 homesites in the low-density master plan near Truckee, a funky and fun mountain town filled with artists, bars and restaurants. Truckee has emerged in the 21st century as one of the great mountain golf destinations with a handful of excellent new clubs, but lavish Martis Camp exceeds them all.
Community life centers around the Camp Lodge, home to a spa, restaurants, fitness center and vitality pools, and the Family Barn complex with swimming, a bowling alley, an art loft, movie theater, indoor basketball court, a soda fountain and outdoor performance amphitheater. Sports fields and 16 miles of private trails keep residents active.
In winter, members and residents ski to a private lift to Northstar California. The Martis Camp Folk School engages members and guests in arts and activities centered on history, tradition, social interaction and quiet reflection. Classes range from painting and photography to fly-fishing and wood-carving. If you're not good enough to take on Fazio's altitude-induced 7,751-yard course at Martis Camp (2008), test your skills on the 18-hole Putting Park instead.
Bluejack National, Montgomery, Texas
About an hour outside of Houston in rural and rolling Montgomery, Bluejack National is Tiger Woods' first domestic golf course design to open. If that didn't get your attention, the many novel amenities will.
Bluejack is proof positive that these days, luxury can be casual with service (no cash tips) on point but never stuffy. Tiger and developers Michael Abbott and Casey Paulson of Beacon Land Development set out to create a family-friendly lifestyle, including "Frank" junior tees on the big and forgiving course. At the Playgrounds par-3 course, both beginners and tour pros can have fun for hours, even under the lights after dark. Instead of a massive, opulent clubhouse as the focal point, The Place" is an open-air bar and restaurant located smack dab between the practice tee and Playgrounds. Amenities are still growing in this community, which has both full-time residences and cottages.
When "The Fort" is built, it will offer something for every member of the family. An outdoor playground heaven will include a tennis center, zip lines, ropes course, pool, football field, “Little Fenway” wiffle ball park, skate park and tree house. Indoors will be a bowling alley, game room and burger joint.
Rock Creek Cattle Company, Deer Lodge, Mont.
Want to experience the cowboy way?
This 30,000-acre working cattle ranch is the most remote of our selections - a detriment to some but a huge selling point for others. If you don't have your own private charter, the community, situated along the rolling foothills of the Flint Creek Mountain Range, is 35 minutes from the Bert Mooney Airport in Butte, and an hour from the Missoula International Airport and the Helena Regional Airport.
A Western lifestyle can be yours with the purchase of a home site from one acre to 110 acres or a luxury cabin or cottage built along Rock Creek. The creek is the focal point, where the Rock Creek Cattlemen’s Club and full-service Creek Club Fitness Center and Swimming Hole are all located. The family pool complex features a hot tub, kids pool, sports lawn, Game Barn, fire pit and pool side kitchen. New tennis courts, horseshoes and bocce ball are nearby.
The Tom Doak design at the Rock Creek Cattle Company, routed to be walked, is highly acclaimed. Its 350-acre layout built in 2008 encompasses three different sections of Ranch land and uses the creek as a hazard throughout. The holes are framed by fescue and sagebrush with the views extending for miles. It plays firm and fast.
Greenbrier Sporting Club, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
This exclusive club in the Alleghany Mountains is much like the one at Reynolds Plantation. Members have beautiful resort amenities - multiple courses, restaurants and recreation - at their fingertips, while enjoying the privacy of the members-only Snead course at the Greenbrier Sporting Club built in 2004 by Fazio.
The floods that ravaged the region last year have delayed construction on the 8,042-yard mountaintop course designed by Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player that will be a part of The Greenbrier's newest neighborhood, Oakhurst.
The entire community, which spans 10,000 acres of resort property, is the setting for a modern sporting club featuring executive-level sports such as fly fishing, European sporting clays and an equestrian center. A private lodge is the social hub, home to a heated outdoor pool, climbing wall, tennis, dining and an adjacent, separate spa. The 'Summit' sits atop Greenbrier Mountain with another casual restaurant, outdoor infinity pool, mini-golf, sports barn with a basketball/volleyball court and an outdoor playground. Bubba Watson has a home here. Phil Mickelson serves as a spokesman in commercials.
Pronghorn Club, Bend, Oregon
Few, if any destinations felt the boom-bust cycle quite like Bend in Central Oregon. But as the dust has settled, the best clubs have made it to the other side. Pronghorn Resort & Club boasts side-by-side Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus designs — and a striking 55,000-square-foot clubhouse in the beautiful high desert. The Jack Nicklaus Signature (open to the public and hotel guests) is one of his highest-ranked works since 2000. Members, however, get the Tom Fazio Championship course and its famous "Lava tube" par 3 all to themselves, as well as perks of the Troon Prive national membership program.
Bend is as outdoorsy of a destination as there is in the west, and a membership here includes shuttle service to skiing at Mt. Hood, plus guided fishing, mountain biking and more. Great microbrews and shopping in the festive downtown is a short drive away. (Editor's note: The club was promoting a 40% reduction in dues this fall.)
Have you experienced any tremendous new golf clubs lately? Let us know where in the comments or on Twitter @golfadvisor.