TAHOE VISTA, Calif. - Normally, like most golfers, I'm terrified of water hazards.
Not when it is Lake Tahoe, though.
I've spent the past two days living my best life, as the young kids say, playing rounds of golf at Old Greenwood and The Golf Club at Gray's Crossing and staying at the AAA Five-Diamond Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. Today, I've traded my golf clubs for a paddle board, kayak and a lawn chair. The Ritz-Carlton's Lake Club might be my new favorite place on earth.
With its mid-mountain location in the Northstar California Ski Resort outside of Truckee, the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe might be well-known as a ski destination first, but there's plenty of reasons for golfers to visit in the summer. The resort, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019, offers High Sierra golf packages with preferred tee times for rounds at both courses, starting at $749 per night through October 21. It's as good as any mountain golf you'll find in Colorado or Montana.
As Ritz-Carltons go, this one might be the most unique I've stayed in for golf. The second floor "living room" helps guests instantly feel at home. It's a hangout zone, where families settle into comfy couches and chairs in various nooks to order lunch/dinner/drinks, play board games and unwind.
All 170 rooms of the Ritz-Carlton feature gas fireplaces, perfect for warmth in winter and decoration in summer. The snow still lingering on the nearby slopes didn't deter my teenagers from instantly jumping into the outdoor heated pool after check-in.
Later that day, we rode the gondola down to the Northstar ski village. Although it was raining, the outdoor rink was packed with rollerskaters. There was also mini-golf, gem-panning, bungee trampoline and more in the kid zone. Limited dining and shopping are available. Lightning canceled our gondola ride back to the resort, forcing us to wait for a shuttle ride.
I think most families plan their dinner schedules around "marshology," the fancy term for free s'mores, which are given away every evening at the outdoor firepits at the Ritz. Breakfast was served every morning in Manzanita, where we dined on killer french toast and my wife's favorite, eggs benedict.
Dinner inside the signature restaurant was easily the highlight of the stay. I tend to find that high-end hotel restaurants don't live up to their pricey menus, but that wasn't the case at Manzanita. My wife and son split the 40-ounce porterhouse, and by the end of the meal, everyone was savoring its deliciousness.
No one will ever go hungry visiting the Lake Club, which debuted in 2017 about a 15-minute shuttle ride from the hotel. Sure, it's expensive ($500-$1,000 per day for a family of four) but that experience is priceless. If you've ever tried to go to a public beach on Lake Tahoe, you know this is money well spent. The beaches are overrun on beautiful summer weekends. The parking, use of kayaks/standup paddle boards and food will easily cost you a couple hundred bucks without much satisfaction. At the Lake Club comes peace and serenity with all the food and drink you can stomach from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The chef will cater to almost any whim, whipping up salads, sandwiches and entrees. Kids can splurge on all the milkshakes and Shirley Temples they can handle.
My family took out multiple kayaks to explore the shoreline for an hour or so. My daughter took out a standup paddle board for more adventures. After I bribed the children to jump in the water for $20, they immediately skampered up the dock to sit in the outdoor hot tub. One family was picked up on the private dock by the MasterCraft X-24 boat rental the resort owns and no doubt had a great day on the water.
Where to play golf in Truckee
It's still too close to call which course I like better, Old Greenwood or Gray's Crossing. The two, marketed together as the Tahoe Mountain Club, are right across the street from one another. Both sport similar views of the surrounding forest of Lodgepole and Jeffrey pines, stellar conditioning and fairway golf homes to die for. Jack Nicklaus made Old Greenwood slightly tougher and perhaps slightly more scenic. Water lurks along six holes, leading to lost-ball potential.
To me, Gray's Crossing, a Peter Jacobsen/Jim Hardy design, sports a more interesting clubhouse setup with its pro shop and restaurant (PJs) in separate, low-slung, timber buildings overlooking the putting green. The mountain meadow routing feels open and forgiving until you hit the home stretch. No. 13 is a menacing par 4, bending right around a pond. The two-hole finish - the par-4 17th and par-5 18th - is splendid with a hazard crossing the fairway in front of each green.
If you're playing either, you won't go home disappointed. If you're playing both, like the golfers using the Ritz-Carlton package, consider yourself lucky.