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Courses & Travel

Tahoe, Day 2: Clear Creek and Timilick

Monday in Tahoe, I woke up in an old house on the lake. Sunrise wasn’t a horrible scene:

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This is the same house that Tony Romo and his entourage will be staying in this week. They’re in town for the American Century Championship (celebrity golf tournament). The house, which can sleep at least five or six, can be rented for about $1,200 per night.

And would you believe, right down the gravel street of this said house on the lake, there sits a tall wooden carving of Joe Montana? I didn’t believe it either. Which is why I stopped the car and shot this picture as proof. Hey Romo, do you see what four Super Bowls will get you? (He can’t miss it.)

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The morning round was at Clear Creek, which is in between Carson City and Lake Tahoe. Carved into the side of a mountain, 30 minutes from the lake, it’s a Coore/Crenshaw design (2009). After recent rounds on Bandon Trails, Cuscowilla and now Clear Creek, I’m beginning to realize the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw doesn’t build a bad course. I see similarities in the layout of all three courses, but the dramatics of the terrain distinguishes one from the other. Clear Creek has plenty of drama, such as this tee shot on the third hole:

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There are some stunning tree-chocked backdrops to greens and tees, like this view from behind the 16th green:

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Here’s the view from the 17th tee (110 yards, can play 80):

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Like I said, I’m a fan of the course. But Clear Creek is private. For now. And I don’t usually like to play private courses when I’m reporting a story about public golf. I made an exception this time because I had an open morning and I heard it would be worth it. After the round I sat down with Clear Creek’s brass (two owners and president) for lunch. All three—good guys. No doubt they’re much smarter than me, and a million, possibly a billion, times more successful.

But I lead off lunch with an appetizer of honesty: I questioned the concept of private golf and the decision of opening as a private facility. I feel bad for these guys—not that they need my sympathy. They need members.

After all of their time, energy and money that they put into such a cool course (and I hear the fishing is good), why not show it off for a few years? Why not come into this crazy market with arms wide open as opposed to all security gates shut? Why not “give it away” for a few years? I’d sit back, let the course of my costs generate buzz and a loyal fan base. If and when it was so popular that I had the problem of too much play, then there’s the justification to make it semi exclusive. And a few years after that, if I had enough willing members with a lot of disposable income to pay me to close the gates, I’d consider going private. But that’s just me. 

Traveling the country, I see a lot of Clear Creeks with murky futures. And they all dry up unless they abort the original plan, shed some ego and the notion of exclusivity. Gray’s Crossing, also in the Tahoe area, opened in 2007 as a private course. They went public this year and saw an immediate spike in play (from 40 rounds a day, so they say, to closer to 100 rounds per day and closer to 140 on weekends).

Look, I wish all of the successful members of society more success. But after a recent trip to Wales, where I played Porthcawl (the best course in the country) all day for $213 (and could stay the night for an extra $60, which included breakfast), I’m guessing Clear Creek will be public long before they build the planned 164 cottages on 1,576 acres of terrain that could cripple a nimble goat.

Right now you could join Clear Creek for a $30,000 initiation/deposit (you get it back if you leave the club) and $5,000 annual dues (six month season, at the most). After the new clubhouse is finished, the initial fee will go up to $50,000. If the business model, the economy and the competition are all working against them, at least they have a good course to work with. The 40 current members of Clear Creek must love having it to themselves. I know I did.

The afternoon round was at Timilick (Johnny Miller/Jim Harbottle design). Timilick opened in 2008 as a private club. Now, for the second season, they are allowing “promotional play” after 10:00 a.m. For the months of July and August you can play for $160. The twilight rate (after 2:00) is $125. (Both prices include a cart and range balls.)

I preferred Timilick to Clear Creek and Edgewood, which doesn’t really get good until the 14th hole and then leans on the 16th and 17th holes as lakeside attractions. Timilick is a peaceful trip through tall, sweet-smelling trees. A few holes have the feel of being at Augusta.

Here’s the 14th at Timilick, a 475-yard par 5:

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And the 15th (350 yards):

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On Tuesday I played Gray’s Crossing and Old Greenwood. I’ll post some pictures on Friday.

--Matty G.

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