Clear Creek Tahoe – a natural fit |

Clear Creek Tahoe – a natural fit

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

Photo courtesy of Jim Grant

MINDEN – Descending into the Carson Valley from Spooner Summit, golfers have often wondered if a mountain course could somehow find a home among the magnificent Jeffrey and Ponderosa pines on the Eastern flank of the Sierra.

Clear Creek Tahoe and its panoramic views have been there waiting for the right golf course designer to carry out that visualization.

Reputed designers Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Tom Fazio and Tom Doak didn’t make it happen.

Two-time Masters winner Ben Crenshaw and partner Bill Coore did.

Crenshaw, now a member of the Champions Tour, and Coore weren’t scared off by the site’s elevation or the challenges of routing holes on the side of a mountain in the middle of a 1,576-acre golf and residential community.

“When I came in here the first time and Bill told me it was halfway up the mountain, I said, ‘You have to be kidding,’ Crenshaw recalled. “It has a nice mystery about it when people first come here. And when they are here, they go, ‘Gosh, I can’t believe this.’

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“We think we have a unique situation to showcase golf in a very natural sense in a spectacular area of the world that people have known about forever. It’s some of the most gorgeous land that you will find anywhere in the United States. “

Crenshaw and Coore have become known around the golf world as course designers who find natural settings for their work.

“First and foremost, we try to find suitable ground,” Crenshaw said last week while visiting Clear Creek Tahoe. “It’s more comfortable to us to let certain pieces of land tell us what to do, all the while knowing that in golf architecture in the last 50 to 60 years there have been wonderful golf courses built on less conducive pieces of land.

“The more you work a piece of ground and the more material you move, the less natural it is going to appear. We can’t get that out of our minds.”

Visitors very likely won’t get CCT out of their minds, either.

Once a cattle ranch and part of a logging route, the Alpine location is rich in history. The Pony Express during its short-lived ride passed through the surrounding area. Some Western TV buffs even claim that the burn area of The Ponderosa in “Bonanza” was somewhere close to the site of Clear Creek Tahoe today.

“We had the latitude from these fine people to go find the golf course,” Crenshaw said. “That doesn’t happen very often in this business.”

The first thing that golfers will notice is that the 6,868-yard, 18-hole private golf course is a natural fit in the surrounding landscape. Secondly, they’ll remark about the gradual elevation change between most of the holes. At its lowest point, the golf course is 5,500 feet and 5,900 feet at its highest. Thirdly, they’ll recognize that a vast number of trees still remain on the property.

“We had the luxury of having a property where we didn’t have to move a lot of dirt,” said CCT President Mark Sollenberger, a 1990 US Mid-Amateur runner-up who holds the early course record at 5-under 67. “We didn’t want to take out more trees than necessary.”

Crenshaw and Coore formed their partnership in 1986. Some of their work includes highly regarded Sand Hills in Mullen, Neb.; The Plantation in Kapalua, Hawaii; Old Sandwich in Plymouth, Mass.; and Bandon Trails in Bandon, Ore. Coore and Crenshaw have applied a distinct set of rules to each project they undertake.

“It’s really a puzzle, and you have to work hard at it,” Crenshaw said. “You’d like to have naturally suited locations, and you want to work out problems for every class of golfer. You want to have interesting holes. You want to have diverse holes. You want your holes to have a sense of balance the way that they are numbered, so the routing plays a key role. The direction of the holes and where you are going in the beginning tells so much of the story.”

Nearly two months have passed since CCT opened, and Crenshaw is still learning to play his unique layout. Along with the tricky elevation, the golfer must negotiate the afternoon breezes that kick up and be creative with shot-making.

“You have to play it, sense it, feel it and learn it,” Crenshaw said. “There was to me always a fascination to playing golf in higher elevations and then have the wind blow. I always had that feeling when I played in Denver. There were certain shots that I hit that went right through the breeze because the air was so light and other times it would knock it down, and you would say why. You have to react and you have to learn different situations of how certain holes play.”

Clear Creek Tahoe’s natural theme even extends to the bridges and steps, which are made out of pine. The bunkers add visually to each hole with their craggy cuts, and most of the greens have ample landing areas, giving the average player room for error.

“To me some of the most interesting situations here are around the greens and on the greens,” Crenshaw said. “There are lots of different ways to play the shots. There are lots of options to play them and you are not dictated to.”

That loyalty to the average golfer is no more apparent than on the 17th hole, a 148-yard poke across a wasteland from an elevated tee.

“We like to incorporate a short par 3 on a golf course if we can,” said Crenshaw, who doesn’t like to assume more than two or three design projects per year. “It naturally occurs there; it’s sort of a drop shot. It’s a larger green for such a short shot, but it can play very different because of the undulations on the green.”

If No. 17 isn’t the signature hole, there are many others under consideration.

“People will always remember the drop on No. 3 when they see it for the first time. We knew we had to incorporate that into the design and think of ways to link that particular situation with holes before it and after it to make it work with the theme,” Crenshaw said. “They’ll certainly remember the finish and 17. No. 13 is an attractive par-5 that has a completely different backdrop, and 9 and 10 are excellent par-4s that are different.”

As of last week, CCT had 22 members. Up to 495 memberships at $30,000 per pop are available. Members will be asked to ante up another $20,000 once a clubhouse is built in several years. Annual membership dues are $5,000.

Membership benefits will extend past the golf course. Members also have access to fly-fishing with a guide on private sections of the Walker River and use of a lake house in South Lake Tahoe.

“There are not many places that have these amenities at all,” Crenshaw said. “They can do lots of other unbelievable things in this area, which has always been part of Tahoe’s attraction.”

For more information, phone (775) 884-9922 or go to