Clear Creek: A gem in the Tahoe forest
As you wind your way down off Spooner Summit and make your way toward the Clear Creek Tahoe golf course, you feel like you’re in Shangri-La. The towering Jeffrey Pines, the rock formations and the mountain views make you think you have died and gone to heaven.
And that’s without seeing an inch of the beautiful 7,001-yard course. Once you get on the course, the beauty takes your breath away. The course, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, is immaculate, and is arguably the best in Northern Nevada and maybe the state. Hitting from the fairways is like hitting off a pool table.
Yes, Clear Creek is back from a 2011 bankruptcy and open for business under the ownership of Clear Creek Partners, a newly formed company made up of Arendale Holdings and a small group of principals with experience in real estate and golf development. Until real estate plans get finalized, members can join under a dues-only membership at $6,000 a year.
The course originally opened in 2009 and has undergone several changes since. Eleven holes have been changed since the course opened, and some of the changes were as simple as adding a tee and clearing out brush.
“It’s something we wanted to do (the changes),” said Colin Campbell, the director of golf at the course. “Bill Coore had said to give it a couple of seasons, and after that see what you need to tweak. We felt like we needed to make it a bit more playable. It was challenging.
“We went down the list that we needed to make it more fun, more playable. It’s 90 percent more fun to play since we made the changes. Bill and Ben have endorsed all the changes.”
Here’s a hole-by-hole look at the changes made in the last six months.
No. 1 (454, 436, 398, 321): Originally started out a very challenging par-4, but it is now playing as a par-5. Two tees have been added, there’s a large bunker on the left side where the fairway starts, and the fairway has been expanded on the right side and the front of the green. Bitter brush also has been removed from both sides of the fairway, which means that if one hits an errant tee shot, he or she usually will be able to find the ball and at least play it back into the fairway.
No. 3 (508, 466, 419, 411): This is a downhill par-4, and the view is breathtaking from the back two tees. It seems like the ball hangs in the air forever because of the elevation. A new green tee and copper have been added, and the fairway on the left side has been expanded. Bitter brush has almost been removed. A hazard area about 20 yards in front of the green makes it a tough carry.
“The changes have made it a little simpler,” Campbell said. “It is tough to get home in two if you aren’t a long hitter.”
No. 4 (200, 173, 169, 127): A small number of trees to the left side of the fairway near the green have been removed, and a small number of trees to the right side of the green have been removed. Coore and Crenshaw have given golfers plenty of room to work balls around the contours of the green. Depending on weather, you can use different clubs to reach the green.
“It gave people more room,” Campbell said. “It (the hole) looked a little narrow.”
No. 6 (515, 501, 458, 365): The greenside bunker has been expanded on the left side, and brush has been removed from just off both sides of the fairway. It’s definitely a three-shot hole for the normal golfer. There is some elevation to this hole that you don’t see when you tee off. There is a lot of back to front pitch in the green, making it important that you hit the approach shot properly or face a possible three-putt.
“We made the hole more welcoming, easier to play” Campbell said.
No. 7 (459, 422, 410, 325): This is one tough par-4. A new tee box was added, and the right side of the fairway was expanded. A small numbers were removed to the right of the green.
“The extra tee was added to make it easier for the average golfer to get to the top of the hill, which would make for an easier approach shot,” Campbell said. “It (the hole) looks a little narrow. By widening the fairway from the bunker to the green, you get a great image visually.”
No. 10 (470, 457, 424, 360): A tough par-4 where a new forward tee has been added and the fairway has been expanded on the right side. Brush also has been removed from the edge of both fairways.
“We cleared out a lot of brush on the right and left to make it easier to play from the forward tees,” Campbell said.
No. 11 (424, 402, 393, 334): A new women’s tee was added, and brush was removed from the edges of both fairways.
No. 12 (237, 222, 204, 154): Longish par-3. There are no bunkers, but this is a pleasing hole to look at. The putting surface is really great on this hole.
“We added a new forward tee,” Campbell said. “It’s abut 30 yards shorter from the forward tees.”
No. 13 (635, 573, 556, 476): One of three holes where yardage was added. There are three new tee boxes (black, silver and green) added.
“We built new back tees,” Campbell said. “We did that for the better players to make it a longer, challenging par-5 for the elite players.”
No. 14 (320, 309, 306, 291): Added a new women’s tee.
“There was about a 100-yard carry to get to the start of the fairway,” Campbell said. “Some of the ladies and higher handicappers had trouble with the carry, and some of the women that don’t have a problem with that hole will play it from the green tees.”
No. 16 (434, 409, 404, 323): Black and silver tees were added, and the fairway was expanded on the right side. Brush was also removed.
“Another one of three holes we wanted to add length,” Campbell said. “By adding 40 yards, the elite player gets challenged.”
Campbell came to the area in 2008, leaving his native Scotland for life in the Lake Tahoe region. A year later, the course was shut down, but Campbell and several other key employees were told they would get their jobs back when the course reopened.
“I had confidence that things would get better,” Campbell said. “I wouldn’t have moved my family from Scotland if I didn’t believe in what we’re doing. My family and I love living here. It’s a great location with great potential. We just have to be patient. We have lots of work to do.”
One of the reasons Campbell likes Clear Creek is because of the work Coore and Crenshaw did in designing the course.
“They are the best in the business,” Campbell said. “They fit the course to the land they have. They don’t move a lot of dirt. This is a great course, a fair course. Every hole is different. It’s filled with charm.”
That was what Crenshaw envisioned for the course.
“Our task at Clear Creek was to create an enjoyable variety of holes on this unique property,” said Crenshaw in a brochure on the course. “This site fit perfectly with our philosophy of creating golf that feels natural and not contrived.”
Having played the course, one hole that fits that statement is the 320-yard par-4 14th, which features a huge tree in the middle of the greenside bunker which is just a few feet off the green. Many designers might have yanked the tree, but Crenshaw and Coore left it in. It certainly gives the hole some character.
One difference between Clear Creek and most courses is that the practice facilities, complete with a separate short-game area, are several minutes by cart from the existing clubhouse. Campbell said that hasn’t been a problem.
“It hasn’t been an issue,” he said. “A lot of our golfers stop there on their way in, and others come up to the clubhouse get a cart and go back down there.”
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