Club at Clear Creek Tahoe
Tenth hole, 470 yards, Swift’s Station; Here is text book example of building a hole for all skill levels. The wide fairway is only bunkered on one side (in this case the right) but that’s the best/shortest route home. Up ahead, the challenge stiffens at the green, though not in a forced or contrived manner. As seen below, the green is open in front and accepts all manners of approach shots. While the tiger golfer who carries the ball in this elevation 300 plus yards might only have a short iron in, he needs to be mightily aware of the green’s deep false front. Even approach shots that land twelve yards onto the green can spin back off. Played at 5,800 feet above sea level, the fact that Clear Creek measures just under 6,900 yards misleads some into entertaining false hopes of a low round. By the time they leave this green, such thoughts have generally been dispelled.
Though the golfer could hardly be farther from the sandbelt in Melbourne, Australia, he can be forgiven for thinking so based on how this bunker complete with native vegetation guards the best playing angle down a wide fairway.
A picture perfect green site that will no doubt grace the cover of a book someday. The high brow of the bunker on the left masks the fact that there is over twenty yards past it before one reaches the putting surface. Just this side of the long shadow on the green is where the false front commences.
Eleventh hole, 425 yards, Reflection; The Lake Tahoe region is an obvious location for golf with its great vistas and low humidity. Yet of the current twenty-some courses, none were built in the same manner as this Coore & Crenshaw design where so little earth was moved. Though the front nine features the more pronounced changes in elevation, it might well be here where some golfers will feel the strongest affinity with nature.
A look at the grade of the land right and left of the fairway shows how little earth Coore & Crenshaw moved. In addition, the presentation of the sage brush and other vegetation from the tee to the beginning of the fairway adds a rich texture and an appreciation of where one is.
Twelfth hole, 235 yards, Tarn; Of the five one shot holes, the bunkerless twelfth is not the most visually dramatic. Indeed, the high to low point on the hole is three feet! However, it perfectly complements the other one shotters and in fact, its putting surface is one of the three or four best on the entire course. High on each side, the large green helps to collect balls in toward it which is appropriate for a hole of such length. Would other architects have done something different? Yes. Would they have built a hole with any better golfing value? Doubtful.
One of two bunkerless holes on the course, the twelfth is made by its green. The long flight of the ball against the Ponderosa and Jeffrey pines stays with the golfer.
Thirteenth hole, 590 yards, Contemplation; Mountain courses rarely play as well as they photograph because the soil is invariably rocky and drains poorly, which leads to playing conditions that are soft underfoot. As has been stated before, such is not the case here. In fact, there is no better place to gain an appreciation of the site’s sandy loam than to look at the large waste area 130 yards short left of the thirteenth green. As hard as it is to believe, this is the natural floor of the property where most of the holes are located. Its qualities are nothing short of ideal for golf.
Play over the man-made bunker on the right in two and enjoy an unobstructed view of the green for one’s pitch approach. Play cautiously to the left and away from this hazard and…
…face this blind shot to a wide but narrow green. Yes, amazingly, this is the natural floor of the property. If not for the pines (and the mountain peeking through on the right!), one might think the ocean was just beyond.
The select clearing of trees to open up views behind greens at Clear Creek was an art form. More so than on most holes, trees were felled to provide stunning views for fifteen plus miles in the distance as well as this view to the right of the Carson Range of the Sierras.
Fourteenth hole, 320 yards, Schneider’s Ditch; Courses establish their own identity through different ways. Some courses have greatness conferred upon them by hosting events, though often times it speaks more to the surrounding infrastructure than to any conspicuous merit of the course itself. Few architects have the ability to create original hazards that shear their way into the golfer’s mind and become a talking point among golf architecture cognoscenti. Be it greens like the ninth, fifteenth and seventeenth or the ditch behind this green or the natural sandy mounds prior to the seventeenth, there is plenty here that the golfer will have never seen before. Such unique challenges will stand Clear Creek in good stead for decades to come.
Coore & Crenshaw used a sandy dune to great effect by creating this fine diagonal carry off the fourteenth tee. Each golfer is free to make up his own mind as to which is the best line off the tee.
On a course full of ridiculously great long views, one of the most single interesting features is this tiny little trench bunker that wraps around the back of the fourteenth green. Few good things happen to the golfer once in it, especially given that his backswing is likely to be hampered.
Fifteenth hole, 450 yards, Double Cross; Ala the thirteenth at Augusta National, a hazard (in this case a dry ditch) runs in front of the tee and parallels the fairway down the left before crossing back in front of the green and hugging its right side. Not only is this dry ditch a fearsome hazard but it is also a thing of great beauty. Other modern clubs have gone the route of turning such hazards into active creeks for reasons that the author will never understand.
Mercifully, this fabulous dry ditch as seen down the left of the fifteenth fairway was left in its natural state.
This view from behind the fifteenth green shows how the green is high in front before falling away toward the back. Thus, a front hole location like this one can be quite vexing to get close, though a mound and short grass prior to the green gives the golfer a chance to do so.
Sixteenth hole, 435 yards, Slingshot; Just as few architects would have disturbed as little land as Coore and Crenshaw did around the quiet portion of the property at eleven, twelve and thirteen, few would have left this fairway alone, yet for entirely different reasons. Greeting the golfer off the sixteenth tee is a large hump in the fairway that careens tee balls every which way. Coore & Crenshaw could have easily done what most other architects would do, which would have been to greatly reduce this landform. Instead, they embraced it within the widest fairway on the course and left it so that the view of the green is blind until after the golfer gets beyond it. By capturing rather than obliterating this distinctive landform, they gave this hole its own standalone charm. Indeed, a trademark of every Coore & Crenshaw design is how rarely, if ever, two holes remind one of each other. This is certainly true of Clear Creek where no two holes are even remotely alike.
Coore & Crenshaw hate building holes where there is a clear dictate as to how it should be played. They much prefer designing holes that look like this off the tee: a wide fairway draped over an interesting landform. Depending on the shape shot one plays and where it hits in the sixteenth fairway, one’s tee ball can end up in innumerable different spots in the sixty plus yard wide fairway. In that manner, the sixteenth remains fresh, round after round, year after year.
In a setting like this, it is incumbent on the architect to maximize the experience but never at the expense of good golf. The placement of the sixteenth green and the selective tree clearing that ensued provides a mighty backdrop. The deceptively long green makes depth perception a tricky affair while the right side of the green provides several sucker hole locations, not so much because of the right front bunker but because of the tight short grass on the bank that whisks slightly off balls ten plus yards away from the green and down the bank on the right.
Seventeenth hole, 150 yards, Temptation; Though Pete Dye helped lead golf course architecture out of the Dark Ages, even he was slow to move away from having water feature prominently on numerous penultimate holes. Indeed, the golfer could be forgiven for yawning if he came to a one shotter seventeenth that featured water as he had probably already played such a hole numerous times elsewhere before. What a shame it would be if this memorable course ended with a watery seventeenth and a long hard par four eighteenth. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The seventeenth measures 150 yards and plays even shorter thanks to the site’s elevation and twenty foot drop from tee to green. Though tiny, that’s not to imply that this hole is without challenge. Far from it. The fronting hazard may be the single most fearsome hazard on the entire course (which is appropriate given the hole’s length) and heaving contours found within the green provide all kinds of assistance in turning two putts into three or more. In fact, given these two outstanding design features, this hole quickly deserves to be included in any discussion of the world’s great short holes.
Though just a pitch down the hill, the seventeenth is fraught with challenge including…
…this fabulous fronting hazard!
As seen from any perspective, bad news abounds from being short and yet…
.. the rolling interior contours of the green tax the golfer as well as it falls away to the back through a trough.
Eighteenth hole, 530 yards, Tor; Variety within the different groups of holes (i.e. par threes, par fours and par fives) is an obvious laudable goal. The first par five at Clear Creek is a sharp dogleg left while the second one plays straightaway. The third and final one comes here at the Home hole and for the sake of balance and for not favoring any one shape shot over the other, it would be ideal if it was a dogleg to the right. Guess what? That’s what it is and if you think that is blind luck then you don’t appreciate how hard Coore works at a routing until he achieves an optimum balance whenever possible. While the hazards down the right are obvious places to avoid, so too is the tiny pot bunker in front of the green. Great swings of fortune can readily occur throughout the play of this Home hole, making it the kind of exciting finisher that leaves the golfer wanting to play more. In that manner, Coore & Crenshaw delivered exactly the kind of golf that Taylor and Hanly were keen to see for their members.
A towering rock formation serves as the backdrop to the tee ball before the fairway swingsâ€¦.
â€¦.right along the rim of a steep fall off. Flighting one’s ball over such fearsome hazards in hopes of reaching the green in two makes for a thrilling end to the round.
Apart from the golf, the Club at Clear Creek also offers flying fishing at the nearby West Walker Fly Fishing Ranch and a Lake House on Lake Tahoe with its own breathtaking setting. Nonetheless, the golf is still the focal part of the club’s offering. For those that played here in 2009 during its first season, everyone commented on the spectacular setting. In fact, the setting is so good that Coore & Crenshaw may never quite receive proper credit for the overall level of this design. And guess what? That’s the way they prefer it, with nature always front and center.
The only crowds at Clear Creek are of the four legged sort. With nothing to hear but the wind through the tall pines, the golfer is guaranteed a great environment in which to enjoy the game.