Every year I long for the spring thaw at Lake Tahoe, when the powdery white snow gives way to the emerald green fairways of some of the most spectacular golf courses in the country. A California native, I grew up vacationing in Tahoe with my family and still relish skiing its Olympian slopes. But for my money, Tahoe shines in summer. It was the cool summer climate and abundant supply of fish that originally attracted the Washoe Indians to this astonishingly clear blue lake sitting in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at an elevation of 6,226 feet. The westward explorers John C. Frémont and Kit Carson discovered the area in 1844, followed by an onslaught of gold miners en route to the nearby American River (where those fateful first nuggets were found in 1848) and, a decade later, by silver miners seeking to cash in on Nevada's historic Comstock Lode. By the 1890s, Tahoe had become a popular vacation retreat. Today, thanks to a recent boom, the region boasts several new and redesigned golf courses, not to mention a host of resorts, the most appealing of which are situated on the lake's quieter northern shores. Between rounds, diversions abound in the invigorating outdoors.
Fly into Reno-Tahoe International Airport and make the easy hour-long drive along Mt. Rose Highway to Lake Tahoe. You can also drive from Sacramento (two hours) or the Bay Area (three and a half). For the full experience, check into the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa & Casino in Incline Village, Nevada. The resort occupies the most prized lakefront property and is freshly refurbished in a style reminiscent of the classic national park lodges. With its own beach, small casino and spa and a smorgasbord of restaurants, the Hyatt is as good as Tahoe gets.
Tee it up that afternoon at the Robert Trent Jones Sr.designed Championship course at Incline Village. A mountain layout threaded through lodgepole pines and recently redesigned by Kyle Phillips, the course will test all aspects of your game. But here's why Incline Village is a great place to hit first: Before your round, you can tune up for the entire trip at its first-rate driving range and short-game practice area.
For a relaxing dinner, drive just up the road from the Hyatt to Big Water Grille, where the hearty fare includes braised short ribs and seared big-eye tuna. Be sure to get there in time to see the sunset reflect off the lake.
Rise, shine and enjoy a scenic forty-five-minute drive along the eastern shore to Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. The only course that sits hard by the lake, Edgewood has serious chops: It has hosted both the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and the U.S. Senior Open. The closing three holes provide a rousing waterfront finish.
Now that you've played a pair of tough tracks, head back to Incline Village for an easygoing afternoon round on the Mountain course, an executive eighteen. With four par fours and fourteen par threes, it's a fun match-play course. It's also perfect for kids; two summers ago, my then nine-year-old son made the first par of his life at the 135-yard fourth.
Come evening you'll be ready to park yourself in an Adirondack chair at the Hyatt's Lone Eagle Grill and take in another Tahoe sunset. If you visit between July 13 and August 20, pack a picnic and enjoy a midsummer night at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival on the beach at nearby Sand Harbor.
Fuel up on the best breakfast in town at the Log Cabin Café, ten minutes west of the Hyatt in Kings Beach, California. The Cajun eggs Benedict are worth whatever the wait. Then motor a half hour northwest through the town of Truckee, California, to Coyote Moon Golf Course. A rollicking romp over Trout Creek and through the woods, this Brad Bell design features massive granite outcroppings and vertigo- inducing elevation drops, notably at the 227-yard par-three thirteenth.
Take a break from golf by spending the afternoon rafting down the Truckee River. The paddling is as easy on the arms as the backwoods scenery is on the eyes. On the way back, stop in for dinner at Gar Woods Grill & Pier in Carnelian Bay, California. Offering complimentary valet boat parking, the restaurant is a great spot to get a look at the gorgeous preWorld War II mahogany cruisers for which the place is named.