Old Greenwood: New Nicklaus design proves player-friendly

By David R. Holland, Contributor

TRUCKEE, Calif. -- When Caleb Greenwood, a crusty mountain man in his 80s, led hundreds of immigrants across the Truckee Route of the California Sierras back in the mid-1800s, few knew this rugged byway, the Emigrant Trail, would become vital in the history of California.

By 1915 Truckee was not only a center for the timber industry, but had also developed into a favorite for winter sports, featuring a huge ice palace for ice skating, a place for toboggan enthusiasts and for ski jumping. When the Winter Olympics were held at Squaw Valley in 1960, just 10 miles away, this scenic North Lake Tahoe area had arrived as a world-class sports haven.

Today, golf is getting a healthy dose of summer attention. Heralded Coyote Moon, a roller-coaster adventure of mountain golf, opened in 2000 and in September 2004 the same company, East West Partners, one of the visionaries behind Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado, and Tahoe Mountain Resorts, unveiled Old Greenwood, its upscale Jack Nicklaus signature design on pine forested, blue sagebrush land where that same Mr. Greenwood guided immigrants more than 150 years ago.

By 2006 they will have an 18-hole private course named Gray's Crossing, designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy.

Old Greenwood, a hefty 7,518-yard, par 72, was christened on August 30 by the threesome of Nicklaus, Jack Nicklaus II and Jacobsen and the gallery was treated to booming drives in the thin air of 6,000 feet. But it was the younger Nicklaus who was said to have nailed one 400 yards on the par-4, 462-yard first hole, out driving his dad most of the day by 30 to 40 yards.

Claude Close of Truckee witnessed the opening day festivities and heard comments about the maturity of the golf course. "Right out of the box people were asking me old the golf course was. They laid down sod on every inch and it shows maturity beyond its youth.

"One of the first things I noticed were greens that have oblique slants," Close continued. "Most golf courses have greens that slope from back to front, but some of these tilt right to left or left to right. Also you will see plenty of water out there, especially on the par 5s, so you have to think about placement. And when the North California Golf Association came out they commented that some of the bunkers, like at the ninth, were flat out coffins, 10 feet deep."

Old Greenwood certainly has enough bite to test anyone, but it is as player-friendly as any Nicklaus design you have ever played -- a comment seldom heard about any of his earlier designs. Spacious fairways, a Nicklaus trademark, are abundant and if your game is on, you can avoid the deep sand traps.

And Mr. Nicklaus used the award-winning formula of lead designer Jim Lipe and Chris Rule to oversee construction even though the 64-year-old Nicklaus made six site visits to the scenic property that's only about 20 miles from his Montreux Golf & Country Club, near Reno, and host of the Reno-Tahoe Open.

On opening day Mr. Nicklaus proved he can play despite his lack of tournament action in 2004. On the 12th, a 551-yard par 5, he nailed a 240-yard four wood to within inches and secured an eagle on his way to a one-over 73.

Manmade water grabs your attention first on No. 6, the 578-yard par 5, that doglegs left. A hollow defines a narrowing fairway about 140 yards from the green and the right is heavily guarded by Ponderosa and Jeffrey pines. Long knockers will go for the green in two, cutting over the pond.

No. 7 is a version of the famous Redan hole from North Berwick. It's 187 yards with a pond left and bunker in front. Redan comes from the 18th century, a French fortification guarded on three sides. This hole has a hill right and bunker front right.

The 17th is a 230-yard par 3 that hangs on the ledge of a cliff with a clear view of North Star ski area. A massive bunker looms behind the putting surface and one front and right. Any wild shots right are gone down a sage-infested sharp slope.

The final hole is scenic, with the clubhouse framed down a tunnel of pines. It's long too -- 451 yards uphill, leaving the novice with a second shot that must be towering and strong to avoid the deep-set sand traps that surround a two-tiered elevated green.

The verdict

This is upscale golf and surely a haven for second-home owners and retirees who have the money to live in an area known for winter sports as well as summer fishing and hiking. There are home-sites being offered along with resort cabins and a variety of shared-ownership town homes and members will also have access to Jacobsen's Gray's Crossing when it is finished in 2006. The public can also play for $160 when the course reopens next spring. Access is a snap. It's just off I-80, but buffers were built into the design to shield golfers from the interstate noise.

A Golf Digest Academy will be open in the spring complete with practice holes on this spacious 900 acres. There's state-of-the-art tennis and fitness areas, a swimming complex, and conference facilities. Audubon International certification is being sought.

Jacobsen serves as the director of golf for the newly formed Tahoe Mountain Club. The management group oversees East-West's three championship courses in Truckee: the existing Coyote Moon, Old Greenwood, and the private, proposed Gray's Crossing.

Stay and play

Holiday Inn Express
10527 Coldstream Road
Truckee, CA 96161

The Holiday Inn Express is a convenient night's stop to check out Old Greenwood and play Coyote Moon. Reno is only 35 miles away on I-80 and North Lake Tahoe is 14 miles south. Internet access is free in the lobby and a complimentary continental breakfast is served every day.

Fast facts

Truckee is surrounded by wilderness, a place where logging became the key industry for over a century. With the railroad complete, Truckee was located on a major east-west migration route, and in the late 1800s the town gained a reputation as a wild Old West town, with plenty of saloons, a flamboyant red-light district, and a booming timber business. Today, the downtown area has been preserved and is loaded with restaurants and shops. Be sure to investigate the famous story of the Donner Party at the town's visitors center.


Moody's Bistro & Lounge
10007 Bridge Street
Truckee, CA 96161

Enjoy jazz at this favorite local hangout and dine on the Trilogy Crusted Ahi Tuna & Sugar Cane skewered Prawns.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Enjoyed

    Joel Sweet wrote on: Dec 6, 2005

    Very enjoyable article and golf course. Noticed it just got named one of the best new courses by Golf Digest. Thanks for well-written stories like this, TravelGolf.com.