Nicklaus plays nice: Tahoe's Old Greenwood Golf Course not the same old Jack

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

TRUCKEE, Calif. - When PGA Tour fixture Peter Jacobsen played Old Greenwood Golf Course, he heard a noise, looked up and saw a private jet swooshing overhead.

Old Greenwood's No. 6
Nicklaus just dares you to try and cut over the lake on Old Greenwood's No. 6
Old Greenwood's No. 6Old Greenwood's Par-3 seventhOld GreenwoodOld Greenwood's No. 1
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Old Greenwood Golf Club

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12915 Fairway Drive
Truckee, California 96161
Nevada County
Phone(s): (530) 550-7010
18 Holes | Resort/Semi-Private golf course | Par: 72 | 7518 yards | Book online | ... details »

"That must be Jack on one of his visits," Jacobsen quipped. At least, that's how the story goes as told by course regulars.

Yes, fly-by course designer
Jack Nicklaus
is the name behind Old Greenwood. This is a Nicklaus Signature design, which means Nicklaus actually trucked his way out to Truckee for on-site visits.

Well, somebody must have fluffed the Golden Bear's pillows extra nice, slipped him a few bonus mints or let him steal one of those big comfy robes. Or maybe Jack ran into Paul McCartney at the Truckee bistro where the music legend plays an annual set.

Something awfully pleasant surely happened.

Ornery Jack is nowhere to be found at Old Greenwood. The Majors collector accused of designing courses for Tour pros is not slapping any 15-handicappers across the face here. The Nicklaus who laid out this track fusses over his guests like the most charming of dinner-party hosts.

Old Greenwood is a nice, comfortable, enjoyable course. Not Stuart Smalley wimpy, mind you. There's challenge here if you want it - 7,518 yards of risks to take. But it's playable for those looking to just hit a decent shot every few holes. There are some forced-carry tall-grass sections off the tees, but nothing severe. It's the perfect course for a flex-bombing college athlete to play a round with his granddad.

And it's located in the underrated High Sierra region that straddles California and Nevada between Reno and Lake Tahoe. The elevation is high, the summertime temperatures cool, and the Nicklaus is definitely nicer.

Who knew?

"This is one of my favorite Nicklaus courses," said veteran golf writer Blaine Newnham, now semi-retired from the Seattle Times. "Jack doesn't seem like he's trying to prove anything here like [he] does on a number of his other courses."

Old Greenwood is more open than you'd expect. Tall trees abound, as on most Tahoe-area courses, but at nearby Coyote Moon there's a much greater chance of bouncing balls off bark.

Nicklaus' fairways provide margin for error. Phil Mickelson would have killed - or at least smiled extra nicely - to replace Winged Foot's 18th with one of Old Greenwood's.

Here the punishment comes in the surprises. Like landing in one of the bunkers and concluding that something's gone horribly wrong with your wedge. Even good sand players struggle in these things, cursing as they kick up only sand and frustration.

Turns out Nicklaus made Old Greenwood's bunkers deeper and more severely tilted than most. Hey, at least he's not demanding that resort golfers play furrowed bunkers.

This is how Jack plays it at Old Greenwood. The fairways are roomy, even when running through woods - but fly your ball into a penalizing obstacle, and man, will you be penalized. Catholic-school-nun penalized.

Old Greenwood throws water at you on six holes, most dramatically on the par-5 sixth, which curves around a lake that almost juts out into the fairway's left side. A big grassy hollow on the right nudges you even more to try to cut a shot over the lake. The flag's right behind the thing.

This is invigorating show golf. There's no margin for "just all right." You're either cheering as your shot sails over the water through blue sky to the green or you're groaning at the splash.

No. 7 gives you a chance for some lake fun as you settle down. This 187-yard par 3 is essentially a straight shot across the lake at the flag. Which just happens to be on a steep ridge that you do not want to land below.

Of course, if you called Jack, he'd probably give you a mulligan. It's Old Greenwood, after all. Everything's good.

The verdict

Old Greenwood is not a cheap play by any stretch ($170 green fee), and there's a heavy real-estate element. The surrounding houses make it a little less scenic than some of Tahoe's golfing wonders. Still, this is a course that many golfers swear by.

"I just think it's a beautiful place," Anna Lambiotte said between practice swings on the back driving range.

Whether it's the fourth best new upscale course in the country, as Golf Digest declares, is another matter. But there's arguing that this is a nice course with a nice, unobtrusive staff. Everything about the place is … well, nice.

Who knew Jack had it in him?

Stay and play

Truckee is a great base for a Sierra golf trip. This riverside town has tons of character along with surprisingly hip restaurants and shops. The Hampton Inn (530-587-1197) here is unlike any Hampton Inn you've ever stayed in - big suites, a distinctive exterior and a staff that goes out of its way to please.

Dining out

Moody's Bistro & Lounge (530-587-8688) is the place to eat in Truckee and maybe the entire Tahoe region. The manager comes straight from Manhattan gastronomic palace Picholine and a young chef wears T-shirts and cooks knockout sophisticated meals. This is where Paul McCartney gets up on the small stage and sings once a year. It's that good.

Fast fact

Old Greenwood has a Golf Digest Teaching Academy on site. The school's practice range possesses one of the best views you'll see on any range anywhere.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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