STATELINE, Nev. - It's difficult to imagine a more stunning, natural backdrop for a golf course than what the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course throws at you.
The course is 6,000 feet above sea level at South Lake Tahoe, ringed by the High Sierras and hard by the deep-blue and turquoise waters of Lake Tahoe, with sailboats tacking on the white-capped waters and houseboats serenely cruising by.
It's like playing golf in a travel brochure. In fact, it's sometimes hard to concentrate on the golf; you often find yourself just gazing around at the earthly magnificence.
"Huh? Oh, it's my shot?"
The golf course is only two blocks off the Stateline casino strip, but since most of the gamblers stay inside, and the course itself is relatively free of construction - only the looming casinos intrude on the sense of isolation - the wildlife in this wild area seems to feel it has the course to its own.
My group, for example, watched a coyote dart across the fairway at the fifth hole, leaping up a tree in a futile effort to snag a squirrel. Small gaggles of geese will be your playing partners through most of the round.
"The place really is incredible," said John Neale, from just over the border in California. "I come here to get a nature fix. I mean, the golf is really good, the best in the area, I think, but it's the surroundings that make it."
The layout has towering pines smack in the middle of fairways, and these are no spindly pines you encounter in the South - these are the big, fat pines that look like oak trees and can be formidable hazards.
In the mornings and afternoons, sunlight slants through the pines like the setting of a novel. The course actually sneaks into California at one point, the ninth green, so both states can lay claim to Edgewood.
The lake offers teasing glimpses of itself as you play your way around and through, alternately, deep woods and open spaces and finally announces itself with trumpets blaring on the latter holes, mainly Nos. 16 and 17.
No. 16 is a 564-yard par 5 that starts out with a fairway lined with thick woods and plays directly toward the lake, culminating at a green that serves as a viewing platform.
The 17th is a par 3 that plays at the very edge of the great lake, with a sandy beach just to the right of the hole and a green that drops off to the lake itself.
"The site is one of the most beautiful in the United States," Tom Fazio wrote in his book "Golf Course Designs." "It's a wonderful place, and no matter when I go there, I never tire of that magnificent setting."
Oh yes, the golf course. It was designed by George Fazio, Tom's uncle, back in 1968 and is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Officials here allow only Tom the younger to fool around with the course, and he stops by every so often to make his minor tweaks and adjustments.
Keep your nature-loving to a minimum here if you want to score well. Edgewood Tahoe is 7,445 yards from the back tees with a high-slope rating of 144 and still a challenge from the blues at 6,846 yards and even the whites at 6,365.
That's because it has a number of tight, driving corridors and some tricky green complexes, not to mention the artful and strategic bunkering Tom Fazio is famous for.
The greens move around like the wind off the shimmering lake; many of them are multi-tiered, and some are sloped so dramatically that putts can race by like freight trains.
No. 3, for example, is a near-600-yard par 5 in which the fairway almost narrows out of existence, then climbs abruptly to a difficult, hard-sloping green. Oh yes, there's water all down the left side of the fairway.
There are doglegs, some water carries and downhill tee shots, and one blind landing area, on No. 15. You have to peer through a telescope of sorts to see if the group ahead has cleared.
Be aware, you won't be able to enjoy this golf and nature in all its glory on the cheap. Green fees are $220 with twilight rates of $180, though the course does offer various discounts through the playing season.
The course has good practice facilities, with a driving range and putting green, and its clubhouse makes a nice effort of matching the natural beauty: The Brooks Bar and Deck has vaulted ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and expansive decks, all to take in its views of Lake Tahoe.
Those who know the area well say the Edgewood Tahoe restaurant is one of the best around; the tables also give diners expansive views of the lake.
Edgewood has a 180-room lodge in the planning stages and offers various stay-and-play packages at area hotels.
Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Hotel and Ski Resort is in the heart of the casino district and just a short ride to the golf course.
It's the only four-diamond, AAA-rated, full-service, all-suite resort in South Lake Tahoe.
It's close to most of the attractions here, including - if you want to forego golf and hit the ski trails - Heavenly Mountain Ski, Kirkwood, Sierra and Alpine Meadows ski resorts.
There are also lake cruises, fishing charters, hiking, sailing excursions, hot air balloons, parasailing and numerous water sports.
And, of course, the casinos.
Guests who stay in the two-room hotel suites have options in the hotel like a fitness center, business center and high-speed Internet access.
September 30, 2008