OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. -- Make what you want of this little stay in paradise. Push it to the limit and cram in all the activity a body can handle. Or simply fall lazily into kick-back mode, relaxing at every opportunity.
This little patch of paradise resides in the shadow of Squaw Valley, the famed Olympic village that played host to the 1960 Winter Games.
Welcome to The Resort at Squaw Creek, a gorgeous year-round vacation playground that goes overboard with indulgences and dares its guests to feel anything but remorse at checkout time.
Located on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Squaw Creek has 403 luxury accommodations, many of them with a stunning picture-window view of the rugged mountainside. This is obviously a popular winter getaway, yet there is even more to do in the summer months. And don't worry about the weather. It borders on perfect every day.
"The weather is just gorgeous, everyone who comes here from the East Coast should at least make one visit out here," said Mary Anne Roll of Rhode Island, who was sitting poolside on a beautiful July morning. "I would come back to this place in a heartbeat."
I felt the same way, which is why the family and I headed back for another Lake Tahoe golf vacation this summer. Hanging out at the pool became my wife and daughter's preoccupation. I made occasional guest shots at the pool, but much of my time was spent hunting down my golf ball.
Not that hanging out by the 25-meter pool (with four outdoor spas) or at our room at Squaw Creek with the unbelievable panoramic view was torture. It's the type of resort where you don't need to leave the premises, there's too much to do on the grounds.
Care to indulge yourself? Squaw Creek, which rests at the foot of the pristine Squaw Valley meadow, is quite the place. Golf is one pursuit. There is also some great hiking trails, mountain biking, swimming, tennis, horseback riding, or simply getting in a workout at the new revamped spa, which completed a $3 million expansion in April.
My wife tried a massage and came back an hour later with one thought. "When can I get another?" It's part of the treatment you can receive at Squaw Creek. Massage, facial, manicure, pedicure and all types of body treatments are available. "We've become much more equipped for our guests," said Ali Gordon, Squaw Creek's recreation and spa manager. "People always want more services and we 're trying to give it to them."
Speaking of diversity, a quick shuttle ride lands you at Squaw Valley's doorstep. No skiing in July this year, but a cable ride to High Camp deposits visitors to 8,200 feet, offering an extraordinary view of Lake Tahoe. At High Camp, there's no shortage of activities, which include the Olympic ice skating rink, sand volleyball courts, four tennis courts, hearty mountain bike trails, plus large swimming pool and hot tub.
"There is a lot of diversity around here," said Dan Dolan, Squaw Creek's director of sales and marketing. "In the summer people can do a lot of adventure sports. Most people are real satisfied with our adventure choices, whether it's for hard-core adventure seekers or people wanting a little softer choice."
That diversity extends to the five distinct restaurants, which provide a nice selection of cuisine and atmosphere, depending on the mood. "Squaw Creek is very relaxing, a nice place to hang out, and the food is good too," Roll said.
At Glissandi, there is no jacket and tie required, but the dining elegance makes a male guest feel like that is the right choice. It's a four-star location, perfect for a romantic dinner, a place to indulge in rich food. If Italian is the choice, Ristorante Montagna is the place to go. It's a casual atmosphere with some unique entrees and good selection of red wines.
Cascades offers an enormous buffet breakfast, featuring everything from waffles to rich desserts. Bullwhacker's Pub is a sizable sports bar with a good choice of microbrew beers and enticing list of appetizers. The final choice is the Sweet Potatoes Deli, where you can get a bite to eat or a good cup of coffee in quick fashion almost any time of day.
I did mention this was a golf vacation, right? As much as I love the game, at Squaw Creek it's easy to get distracted. That occurred the first day, but a tee time was available on the afternoon of the second day when the temperature was ideal for an 18-hole adventure.
It does become an adventure at times on this tricky Robert Trent Jones, Jr. layout. The son of famed golf course designer Robert Trent Jones had quite the challenge in planning the golf course at Squaw Creek. The balance between ecologically sound decisions and ones based in basic golfing principles were surely difficult. The course resides in an environmentally conscious area with more that a few wetlands, no doubt giving Jones a massive headache some days.
Local golfers hold little praise for the course, which can be cruel at times due to the tight fairways and dependence on accuracy. Yet there are people who love the ambiance and the challenge.
One of them is Jeff Carvell of San Francisco. He's played Squaw Creek several times and came back for another visit on his annual Lake Tahoe golf sojourn with two childhood buddies. "I like this course because it's different," Carvell said. "It's just so beautiful here, I love playing in these mountains. It can be windy and it's target golf, but I like the challenge."
The most important decision at Squaw Creek starts at the first tee. It's crucial to pick the right tees. Chose the wrong one and it could get ugly. The back tees measure 6,931 yards and should be for the low handicapper only. The blue tees are more pleasing at 6,453 yards, while the white tees (6,010 yards) are designed for the occasional golfer. The ladies tees go 5,097 yards.
On a three-day stay from Milwaukee, Bill Seemann played the white tees and had a relatively stress-free round. "I think the course is fine, it's a nice resort course," he said. "You just need to slow down your swing and keep the ball in play."
A modest first hole offers a chance for a nice beginning. This par-4 with a generous fairway goes 368 yards. An accurate second shot leaves a nice birdie attempt. At No. 2, a sizable tee shot is required on this dogleg left. Don't hit it far enough and the second shot is blocked off and making par becomes a chore.
The third hole is a scenic par-3 that can quickly turn ugly. There is a sand trap on the left and sticking one on this green from 205 yards away is not easy. Club selection is crucial. A tight fairway at No. 4 is deceiving. The narrow gap opens up, but stay right, anything left can wind up OB. Big hitters may reach this par-5 (525 yards) in two. Accuracy is crucial.
The Squaw Creek layout offers specific landing areas on most holes. Fail to hit the spot and it could be a lost ball, a frequent occurrence on this mountainous course. That is the case at No. 5, a medium-size par-4 that offers a generous landing area along the right side. Consider this hole a breather for what lies ahead.
A wonderful par-3 is up next at No. 6. It's wonderful as long as your ball stays dry. There is a long carry over water to the green, 176 yards away and typically into the wind.
Even if your ball finds the water, take a moment to check out the spectacular view of Squaw Valley in the background. Leave the driver in the bag at No. 7, a short par-4 going 343 yards. Be careful, this potential birdie hole can go terribly wrong. Sacrifice distance for accuracy and a short iron will place your ball in birdie territory.
No. 8 is another short par-4 (318 yards) that requires a tee shot into a small island fairway. This is the course's No. 1 handicap hole, which should throw up the caution sign. Play it safe and par is not that difficult. The front nine concludes with another short hole, which is big on accuracy and short on patience. Trouble looms everywhere on this par-5 that goes 488 yards. Beware of the two-tiered green, putting is dangerous.
Rob Sentovich of Walnut Creek rolled through the front side unscathed. He had three birdies and shot a 2-under 34. "This is a great course, it's tough and you need to hit the ball well," said Sentovich, a low-handicapper. "You can score out here, but you need to stay out of trouble." Trouble definitely lie ahead for Sentovich, who had several double bogeys on the backside and finished with a 76.
Be careful on No. 10, the fairway is not as wide as it appears. But two good shots will have you putting for par on the 365-yard, par-4. Wetlands come into play at No. 11, which measures 387 yards. Stay to the right off the tee, left is no good.
Accuracy is again the key at No. 12, a decent-sized par-4 going 412 yards. A tough green awaits your approach shot. There's no resting at No. 13, an uphill par-5 that plays longer than 496 yards. Two good shots probably won't get you there. The shot into the green is a blind one, so be careful. Hopefully the wind is at your back, but frequently it is not.
A downhill par-3 is a relief after the previous hole, yet don't relax. Club selection is tricky, the 202-yard hole plays shorter than expected, especially hitting with the wind. Bunkers are left and back.
At No. 15, the tee shot must carry over Squaw Creek. A three-wood or less is the smart choice on this 378-yard hole. A long second shot typically awaits, heading into a green that slopes from back to front. Don't leave it short on No. 16, a par-3 that goes 184 yards. The green is sloped, making par a good score here.
Trouble lurks everywhere at No. 17. The tee shot must go right center and be long on this 407-yard, par-4. Tough second shot as well. A narrow fairway makes this long par-4 a tough finishing hole. Tee shots must go deep on this 424-yard hole at 18, which feature wetlands right and left. A large bunker guards the green. Make birdie here and that's quite an achievement.
It was certainly a challenging first visit for Jon Sakai, who makes his home in Walnut Creek. But he was pleasantly surprised with his score at the end of the round. "It's a difficult course, I figured I would shoot real badly," Sakai said. "But we all did a lot better than we thought. I really liked the course. It's in a beautiful valley and a real challenge."
June 20, 2001