Tahoe’s historic golf courses

 

Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, circa 1961. | Courtesy Old Brockway Golf Course

Renowned as a golfer’s paradise, the Tahoe Sierra is home to more than 30 beautiful courses that offer stunning views and challenging fairways, many of them designed by top professional players or noted course architects. These modern layouts create scenic vistas along with pastoral greens and fairways, but there are three modest 9-hole golf courses around Big Blue that hold the strongest links to Tahoe’s early days.

READ MORE: Enjoy course profiles in each Tahoe Weekly

Old Brockway Golf Course

The venerable Old Brockway Golf Course at Kings Beach boasts more colorful history on its nine holes than any other set of links at Lake Tahoe. The cast of characters that has strolled Old Brockway’s fairways is a veritable who’s who of noteworthy personalities from 20th Century America. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Joseph Kennedy (father of President Kennedy) and President Dwight D. Eisenhower are among the many players that have enjoyed this course.

READ MORE: Historic Old Brockway Golf Course

Designed by the renowned Scottish architect John Duncan Dunn, Old Brockway opened in 1926 and the course hasn’t lost any of its old-school charm over the years. Dunn was a leading golf course architect in the early decades of the 20th Century. His sister, “Queenie” Dunn, had designed the Tahoe City Golf Course several years earlier.

Queenie Dunn was America’s first female professional golfer and instrumental in establishing tees especially for women.

In 1934, legendary crooner Bing Crosby hosted his first unofficial “Crosby” tournament at Brockway where his celebrity friends gathered for laughs and prize money. Frank Sinatra played Old Brockway frequently in the 1950s and early 1960s. Sinatra got his first glimpse of Lake Tahoe in August 1951 when the entertainer arrived in Reno to establish residency in order to divorce his first wife Nancy. In 1960, Sinatra bought a 25 percent interest in the nearby Cal-Neva Casino property and during the summer months it was common for Sinatra to show up at Old Brockway to play golf and relax away from the spotlight.

Every hole on this storied 3,400-yard course affords beautiful views of Lake Tahoe. Historic Old Brockway has been owned and operated by Lane Lewis and his family for more than 30 years. The Golf Channel has ranked it one of the Top 10 Best 9-hole courses in the United States.

Tahoe City Golf Course

Tahoe City Golf Course is the oldest at Lake Tahoe. It has been a locals’ favorite since 1917 when the legendary Tahoe Tavern Hotel commissioned Isabella May “Queenie” Dunn to design it.

Queenie Dunn was a member of England’s most famous golfing family. Her grandfather, William “Willie” Dunn, was the instructor and Keeper of the Green at London’s prestigious Blackheath links, where he was a top player, as well as a club and ball maker. His two sons, Tom and William Jr., followed in their father’s footsteps as ball makers, as well as club and course designers.

READ MORE: Tahoe City Golf Course celebrates 100 years

Born in England in 1880, Queenie learned to play golf on a course laid out by her father, Tom. Considered one of England’s best woman golfers and instructors, Mrs. Dunn Webb was among Great Britain’s first female professionals.

She immigrated to Boston in 1915 where she wrote golf instruction articles for the New York Herald and taught the male-dominated sport to girls at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Queenie was America’s first female professional golfer and instrumental in establishing tees especially for women. In 1916 she moved to Reno, Nev., where she helped organize the Reno Golf Club and laid out the Washoe County Golf Course. It was the first in the Silver State and the first in the United States designed by a woman architect.

In 1917, Queenie arrived in Tahoe City at the request of the Tahoe Tavern and designed a 6-hole course in the hay meadows near the mouth of the Truckee River. It was expanded to nine holes in 1926, the same year her brother John laid out the Old Brockway Golf Course.

One of Tahoe City’s pioneer families, the Bechdolts, purchased the course in 1948, and owned it for decades. In the 1950s, the links were popular with Sinatra, Crosby and crew who appreciated its similarities to Old Brockway. In recent years, charity tournaments at the Tahoe City course have raised more than $200,000 for the Tahoe City Little League program. Rich in history, the Tahoe City Golf Course is family and dog friendly and one of the least expensive in the region. It’s a great place to practice the basics.

Glenbrook Golf Course

The 9-hole Glenbrook Golf Course is a private venue on the East Shore of Lake Tahoe in charming Glenbrook, Nev. Originally the site of industrial-scale lumber milling operations in the 19th Century run by timber baron Duane L. Bliss, the land was later developed into a gated community.

Construction of the golf course began in 1925, centered on meadowlands that sloped gently toward Lake Tahoe. It opened for business in 1927. The course is unique in that each hole has two tee areas, which gives players an 18-hole experience over two rounds. The ninth tee, perched high on a hillside, leads to a scenic fairway that descends to a clipped green close to the sparkling waters of Lake Tahoe.

Due to its status as a private club and community, Glenbrook didn’t get the same exposure to the celebrity traffic of Tahoe City and Old Brockway. But when Ben Hogan, one of the game’s greatest players visited Glenbrook in 1948, the boutique course gained notice. Hogan had been playing in a Reno tournament and was persuaded to stop at Glenbrook before returning home to Texas. Hogan played an 18-hole exhibition round — scoring 5 under par — and then offered a teaching clinic using demonstration strokes and shots. Admission to the exhibition cost $1.50 plus $.30 federal tax.

Hollywood actors Rita Hayworth and Clark Gable enjoyed playing golf at Glenbrook while waiting to establish Nevada residency in order to file for divorce. In the late 1940s, Gable had introduced his golf caddy, Robert Wagner, to a movie executive, which launched Wagner’s successful acting career.

In the Truckee-Tahoe region, there is a public golf course for every ability, budget and mood. From the challenging world-class championship level to hackers in flip-flops, no matter how you slice it, playing golf in the beautiful Tahoe Sierra is a winning game. Discover the courses of the Tahoe Sierra and beyond at TheTahoeWeekly.com. Click on Golf under the Out & About Tab.

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Mark McLaughlin
Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is an award-winning, nationally published author and professional speaker with seven books and more than 800 articles in print. A prolific writer, Mark has received the Nevada State Press award five times. He is a popular lecturer and experienced field trip leader who has lived at North Lake Tahoe since 1978. He teaches Sierra Nevada history using entertaining stories, slide shows and informative tours. He has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio and has appeared as an expert consultant on CNN, The History Channel and The Weather Channel, as well as many historical documentaries.