TRUCKEE, Calif. -- The name evokes the image of a little boy backing a toy fire truck over a bedroom floor full of Legos.
Truckee, a mountain village born of good spirits, sits just north of Lake Tahoe's north shore. Back in 1844, the Paiute chief for whom the town was named guided the Stephens Party of emigrants 40 miles over the High Sierra. The first party to successfully make the trip, they sparked a rush of emigrants in the coming years, including the ill-fated Donner Party.
Over the next century and a half, Truckee morphed from an Old West mining town into a major ski retreat, thanks to the resorts such as Northstar-at-Tahoe and Squaw Creek, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.
Spectacular in the winter, this part of NoCal's High Sierra, for a few tantalizing months each summer, provides an idyllic mountain golf escape. High season starts July 1. And it's relatively new to the map compared to Lake Tahoe, which has boasted Edgewood Tahoe on its south shore since the 1960s.
"In the last 25 years, Truckee has evolved from a ski town to golf," said Larry Windsor, communications director of Golf the High Sierra. "Now it's the strongest pocket of the region between the existing and new courses."
The High Sierra regions, from Nevada's affordable, desert golf courses of Reno and the Carson Valley to remote Plumas County, all boast a little something different.
In Truckee, you'll find mountain relaxation with a dose of sophistication. As you enter the commercial center, Old West buildings and storefronts house boutique shops, designer clothing stores, coffee shops and bars. On the main corner is Moody's, one of the area's premier restaurants, a dimly lit bistro and lounge that features live jazz to go with signature cocktails.
The town's outskirts opened to a handful of new developments in the last decade -- growth that sparked the high-end golf explosion.
As you'd expect in the current economic climate, the development properties were met with varying degrees of interest. For now, the luxury development Martis Camp, serves as the lead horse. It's home to a 7,700-yard Tom Fazio design and a ski lift that connects the development directly to Northstar. Lots start at just less than $1 million.
Martis Camp has managed to keep its golf course private, while others have changed their model to allow public play.
Just down the road from Martis Camp, Schaffer's Mill Club enjoys its second full season of golf on a phenomenal Johnny Miller-John Harbottle design. It lacks the Fazio-type bells and whistles but substitutes a more classic -- and always exciting -- mountain design that climaxes with a phenomenal, tumbling back nine. With only a small trailer clubhouse to date, Schaffer's Mill Club offers promotional public play at select times daily. Take them up on it, and you may well find a new favorite mountain golf course. But plan to eat elsewhere.
One golf real-estate development, Old Greenwood, considering all that's happening in Truckee, may have earned its moniker faster than the 2004 opening date suggests. The Jack Nicklaus signature golf course mixes modern features, like a 7,500-yard-plus set of tees, and in many spots, a Nicklaus design style a little more toned down than usual.
Old Greenwood's younger sister, the Golf Club at Gray's Crossing, originally opened as a private course in 2007. It began offering public times in 2010, but the club still boasts private-club-worthy, fast fairways and greens and club amenities like valet parking, a delicious lunch menu and caddies. Yes, Gray's is traditionally designed by Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy, with walkers in mind, despite it's severe mountain surroundings.
More golf around Truckee
At more than 6,000 feet above sea level, Coyote Moon offers an experience as as dramatic as you'll find in the region, with granite outcroppings and holes along Trout Creek. Its season usually lasts a few weeks shorter than the rest. And some steeply elevated tee shots -- none more than the par-3 13th hole, which plunges from 227-yard back tees -- add to the setting.
Here's something even more remarkable about Coyote Moon: It's a golf course with no real-estate component.
The Resort at Squaw Creek, first and foremost, remains a ski destination, given the Olympic rings and country flags flying about. But Robert Trent Jones Jr. built a golf course here that winds around open valley spaces and wetlands beneath the ski slopes.
Closer to the lake on the Nevada side sits Incline Village, home to both a championship golf course and Jones' par-58 Mountain Course for beginners or those looking for a quick golf fix.
Truckee, just a short drive from Tahoe's north shore, provides access for a drive around the lake. Everyone should try it once and pass sights such as Emerald Bay. Do so, and you'll eventually arrive in Stateline, Nev., where you find Tahoe's main golfing venue: Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, which boasts a traditional George and Tom Fazio design with a spectacular, lakeside finish.
Stay and play in Truckee
If you're looking to splurge, stay at the new Ritz-Carlton Highlands, a Northstar mountain retreat equidistant from Lake Tahoe and Truckee. Summer golf packages with Gray's Crossing and Old Greenwood start at $449 per person, per night.
For something closer to Truckee and fit for more budgets, the Cedar House Sport Hotel offers a small, modern European-style lodge -- down to the German appliances and furniture in guest rooms. The property is less than a mile from downtown Truckee and near baseball fields and a Frisbee golf course. And here's another European nicety: Your room rate, about $150-200 per night, includes breakfast.
If you want to see Truckee old school, head downtown for the Truckee Hotel, a refurbished, 37-room property right on the commercial row that dates to 1875.