Golf is Back at Tahoe Donner

Golf is Back at Tahoe Donner

Blog Featured, Featured

By Ali Dickson

Set among towering pines, meandering creeks and stunning alpine views, Tahoe Donner Golf Course has been a beloved piece of the community for more than 40 years, repeatedly voted the “Best Golf Course in North Lake Tahoe and Truckee” by Sierra Sun readers. Following the 2019 season, the golf course began to undergo a $2.2M improvement project focused on replacing each green and improving its playability, pace of play and enjoyment. We are thrilled to help celebrate Tahoe Donner’s 50th anniversary by welcoming our community back to our beautiful alpine golf course.

Tahoe Donner Golf Course was one of the association’s earliest amenities. Following Tahoe Donner’s opening in 1971, the front nine holes of the golf course opened for play in 1975 along with Tee Dee’s Restaurant. The back nine opened a year later, and Tahoe Donner began operating an 18-hole course in 1976. Not long after opening, Tahoe Donner played host to the PGA tour in 1980, where pros like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Craig Stadler teed off.

Over the following years, various updates were made to the course. This included construction of the maintenance building in 1996 to help staff better care for the course as well as the introduction of forward tees during renovations taking place from 2003 to 2007. Forward tees proved to be a popular addition, as they provided greater opportunities for players of various skill levels to enjoy the course. EXCITING COURSE

After more than four decades, Tahoe Donner Golf Course needed to improve its greens, tees and fairways. In addition to some poor hole layouts, Tahoe Donner was still utilizing annual bluegrass, or Poa annua, which is now viewed as a weed by turf managers due to its weak rooting capability and poor tolerance to traffic and winter snow.

In 2018, the Tahoe Donner General Plan Committee (GPC) received letters and requests for improvement from the men’s and women’s golf clubs. In response to the letters, the GPC formed a Golf Subcommittee to develop a scope of work, refine priorities, analyze costs and generate strategies. The board of directors approved the project and, with a budget of over $2 million, staff could address important repairs to our championship course.

Cary Bickler of Cary Bickler, Inc. was chosen as the architect for the project. An expert in golf course restoration, Bickler has overseen improvements for multiple courses up and down the California coast, including La Jolla Country Club and La Cumbre Country Club in Santa Barbara.

Each element of the course’s expansion and upgrade was designed with increased playability in mind. With a layout that promotes improved shot selection and turf that fares better in the off-seasons, Tahoe Donner’s golf experience is more elevated than ever before.

One of the biggest and most intensive components of the project was the greens replacement. Tahoe Donner’s old Poa annua grasses reduced the overall quality of the course. As part of the renovation project, over 3.5 new acres of resilient creeping bentgrass were laid last fall, proven to withstand Truckee winters. This sturdy sod provides a much better putting surface and will stand strong for decades to come.

The renovation between 2003-2007 saw the introduction of forward tees to the course. Unfortunately, the small tees and location of many near cart paths created safety hazards and poor shot selection. Thanks to improved placement and increased square footage of tee boxes, golfers will find these tees to be better aligned with the fairways and much more enjoyable to play. In total, 14 tee boxes were either expanded or relocated, including Hole 12, which is a shared tee.

In addition to expanding tee areas, some tees have also been relocated. For example, tees on Holes 2 and 11 were once drastically misaligned and could be awkward to play. Today, players will find the angles down the fairways are in proper alignment with the greens, creating much better shot opportunities.

Anyone who regularly played Tahoe Donner Golf Course knows the feeling of hitting a shot down the fairway on Hole 10 only to find your ball lying in a puddle. Thanks to improved drainage, players will now enjoy improved shot selection and playing surfaces throughout the course. Additionally, relocated cart paths in steep areas like Hole 11 have been rebanked and resodded to be gentler and more gradual.

Tahoe Donner Golf Pro and Manager James Murtagh shared that Hole 11 might be his favorite following the course improvements project.

“Hole 11 is a new showcase hole, and it will play wider as a result of a relocated cart path. A steep bank that gave people trouble has also been regraded. I’m looking forward to players getting to experience this hole. Our natural surroundings work in tandem with the course itself, offering challenging yet fun opportunities for strategic playing and thoughtful club selection.”

One of the most important changes to the course not only for playability and turf health but for safety was strategic tree removal. During the course closure in 2020, Tahoe Donner forestry crews performed dead and hazardous tree removal and thinning in the forested common areas on and around the course. This had been a planned project; however, it was challenged with access and timing constraints due to heavy winter seasons and the timing of golf course operations. This work allows more sunlight to encourage turf health and create wider fairways for better shot selection. It also creates a fire break and defense against possible wildfire.

As Tahoe Donner celebrates 50 years of outdoor recreation, we are excited for all to enjoy our newly improved golf course. With the hard work of Tahoe Donner club members, board of directors, staff and construction crews, our community can enjoy this alpine golf treasure like never before.

To learn more about weekly clinics, private lessons, tee times and more, visit page 30. For more information on the recent course improvements and features, visit