‘The days of hickory clubs, knickers, and patterned socks:’ Historic Tahoe golf course celebrates 100th season
TAHOE VISTA, Calif. — Historic snowfall in Lake Tahoe created a winter wonderland for skiers and snowboarders, but not everyone had fresh powder on their minds.
For Lane Lewis winter storms mean only one thing, it’s time to get out on the golf course.
Several times this winter, the longtime owner and operator of Old Brockway Golf Course had his team remove multiple feet of snow off the nearly 100-year old greens in hopes of again being the first in Tahoe to be ready for spring playing.
“You put the course to bed in fall and you pray that in the spring everything’s good,” said Lewis.
Despite heavy snowfall and atmospheric rivers pummeling the region this past winter, the bentgrass that makes up each of the nine greens on the course saw its first sunlight in April.
As the blades of grass stretched toward the sun for the first time in months, a smile moved across Lewis’ face while he peered down upon greens that were once graced by the likes of Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack friends — Old Brockway would again live up to its moniker of being the first to open in the Lake Tahoe.
Old Brockway attracts Tahoe’s elite
Harry Comstock and R.O. Sherman built the Old Brockway Golf Course in the 1920s as an amenity for the Brockway Hotel.
Renowned Scottish architect John Duncan Dunn designed the course, which features small, turtleback greens, short green to tee walking distances, and tight fairways made of bluegrass, ryegrass and fescue
“The fescue, rye, and bluegrass on the fairways, that’s the exact same fairways they played in 1924,” said Lewis.
The nine-hole course first opened to the public in 1924. Originally Dunn had designed an 18-hole course and eventually 13 holes were completed, including the par-3 18th hole, which ran along the Lake Tahoe shoreline. But during the Great Depression and World War II, the course was barely sustainable, and parts of it, including the 18th hole, were sold.
During those days, Old Brockway, which was one of three available to play in Lake Tahoe, attracted A-listers from the Golden Age of Hollywood, politicians, and members of the criminal world.
Bing Crosby notably hosted a tournament there with his friends for a small purse. Eventually, the Crosby Clambake grew so large that it was moved to the Monterey Peninsula and continues to this day each year as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Golf Tournament.
Other notable players to mingle and walk the grounds of Old Brockway included Dwight Eisenhower, Joseph Kennedy, Dean Martin, Bob Hope, and gambling kingpin Elmer “Bones” Remmer. Even the television series “I Love Lucy” was conceived of during a round of play at Old Brockway.
Lewis family takes over
In 1978, the Lewis family purchased the course from the Comstock estate. Now four generations later, teenage members of the family are beginning to learn the ins and outs of working at and maintaining the course.
Today, the layout of Old Brockway remains much the same as it did in the 1920s when Dunn first envisioned a course nestled along the Jeffery Pines of Lake Tahoe’s North Shore.
“He had such a beautiful layout that it withstood the test of time,” said Lewis.
The only things that have changed since those early days, according to Lewis, have been the clubhouse being relocated, tee boxes being placed farther back, and the addition of lady’s tee boxes.
Walking into the clubhouse or the course’s Spindleshanks Restaurant evoke a sense of family — an atmosphere Lewis has nurtured throughout the decades at Old Brockway.
Each spring he says he looks forward to the annual reunion of players and staff as familiar faces return to the clubhouse. Maintaining and running the course is also a family affair with his sons and grandsons involved in day-to-day operations.
“We take so much pride in what we do,” said Lewis. “Everyone who works for us is family, whether they’re blood or not.”
A century later
The outbreak of COVID-19 has sparked a renewed interest in the game of golf, and more players than ever are hitting the links.
The industry had a record-breaking year in 2021 in terms of sales and rounds played, and while that may have dipped in 2022, interest in the game remains high.
“In 2021, we reached all-time high sales levels around the world, eclipsing $20 billion in annual sales, with $11.1 billion in golf equipment and $9.0 billion in golf apparel,” said John Krzynowek, Partner, Golf Datatech. “Strong consumer demand for golf products continued into 2022, however several factors constrained the manufacturers’ ability to meet orders during the first three quarters, and then economic woes dragged down the market in Q4.”
At Old Brockway, Lewis stated the three years since the outbreak of COVID-19 have been the busiest ever.
“The last three years have been the best three years we’ve ever had,” he said. “COVID was the best thing that ever happened to the golf industry because it was one of the few things you could do socially and competitively.”
During that time he said former players found a renewed interest in the game, and that the most growth has come from the Millennial demographic.
“Millennials want instant gratification,” said Lewis. “They don’t want to spend four to five hours on a course.”
This summer will mark the 100th year of operation at Old Brockway. Lewis said the course is planning a 100th anniversary party when the course opens for 2024 season.
In the meantime, golfers can take a step in time to the days of hickory clubs, knickers, and patterned socks by heading out to the course once called home by Lake Tahoe’s most prominent visitors and residents.
The nine-hole Old Brockway Golf Course plays at a length of 3,362 yards and features two par 3s, five par 4s, and two par 5s, including the iconic 578-yard seventh hole.
For more information or to book a tee time, visit www.oldbrockway.com.
Editor’s note: This article appears in the 2023 summer edition of Tahoe Magazine.