INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — I could hear the wind howling outside even before I opened my door at the cozy Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort.
When I stepped cautiously outside onto the second-floor veranda, I caught a face full of shoreline sand. I blinked the sand out of my eyes and saw Lake Tahoe’s shoreline, barely 20 yards away. There were angry whitecaps, anchored small craft bobbing as if riding a wild rollercoaster, snowcapped mountains in the distance and a roiled sky.
Oh, and it was a stinging 45 degrees. Welcome to June in Lake Tahoe.
It was not necessarily a day for golf. Except it was Opening Day at the Incline Village Golf Resort’s Mountain Course, which is a par-58 course, so how bad could it be? Plus, who else besides me would be dumb enough to play in this weather?
I loaded my rental car, admired the newly formed sand drift behind it in the parking lot, and took a short 15-minute drive around Lake Tahoe’s north end to the Mountain Course. Its sister, the Incline Village Championship Course, has hosted the LPGA Tour and features wonderfully baffling greens. At least the Mountain Course was heavily forested and offered protection from the wind.
One other couple was foolhardy enough to be in the parking lot, but I beat them to the first tee, a 375-yard par 4. I roped a nice no-warmup drive down the left center of the fairway, which disappeared over a rise. It looked perfect but when I arrived, no ball was in sight.
I was still searching when the course ranger and a female ranger-in-training pulled up. The trainee stated the obvious. “You know everything slopes toward the lake, right?” she said.
I expanded my search downhill into the right rough and there, in the pine straw and the middle of tree trouble, was my perfect drive. My subsequent chunk-and-run shot under a looming branch took a fortuitous bounce uphill and onto the green and led to a satisfying par. I don’t usually like surprises, but I had to laugh at the slope of this first hole. What a challenging way to start a round.
I was taken by the third hole, a 113-yarder uphill to a green on a ridge. Easy, but not easy. I also liked the intimidating look of the 10th, a 184-yarder to a fortress of a green perched atop a rise. I stormed that citadel, yes, and enjoyed my bogey, thank you.
Then there is the signature hole 15th, which is all of 110 yards and has a 100-foot drop to the green below. The hole gives you goose bumps and makes you reach for a camera, in that order. Left of the green was a surging stream filled almost to overflowing by heavy snowmelt.
Well, the hole is so short, you almost can’t miss the green. But I did. I would gladly pay the price of admission to play this little beauty again. And maybe get a better photo opportunity with some morning sunshine.
The 18th is a game par 4 that bends right, is tree-lined and whose green is guarded by a gaggle of deep bunkers. Three lousy shots and one miracle leprechaun bounce got me onto the green for a par putt from eight feet.
I was one over par so I knew this putt was for 59. That shouldn’t matter at a par-58 course but it did because, well, 59 is 59. I choked, missed it right and made bogey, settling for 60 just as the couple I’d beaten to the first tee putted out at No. 9.
The Mountain Course is the blueprint for what golf needs. It was fast — I finished in under 90 minutes. It was easy, but not too easy since I used every club in my bag at least once. And it was fun. You know why? Shooting a low score is fun, regardless of par, and especially if it’s the Low Round of the Year.
Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if my 60 held up until, oh, midway through that first afternoon.
Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal.