From South Lake Tahoe north into Plumas County, California’s High Sierra is draped with a motherload of exceptional golf courses. As host of a much publicized celebrity tournament, Edgewood-Tahoe commands the greatest attention, while vertigo-inducing elevation changes makes Coyote Moon one of the most memorable public tracks in the region. Between these two, in the Martis Valley just outside of Truckee, is Schaffer’s Mill, a somewhat overlooked course that offers one of the more pleasing golf experiences in the mountains.
Designed by Johnny Miller and John Harbottle and originally known as the Timilick Club, Schaffer’s Mill opened in 2008, and was ranked by Golfweek as that year’s best new private course in California. The anchor of a 475-acre master planned community that was to have 218 single-family houses and 188 mountain lodges, the course and project came online at a rather unfortunate point in time, and the real estate business and the entire economy went into a free fall collapse. When new ownership took over within the past year and rebranded the development as Schaffer’s Mill – – named after George Schaffer, the so-called “Father of Truckee,” who in 1871 opened a large saw mill in the Martis Valley – – the private club had only 42 members and had not added a new one since the spring of 2009.
At the start of the summer there was only one completed home in the Schaffer’s Mill project, although a number of town homes – – which range in price from $700,000 to $900,000 – – are available across the property. Developed lots are also for sale, from between $230,000 and $330,000. Plans for the future include community swimming pools, tennis courts, a fitness center, a golf course clubhouse and a 47-foot yacht on Lake Tahoe, available for the use of members. For now, however, the course is the development’s primary attraction.
(In a counterpoint that demonstrates how the uber-wealthy have gone largely unscathed by the recession, the nearby Martis Camp development – – with a Tom Fazio designed course, 8,000-square-foot “legacy homes” that are occupied only a few weeks during any year, and a private ski lift to Northstar, among other luxuries – – continues to grow steadily and even thrive.)
Meadows and Mountains
Although Schaffer’s Mill has doubled its membership under the new ownership and hopes to one day re-establish itself as a private course, public play is now encouraged. It is open to non-members from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week, with rates ranging from $60 to $180, and with specials offered to members of the Northern Nevada Golf Association, the Northern California and Southern California Golf Associations. Given what’s charged at other premium courses in the region, the quality of the course makes Schaffer’s Mill a relative deal.
Weaving its way through fragrant Ponderosa pines, firs and spruce trees, the course’s front nine is largely set upon a meadow. The back nine threads through more uneven terrain and has more elevation changes, offering views of Lookout Mountain and the Carson Range. Playing from more than 7000 yards at the tips, the par 71 course also has a series of increasingly friendly teeing areas, some of which take nearly all forced carries out of play.
From an architectural perspective there is likely more Harbottle here than Miller, although the latter’s diabolical hand is evident on the green of the par 3 16th hole, which has little landing area and features cants that shoot the slightest mishit rolling off the back and into big trouble. The bunkers on the meadow side are fairly conventional in appearance, but many on the back are framed with tall fescue, a dramatic look that Harbottle has put into other courses. Some of fescue use could be aesthetic, but it may also be a strain of grass that better protects the bunker’s structural integrity from the burrowing voles that live in the hills above the meadow.
There are two relatively short par 4s, drivable for 300 plus yard hitters, but extremely well defended by bunkers. The 15th, for example, is spectacular, with the green sitting on a ledge above a couple of deep bunkers. Stay out; you’ll need to get a sand shot ten to 12 feet into the air to get up and onto the green. Otherwise, this is a course that is pleasing to the eye, challenging from the back tees and yet easy on the game if you move up.
New Martis Partners, the group that rebranded Timilick into Schaffer’s Mill, is a Dallas-based real estate development firm that specializes in creating family oriented communities. Just as George Schaffer’s Mill benefited the local community in the 1800s, the developers hope to patronize local businesses. Says New Martis Partners Managing Partner John Marlin: “Much like its namesake, Schaffer’s Mill will work for the betterment of the Truckee and Tahoe communities. Whenever possible we will look to support local businesses, such as bakers, builders, florists and artists.”
Much like Martis Camp and yet on a much more affordable scale, the ultimate concept for Schaffer’s Mill is to build a community where families can enjoy spending time together with a round of golf, trout fishing in one of the stocked ponds or sharing a milkshake on the clubhouse patio. The vision is to have a community concierge who develops a year-round schedule of activities for entire families, including skiing, boating, hiking and, of course, golf. And, of course, there is always a nod to historical roots. The gate to the development is located on Old Schaffer Mill Road,which leads to the site of George Schaffer’s old saw mill. In the town of Truckee, the historic Schaffer House, built in 1895, is still located on Church Street and is available for touring.