Editor’s note: Freelance journalist Jeffrey Weidel makes regular contributions to the Mountain Democrat during the winter season reporting on the various area ski resorts. Occasionally, Weidel provides writeups on spring and summer locales as is the case here with a trip he took to the Dragon Nakoma Golf Resort & Spa.
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Majestic pine trees are swaying slightly and whistling in the wind, creating the type of tranquility rarely found on any golf course. It’s a little slice of heaven.
The serenity is not the only thing that makes this golf course special. Tucked away in the Mohawk Valley near the idyllic California town of Graeagle, the Dragon at Nakoma Golf Resort & Spa features stunning views on its mountainous terrain that contains many challenging holes.
If you know a little Dragon history, “challenging” might be an understatement. During its infancy in 2000, the Dragon had a popular slogan: “Send Me Your Heroes.” For several years, many accomplished golfers attempted to slay the Dragon, but rarely did anyone depart bearing hero status. The course record of 1-under-par 71 stood for years on this “beautiful beast.”
More than a dozen years after its fanfare-like opening, overspending and the economic downturn led to foreclosure. But the resort and its iconic golf course are now in the midst of a comeback.
And this is good news for anyone looking for the atypical golfing vacation. The Nakoma Resort, located an hour north of Truckee off Highway 89, resides in the master-planned community of Gold River. It’s definitely distinctive, providing panoramic views of the Sierra range, the Mohawk Valley, scenic meadows, and the Feather River.
The golf course, which reaches a height of 5,130 feet elevation at the No. 14 tee box, is certainly unique, yet so are the resort and its unconventional lodging. A portion of clubhouse structure is shaped like a huge teepee, and is made of wood and stone, the work of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
The unusual design has an equally eclectic title. Nakoma is a Chippewa Indian name that means: “I do as I promise.” The clubhouse includes a huge downstairs spa and fitness center, a spacious restaurant, bar area, and golf shop.
Sadly, the entire resort went dormant for several years. When new ownership took over in 2010, problems needed to be immediately addressed. Among the clubhouse issues were a flooded spa area and nearly two dozen leaks in the restaurant and upstairs area.
The golf course also had its share of problems. The Dragon hosted just three rounds in 2007 and was closed for nearly three years. Before it opened for play again in May 2010, extensive work was needed throughout the overgrown course. Making the Dragon more “playable” was also a goal during the renovation.
Golf course changes included: 16 bunkers removed, and more are scheduled for removal; trees removed in order to open up more shots off the tee and into greens; fairways widened; 5 new tee boxes; and greens reshaped and softened.
The many reconstruction efforts were worth it – the Dragon is currently back in pristine shape.
“It’s a fabulous-looking golf course. The views and everything are just beautiful,” said Trevor Bartlett, who manages the Indian Peak Vineyards tasting room in Graeagle.
Thanks to considerable softening of the course, the Dragon isn’t as demanding. Yet it remains a major test for even low-handicappers, a course that features tight, tree-lined fairways, several water holes, plenty of bunkers, lots of up-and-down, rolling terrain, and tricky multi-level greens.
“The Dragon is a lot more playable, more fun and less frustrating than it used to be,” said Bartlett, an occasional golfer. “It’s still a ball eater. But it’s worth it to play there even if you’re not that good of a golfer. The landscape is spectacular.”
A round of golf can quickly be forgotten or savored at the WigWam Dining Room or out on the new terrace deck. The clubhouse also has a cozy bar that has reasonably priced drinks and a very diverse menu of appetizers.
Depending on the day of the week, the Villas rent for $155 to $355 per night. Stay-and-Play packages are also available. Visit nakomagolfresort.com for more information.