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It’s a little slice of heaven on this somewhat chilly, late afternoon in mid-May, where this beautiful piece of landscape is nearly devoid of golfers.

Majestic pine trees are swaying slightly and whistling in the wind, creating the type of tranquility rarely found on any golf course.

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Challenging golf course

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, original Nakoma Resort owners Dariel and Peggy Garner are long gone – sadly through bankruptcy. 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. It’s the work of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose original 1924 design was meant for a golf club in Madison, Wisconsin that was never built.

Nearly 80 years later, the Garners paid for the famed design and had a 22,000-foot clubhouse built in this Plumas County location. The Garners chose an unusual design and 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.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed villa rentals

Nakoma has 12 Villa rentals that are also Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired designs. The Villa where my wife and I stayed was located roughly 50 yards from the 10th fairway and had two fireplaces, one of them in the large upstairs bedroom that featured a separate spa-like bathtub area, and an ultra-comfortable king-size bed that faces the outdoor deck.

A winding, dramatic staircase led to the downstairs, where there was a large couch, several chairs, dinning room table, flat-screen TV with cable, large gas fireplace, numerous Asian-inspired art work, small refrigerator, several burners for cooking, eating utensils, dishes, glassware, and a pantry closet.

Totally unexpected was an indoor sauna that seats four people, which was a perfect place to inhabit after spending time in the hot tub, located on the lower outdoor deck that also featured a gas grille.

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.

Changes make Dragon more playable golf course

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 include:

  • 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
  • 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.

And 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.”

Unique experience at WigWam Dining Room

A round of golf can quickly be forgotten or savored at the WigWam Dining Room or out on the new terrace deck. The dinner menu features some delectable appetizers and entrees, including Cioppino, Eggplant Parmesan, Chicken Toscana, Short ribs, several other items and nightly specials.

The clubhouse also has a cozy bar that has reasonably priced drinks and a very diverse menu of appetizers, including steamed clams, sliders, calamari and Chicken Caesar Salad.

Depending on the day of the week, the Villas rent for $155 to $355 per night. Stay-and-Play packages are also available.

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