Mountain Golf: The Dragon At Gold Mountain

Mountain Golf B 0501

Graeagle, Calif.

Billed as the "Ultimate Backyard," everything about this new 1,280-acre second-home community in the Sierra Nevada is different. For starters, nearby Ski Gold Mountain is home to the annual Longboard Revival Races, an event sponsored by the Plumas Ski Club, established by descendants of the 1867 Alturas Snow Shoe Club. Racers wear historic attire (circa 1870s), leather boots and 12- to 16-foot longboards weighing up to 20 pounds, their bottoms greased with "dope," i.e., authentic handmade wax. "Whiskeyin' and Flask Passin'," according to the ski club, are at the discretion of the participants.

Into this milieu stepped Peggy and Dariel Garner, who had scoured the western U.S. in search of a place to retire. When they found their little slice of heaven in the Lost Sierra, an hour's drive northwest of Reno, they decided to build a community for nature lovers. And golfers. They began by forming an alliance with Taliesin Architects, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based firm that has perpetuated Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural practice established in 1893. The outline of the project and many of the homes at the development have been created from Taliesen plans that stress Wright's design principle: A structure must connect to its natural surroundings. The best example is Nakoma, the clubhouse scheduled to open this summer. Wright drew plans in 1924 for a golf clubhouse near Madison, Wis., that was never built. With its six teepee-like spires and central 70-foot peak, not to mention the waterfall running through the golf shop, it is a showpiece.

So is the golf course. Two points worth noting: The inscription on the scorecard reads, "Send Me Your Heroes," and The Dragon was "awakened" by Taoist priests during a blessing ceremony last spring. A one-of-a-kind, environmentally sensitive fire-breather, The Dragon was designed by Robin Nelson, a California native known for his work in Hawaii and the Far East. With the toothy spires of the High Sierras as a backdrop, Nelson wrapped the Dragon around giant boulders, tall pines and ancient juniper. Several of the greens perch on bluffs high above the surging rapids of the Feather River. Assisted by LPGA Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan, Nelson installed six sets of tees to accent playability. The Dragon 1 tees are a gentle 4,611 yards. From the crash-and-burn Dragon 6 tees, the numbers tell the story: 7,077 yards, 147 slope, 74.2 course rating (par 72). Choose an incorrect set of tees for your ability, and the challenges are very bold, even intimidating, with forced carries over deep mountain gorges and menacing bunkers. The mile-high elevation yields extra distance, but only steady putters can slay the Dragon: Its liberally contoured greens are very demanding. Only the Dalai Lama will ever be able to master them. Chanting may help.

On-site casita accommodations are available starting in July. The room rate for two is $350. Greens fees are $120. Call 530-832-4887.

Brian McCallen is a senior editor at GOLF Magazine, SKI's sister publication, and author of "Top 100 Courses You Can Play"( Abrams).