2004: Daunting Nakoma offers just rewards

By Joel Zuckerman

Graeagle, Calif.

Any Tahoe-bound traveler should sidetrack to the amazing Nakoma Resort and Spa, located about an hour north of the lake in a tiny wooded town. This high-end hideaway has some remarkable assets, not the least of which is an unforgettable clubhouse that’s an honest-to-goodness Frank Lloyd Wright original. This ultra-imaginative building features five teepee-like roof structures made of red cedar wood and decorative copper banding. Its 23,000 square feet of low slung passages lead to soaring, cathedral-like spaces, massively elaborate wooden sculptures and a four-sided, floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. It’s a clubhouse that would overwhelm most golf courses, but the Dragon isn’t just any golf course.

Simply put, this Robin Nelson design is a stunner. The opening tee shot plunges 100 feet to a bunker-menaced fairway. The final approach must climb through the sky, hopefully finding the well-fortified green lodged dramatically uphill from the fairway.

Most average players will add another 90 or 100 blows between the first and final shots on an incredibly varied golf tapestry. The Dragon’s a fire breather from the tips at about 7,100 yards, with a 74.2 rating and 147 slope. The thinner air at altitude helps the ball travel a bit longer, but most players will have plenty to contend with at the penultimate box, 6,750 yards, rated and sloped at 72.5 and 139.

The course is a roller coaster. It winds, bends, twists, climbs and plummets between imposing stands of hardwoods. The ball must carry over water and wasteland, avoiding ravines and lurking woods. It’s an arduous but exhilarating ride, with unrelenting beauty, challenge and variety.

The par-3 holes are particular gauntlets. Not overly long, but with trouble in every direction save one. It’s the overlying theme of the course in general. Spray shots are stray shots, and only lucky bounces after a mis-hit will keep penalty strokes off the card. To survive the Dragon, a player must concentrate. One can’t afford to be mesmerized by the majestic views of distant snowy peaks, or the dangerously steep ravines, or the scenic Feather River, winding through the valley below.

A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the Villas at Gold Mountain can be rented or partial ownerships purchased. Ten of the 73 luxury Villas are completed – all featuring Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired organic architecture. Another small luxury hotel may sprout on the premises as well. Visit now, before the crowds discover this tucked-away Sierra jewel.

– For more information, visit www.nakomaresort.com.

– Joel Zuckerman is a free-lance writer from Savannah, Ga.

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