Frank Lloyd Wright, the early 20th-century architect of angles, light, and lay of land, wasn’t a golfer. Too much work and not enough wedge game, they say. But if Wright, who died in 1959, were alive today, he’d be told that he simply must take up the game. Either that, or risk losing a place at his own party, the one they’re going to throw when the snow melts in the Sierra Nevada this spring at the Dragon at Gold Mountain, a massive new semi-private course perched above the historic Feather River in northern California’s Plumas County.
We’ll get to The Dragon — whose scorecard challenge is “Send Me Your Heroes” — momentarily. But first, some history about Nakoma, the clubhouse that will give the Dragon its unique spirit when it opens this month. Originally designed by Wright in the 1920s for a golf club in Madison, Wisconsin, Nakoma — a Chippewa word meaning “I do as I promise” — resembles an American Indian encampment, the spires of the structure shaped like tepees.
The original Nakoma clubhouse was never built, but the design remained in the archives of Taliesin Architects, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based firm descended from former Wright apprentices, just waiting for…well, just waiting for retired California business adventurists Peggy and Dariel Garner to come along. Their vision of a golf-centered, second-home community required a place of beauty, peace, and scenic views not too far from civilization. They traveled the world before settling on a 1,280-acre slice of heaven located an hour’s drive from Reno, Nevada, 21/2 hours from Sacramento, and four hours from the San Francisco Bay area. To design the Dragon at Gold Mountain, the Garners hired like-minded Robin Nelson, senior partner of Nelson & Haworth in Honolulu. The land for the Dragon, a mixture of pine forest and rock outcroppings, intrigued Nelson, whose design credits include Mauna Lani in Hawaii. “The name alludes to a tough layout…and it will be,” he promises.
And it is. Every shot has thought-appeal. That’s because the Dragon — set as it is on the side of a mountain — curves, swerves, climbs, and drops at every turn. The views are fabulous — a favorite is of the railroad trestle far below as a freight train crosses the Feather River. Also, the skittering mountain chickadees are a delight. And keep an eye out for the family of golden eagles that has settled in on the side of a cliff overlooking the river.
Water comes into play on only three holes, but the eighth is an all-carry par three, and the par-four 10th demands a bold approach over water to reach the green in two strokes. The greens, many of them perched on cliffs overlooking the river, are uniformly demanding. The ones that aren’t small are large and sloped, and staying below the hole is a necessity. Several optical illusions are presented: When a green slopes one way and the wind blows in the opposite direction, it can create a mind-boggler when it comes to reading the green.
Par is 72 at 7,077 yards from the back tees, one of six sets at every hole. Better players will have to carry prodigious distances with their tee shots, but will benefit from additional length thanks to the thinner air — Gold Mountain’s elevation ranges from 4,800 to 5,400 feet.
Green fee with cart is $120. Tee times: 800-368-7786. Golf shop: 530-832-4887. Web site: www.dragongolf.com.