Graeagle: The High Sierra's Golf Mecca

The mini golf mecca in the Graeagle area of the and-play packages that can range from two nights to five, from two golfers to 40.

Graeagle is an unincorporated community of about 5,000 on Highway 89, about 60 miles north of Lake Tahoe. For those flying from the east, the best entry point is Reno, from which it is just over an hour's drive north along Highway 395 that crosses into California, and that leads to Highway 70 into the Portola-Blairsden-Graeagle area.

The trip takes you from high desert to pastoral settings ranging from dense forest to expansive pastures and meadows. It is a mountain experience (elevation is about 4,500 feet) without the congestion of the Reno or Lake Tahoe areas.

The actual town of Graeagle came about as a lumber operation; the company simply moved its camp to where the trees were. The company went out of business, but the town slowly grew. It's not remote as much as expansive - there isn't a stop light in town. Just small businesses in a collection of shops in red cabins (former lumber mill worker housing) along the main drag, a gas station, restaurants and a whole lot of golf.

The Graeagle Golf Course is an open-to-the-public facility that plays along the Feather River on the front nine and then delves through thick fir stands on the back. It stands as one of the best unknown public courses in the state.

But what makes this area so compelling as a golf destination is that four other courses are within 15 minutes of the Graeagle course. For group golf excursions, the epicenter is Plumas Pines Resort, just north of Graeagle by about five miles. This real estate development has plenty of cabins, villas, homes and even large "premier" homes that are available to visitors in vacation packages.

A visit to the Plumas website (http://www.plumaspinesgolf.com/) brings up plenty of options. "Consider that just a start to what you want," said head pro Brandon Bowling. "We can customize any stay. That's what we like to do."

For example, Bowling offered rhyming packages like, "play, stay, dine for two oh nine," meaning $209 per person. With a peak-time green fee starting at $95, the deal includes cart, range balls and full meal.

Longboards is one of the best restaurants in the area with a first-rate wine list. And few places offer the panoramic view overlooking the first three holes of the course, with the Feather River as backdrop.

Bowling also brought up a week-long golf academy package that includes three hours of instruction per day, followed by an afternoon round of golf. Each day focuses on a different aspect of the swing, from driver to short game, and then it's off to the course to put the lessons to the test. The deal includes breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and accommodations for $800 per person.

"It's perfect for groups," Bowling said. "We have groups from four to 40 take this, and they find it be to great fun. Everything is here."

Other courses:

For those who prefer more variety, package deals are available through the new Graeagle Golf Tour that features Plumas Pines, The Dragon, Whitehawk and The Grizzly. The last three have been built in the last 15 years and bring myriad challenges to go along with stunning beauty.

About five minutes south of the Graeagle is Whitehawk, a Dick Bailey-design that many consider the best course in the area. It meanders from meadow to forest, and each hole is a unique experience. Peak green fees start at $95.

To the east along Highway 70 near the old railroad town of Portola is The Dragon. This course originally designed by Robin Nelson is undergoing renovation, a necessity considering it was intended to intimidate golfers, hence the name. Nonetheless, it brings memorable challenges, and the Nakoma clubhouse is a Frank Lloyd Wright design, and worth a trip just to see it.

Further east is Grizzly Ranch, a Bob Cupp-designed course that offers startling views of various mountain peaks. For all the beauty, however, it has to be said that "The Grizz" offers a challenging stretch of opening holes in a spectacular setting.

These four courses are available on customized lodging packages. In peak times, a foursome can stay for three nights and play all four courses for less than $2,500, which breaks down to about $620 per person.

Put another way, lodging and golf at four different, beautiful challenging courses comes down to just over $200 a day. Note that this package after Oct. 1 brings the four-course total to $289, but doesn't include lodging. Visit http://graeaglegolftour.com for more information.

Also, for those who plan on playing golf in the Reno area, two courses are within easy driving distance of the airport. Lakeridge Golf Course is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that is known for its signature hole - No. 15 - a 240- yard downhill beauty to an island green. It offers Reno skyline views and a spine-chilling challenge to reach the green.

North and a little east of downtown Reno, in the town of Sparks, is D'Andrea, a layout that features severe slopes and regular road crossings to get from green to tee. However, it's hard to argue against the views over Reno toward Mt. Rose. Fees for those last two courses range from $45 to $85.

To the south of Graeagle along Highway 89 by about 50 miles is Truckee, where four highly regarded courses - Coyote Moon, Old Greenwood, Shaffer's Mill and Gray's Crossing - are all open to play by the public. Fees range from $50 to $150, depending on the time of day.