Dragon at Gold Mountain - a true challenge

Note to self: Whenever a course names its holes with labels like Hope, Perseverance, and Audacity, just expect a frustrating round of golf.

Such is the case at Northern California's newest golf jewel - the Dragon at Gold Mountain - which rests in the tall pines, not more than an hour and half northwest of Carson City.

The Dragon redefines the answers to some of the more popular golf-related questions frequently tossed around the clubhouse. Do you have to hit it straight? Is it playable? Are there a lot of hazards? Well, yes, not really, and if you consider cliffs, countless sand traps, rivers, and lakes as hazards, then yes.

The buzz surrounding the Dragon has elevated it to such high esteem in such a short amount of time, that it's destined for greatness. Comparisons have already been made to some of the state's more glamorous courses like Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill.

"For the moment, I don't think it's quite there yet," Matt Ochs, the Dragon's PGA professional said about the course's lofty comparisons. "But as it evolves, it should."

The 23,000 square foot clubhouse, called "Nakoma," is due to be completed next spring. Besides a pro shop, restaurant and bar, this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed clubhouse will also feature a spa, sauna, and wedding chapel.

Right from the first tee on Dragon's Lookout, golfers get a glimpse of what they'll encounter during the next 18 holes. This par-5 dogleg left features an elevated tee box, followed by a right sloping fairway which leads to a tight green that's guarded with numerous bunkers. On most courses, this would be the signature hole. At the Dragon, it's just another hole.

But if one hole had to be chosen as Dragon's signature hole, it would be No. 4. This short par-4, which stretches only 330 yards from the back tees, has a 400-foot cliff bordering the left side of a narrow fairway. Most golfers hit a mid-to-long iron off the tee which will leave them with a short second shot to a tiny green that's guarded by two bunkers. Long is bad on the second shot because your ball might end up in the Feather River, which flows in the canyon below.

At first, these hole names tend to draw chuckles. But after you've marked enough double bogeys down on your scorecard, the names begin to induce fear - which just so happens to be hole No. 4's name.

Playing at 7,070 yards from the back tees, there aren't any advantages for big hitters. Playing the Dragon requires the utmost accuracy because of the elevated tee boxes and greens, with severely sloping fairways. Along with menacing trees and bunkers, there are plenty of lakes to deal with. Every shot must be thought out. Even balls that look like they've landed on the fairway, somehow disappear into the forest.

"You could be a 4-handicap and still need a couple sleeves of balls to get through that course. It's just that tough," said Tom Godman, the General Manager at Plumas Pines Golf Resort located in nearby Graeagle.

Ochs held the course-record, a 77 shot in July, for more than two months. However, Chris Thomas from Silver Oak Golf Course in Carson City now has it after shooting a 75. Although these scores are high for course records, keep in mind that the Dragon isn't your normal course.

"It wasn't suppose to as tough as it is," Ochs said. "But we're going to make some changes to the course that won't make it as hard."

If you can ignore the on-going construction work on the course, the Dragon becomes the ultimate golf experience. It can be assured that references to the course will linger on for years. So when someone asks if you've ever golfed the Dragon, you want to be able to say, "of course." This is one of those courses that's a must play, even if just once. Just like Pebble Beach or Spyglass Hill. Each day the Dragon inches towards validating those comparisons.

The course has an outstanding 2-for-1 deal for the rest of the season, which should end by October.

"Or whenever mother nature allows," Ochs said.

BREAKOUT INFO

What: The Dragon at Gold Mountain

How to get there from Carson: North on Highway 395, west on Highway 70 toward Portola. From Portola, turn south on County Road, A-15.

Address: 3887 County Road, A-15, Clio, Calif.

Rates: Current two-for-one special, $140 for two on Friday-Sunday and holidays; $125 Monday-Thursday.

Information: Log onto www.dragongolf.com, or call 1-877-372-4661.

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