Plumas Pines Golf Resort squeezes that driver in Reno/Tahoe shadow

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

GRAEAGLE, Calif. - Is that a fairway, or an alley with grass on it?

Plums Pines' No. 2.
This is the extent of your landing area at Plums Pines' No. 2. Note the golfer in the bushes.
Plums Pines' No. 2.Plumas Pines's fourth holePlumas PinesPlumas Pines Golf Resort
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Plumas Pines Golf Resort

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Plumas Pines Golf Resort is tucked away amid the mature pine trees of the Plumas National Forest at the middle fork of the Feather River. There are more than 60 lakes interspersed throughout beautiful forested landscape and through the treetops you'll catch glimpses of the stunning mountains that surround the resort.

18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 72 | 6421 yards | Book online | ... details »

That, dear golfer, is the question that springs to mind when you see the landing lane at Plumas Pines Golf Resort's second hole. And yes, that's the landing lane, not area, on this 393-yard par 4.

There's a region of marsh and high grass along the entire left side; on the right, trees, bushes and, in a mere few steps, No. 1.

A tight squeeze? Danny DeVito and U.S. Women's Open runner-up Pat Hurst in the backseat of a Mustang is a tight squeeze. This is ridiculous.

And a complete blast.

"I liked this fairway better anyways," an older golfer laughed as he lined up his second shot on No. 2 from No 1's fairway. And his drive wasn't even that wayward.

Introduce yourself to Plumas Pines, the most fun you'll ever have swinging in a broom closet.

It's a picturesque closet to be sure, all towering pines and a few interesting climbs. And the golf course actually opens up a little later in the round. But the first four holes will have your swing, and your scorecard, so bollixed up you might think course architect Homer Flint went Homer Simpson in plotting the layout.

Plumas Pines is another of the unexpected delights of the High Sierras, an underrated golf area that includes Lake Tahoe and Reno. Drop it anywhere, though, and this course would still be a surprise punisher.

"One through four, I don't think any course has any tougher holes in the area," Head Professional Brandon Bowling said. "Certainly not as their first four holes."

Golfers would agree as they swing through Plumas Pines' torturous opening gauntlet. Abutting a river and wrapped dogleg around low-lying houses, No. 4's fairway is so narrow many golfers just shake their head and pull out an iron. On a 481-yard par 5.

"It's very fair," Bowling said. "Some risk-rewards are almost unfair. They're fair here. The course asks, 'How much trust do you have in your golf swing?'"

You can surely trust the 132 slope rating listed for a course that maxes out at a modern- monster modest 6,421 yards. This is the kind of course you want to play with those Barry Bonds-ego big hitters. It's perfect for grounding those with golfing-god complexes.

No wonder so many women love it.

"She beat me by two strokes," Reno resident Paul Reginer.

"I love it," Nancy Reginer chimed in. "It's wonderfully narrow."

It's also pretty eccentric. There is a par 3 with a tree right in the middle of the fairway (No. 15). Hit it straight, hit a tree. No joke. These are things golfers remember from a round at Plumas Pines.

As with most golf courses in the High Sierras, woodsy scenery plays a large part in the equation. Feather River and Plumas National Forest border the course and Mills Peak looms overhead, still snow-capped in the summer. One of the course's advantages is it largely runs down in a valley, sheltering it from the winds that can whip through the area and play havoc with your ball.

Still, you'll never think you are lost in pure forest wonders. Houses run along several holes and it's necessary to cut through a subdivision. But at least they aren't the usual cookie-cutter course homes - these are working-class, real family homes. Just another contrast at a course that never lets you play on autopilot.

The verdict

With green fees topping out at $95, Plumas Pines is one of the cheaper courses in a region where the season is short and the demand for golf relatively high. It's also one of the rare courses anywhere that actually publicizes a nine-hole rate ($45). There's also an $85 special, available after 1 p.m. Monday-Friday, that gets you 18 holes and dinner at the course's Longboards Bar & Grill. Try to get a table on the killer second-floor patio.

The point of all these specials and options? Plumas Pines caters to golfers' needs rather than the other way around. It's a refreshingly unpretentious place.

The tone's set by Bowling, who started out washing range balls here 16 years ago and never lost that perspective as he climbed to head pro. This is a place you want to enjoy a beer at, full of people you wouldn't mind sharing it with.

Not that this is Cheers golf: That first four-hole jolt is something worth experiencing. The rest of the course might not linger in your golf memory forever, but you'll enjoy the day.

Stay and play

Graeagle is a great little town, one of those places that you'd probably never stumble across if you weren't a golfer. It has six golf courses in an eight-mile radius, no small feat for a town that only has eight people per square mile.

The Lodge at Whitehawk Ranch (877-945-6343) rents individual condo cabins; mine had three full bedrooms, a huge open kitchen and dead animals everywhere on the walls. It's is no place for trendspotters, just a first-rate lodging option.

Dining out

Right on Highway 89 - the one-lane road through town - Graeagle Mill Works (530-836-2828) serves some of the best pies you'll taste anywhere. Think Twin Peaks-cherry-pie good.

Moody's Bistro & Lounge (530-587-8688), about an hour away in Truckee, is arguably the place to eat in the entire Tahoe region. The manager comes straight from Manhattan gastronomic palace Picholine, and the young chef wears T-shirts and cooks knockout sophisticated meals. This is where Paul McCartney gets up on the small stage and sings once a year. It's that good.

Fast Fact

The pioneer course of the area, Plumas Pines is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It's on owner No. 5.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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