Graeagle Meadows Golf Course
GRAEAGLE, CA - A lumber mill no longer keeps this sleepy area from becoming one of Northern California's ghost towns. The last log went through the Graeagle mill back in 1956. One year later, the mill burned down.
Some locals might suggest what keeps this little slice of paradise alive and well now is the golf industry. With six golf courses in its boundaries, Graeagle has become quite the Mecca for people who love to tee it up. Enjoy playing mountain golf? You've come to the right spot.
There are four regulation courses and two nine-hole locations in Graeagle, which is situated about an hour away from Truckee, traveling along a beautiful stretch of Highway 89.
When most people get to the Highway 89 exit off Interstate 80, they head south to beautiful Lake Tahoe. Certainly nothing wrong with that choice. Yet for a more peaceful destination, a stay in Graeagle would be a much better fit.
First of all, forget about traffic, there is none in Graeagle. For people typically on the go, it's time to slow down. That means driving as well. It seems the locals and many of the return visitors (and there are plenty in that category) travel at slower speeds, taking time to relax and check out the scenery in this gorgeous, mountainous valley.
The area was called Davis Mill back in the 1920s for obvious reasons. Arthur Davis relocated his mill and many of his little red buildings via train from the nearly Sardine Valley in 1916. Four years later, the California Fruit Exchange bought the town and the mill.
Looking for a new identity, they held a contest to rename the town. A California Fruit Exchange bookkeeper submitted the name Graeagle, using the nearby Gray Eagle Creek for inspiration. She won the contest, collecting a nice $25 check for the entry.
One word comes to mind when visiting Graeagle: relaxing. So it should come as no surprise that the area's most laid back 18-hole golf outing comes at Graeagle Meadows Golf Course. Yet don't be fooled into thinking this will be an easy round. Compared to upscale places like The Dragon and The Golf Club at Whitehawk Ranch, plus the tight fairways of Plumas Pines, this is the area's most relaxed round of golf.
Even the locals understand just what the Graeagle course has to offer. "This is a relaxing golf course, it is very user-friendly, which is perfect, just like the area," said Dick Fearing, the Assistant Head Professional at Graeagle."There are not a lot of blind shots out here and you won't loose many balls. There is nothing tricked up; what you see is what you get."
And what you see is a beautiful backdrop on every hole. The Sierra range frames every picture and the statuesque Plumas Pine trees are just as prominent. The good news on this golf course is the trees are rarely a factor on the generous fairways. There are rolling hills, but the elevation change is only slight.
Bob Ewing is a fine judge of golf courses. He spent several years on the PGA tour, then settled into a life as a golf professional at several locations. Retired now, he takes an annual visit to the area and makes a point of playing Graeagle.
"Although this is a real user-friendly course where you won't lose a lot of golf balls, it remains a good test of golf," Ewing said. "You have got to hit all the shots out here."
Graeagle has three sets of tees. The back ones measure 6,725 yards, the white tees are 6,345 yards and ladies hit from 5,589 yards. For the better golfer, the back tees are the way to go. For even modest hitters, don't be fooled by the yardage. Remember, this is golf played at around 5,000 feet. The ball goes further. Play the blues.
The round begins with a severe dogleg left par 4 that goes a sizable 430 yards (all yardage is quoted from the blue tees). An elevated tee box stares into the Sierra range and the only sound seems to be a light wind blowing through the majestic pine trees. Get used to both. This is what you experience at practically every hole.
Another elevated tee box arrives at the second hole, but the one at No. 6 is the one that sticks in your mind. Thankfully, this was not a walking round. Hiking to the tee box at No. 6 requires some effort. Using my new Wilson driver, the popular Deep Red Fat Shaft, I boomed a drive that left a mere pitching wedge to the green on this 386-yard hole. Even though I missed the birdie putt, it was a hole to remember.
The backside starts with another elevated tee shot on one of the few holes where driving accuracy is a must. Go left and you're in the driving range, while right is out of bounds. Just like No. 1, this is a good test, a par-4 measuring 431 yards. Water and a bunker guarding the green add to the degree of difficulty.
One of Graeagle's more appealing holes comes at No. 16. This par-3 is the longest (just 170 yards) and easily the most challenging. Tee shots must travel through two pine trees that frame the hole. There are also traps front and back.
The finishing hole is also a good one, a par-5 (506) yards with some trouble lurking in various places. Big hitters can take a shot at landing in two, while the less fortunate may be putting for birdie, assuming all goes well.
What is evident as you make your way around the golf course is the conditioning. The fairways are lush and well manicured, the rough is not too threatening and the greens are a moderate speed and run true.
"That's what I love about this golf course, it is always in great shape," Ewing said. "This is my idea of paradise. This is a beautiful course that offers a challenge and you can usually play quickly compared to some other places."
Another good thing about Graeagle is the cost. Monday through Friday the price goes $55 with cart and $40 walking. Friday through Sunday is $60 (with cart) and $45 walking. Twilight rates with cart are $35 during weekdays after 3 p.m.
Graeagle Tourist Tips
Lodging: Try the River Pines Resort. No luxury here, but a great family spot. The cabins are modest, but so is the price, starting at $75 per couple. The price goes up a little more when kids are added to the equation, but it is worth it. The outdoor pool is the place to be for kids and adults. It has a shuffleboard table, ping pong, hot tub, restaurant and bar. Cable TV is another plus. The people who run River Pines are very friendly and so are their guests, many of them are families who return for a summer vacation year after year.
Activities: Take your pick, they are numerous. There are some gorgeous places to hike, one of them being the Sardine Lake area, where you won't find a better mountainous view, reminiscent of something you might see in the Alps. Horseback riding is a favorite pastime, along with wagon trips, mountain biking, antique shopping or visiting the nearby Portola train museum.
Dining: For an upscale experience, there is probably no better place than the Nakoma, located in the clubhouse at The Dragon, a Frank Lloyd Wright design. The Sardine Lake Resort is another prime spot and like the Nakoma, the view is spectacular and the prices on the high side. Take note, both places require reservations, perhaps weeks in advance. For more spur-of-the-moment dining, try the Coyote Bar & Grill in nearby Blairsden or the Gold Lake Lodge in Graeagle.
Graeagle Meadows Golf Course
Graeagle, CA 9103
Phone: (530) 836-2323
Head professional: Bob Klein Jr.