Climbing the Mountains in Clio

It’s no secret that I love mountain golf, which is why I had been looking forward to this trip for awhile. There are several courses in this Lost Sierra/Plumas County region that I’ve been dying to play for years, so it was rewarding to see it all come together in one whirlwind visit.

I’ve been going a little bit out of order in my reviews in order to pair courses together in a more geographic fashion. This post will include one round from Saturday and one from Monday. However, it makes sense to group these two because they are the only two courses in the town of Clio. By the way, I learned it’s actually pronounced “Cly-o” and not “Clee-o” as I always assumed…

Whitehawk Ranch Golf Club • Clio, CA • 7/27/19

This was actually our main round on Saturday after a couple of less-than-exciting short courses (Mt. Huff and Feather River Park) as my warm-up rounds after a long drive up from Southern California in the morning. With some GolfMoose vouchers to use for morning rounds at other courses, it made sense to play a late afternoon round at Whitehawk Ranch and get a little break on the weekend rack rates.

We ended up teeing off around 3:00. After a few holes, we caught up with another single and joined him because he was stuck behind a larger group. It turned out to be a sixsome and they let us play through a couple holes later. Still, we ended up catching a bunch of groups on the back nine and it was slow going after that. Overall, however, the pace was just fine at around 3.5 hours.

It was looking forward to many of the courses on this trip, with Whitehawk Ranch being one of the really good ones based on what I had heard. I have to say it didn’t disappoint. It may have benefitted from being the first full-size course I played (especially after a couple stinkers), but I really enjoyed the experience here.

Though Whitehawk Ranch does have some changes in elevation (primarily during the middle stretch of the front nine), it’s not too up and down in terms of the terrain. For that kind of landscape, you will want to stay tuned to the next course review below! I would say Whitehawk Ranch mostly has a very pleasant feel as it works through a few different types of terrain. There are some woodsy sections where the trees really come into play and shape the fairways. Then, there are some more open sections with a meadowy/marshy feel that are a bit more forgiving off the tee.

Whitehawk Ranch was designed by Dick Bailey and a majority of its defenses can be found on and around the greens. The greens are pretty big and feature some tricky undulation. Also, there are creeks that cut across in front of a few greens, and then others have small water hazards in play that you can’t necessarily see from the fairways. They did give us a little yardage book and that was helpful to know about some of the hidden dangers. Also, the guy we played with was a regular here, so he also warned us about a few unseen hazards.

Lining the outer edges of the course from tee to green, you will generally find tall trees and/or deep native rough, so it pays to keep the ball in play here because there’s a good chance you won’t find it if you get too far off any of the fairways.

There were a lot of holes that I really liked at Whitehawk Ranch. My favorite might have been the par-3 7th. This is one of the more wooded holes with a slightly elevated tee and it’s in a beautiful little spot amongst the trees and shadows.

The course conditions were very good overall. The tee boxes and fairways were green and lush. They were also on the soft side like most other courses we played, even in the late afternoon. The rough was generally good and not too difficult to play from. The greens were excellent and maybe the best of the trip. They were firm and rolling smooth at medium-fast speeds. The bunkers were also great with soft, well-maintained sand.

Many golfers will venture up this way to play Grizzly Ranch or maybe The Dragon at Nakoma, but courses like Whitehawk Ranch, Plumas Pines and Graeagle Meadows (in that order for me) go to show that there’s enough here to put together a really excellent golf trip with this nice group of courses fairly close to one another. My point is if you plan to come out to Plumas County, there is plenty of incredible golf to enjoy!

Some pictures from Whitehawk Ranch Golf Club (7/27/19):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

 

 

Next, we will jump ahead to what would be my second round on Monday after a quick morning round at Graeagle Meadows…

The Dragon at Nakoma Resort • Clio, CA • 7/29/19

You might see this one listed as just Nakoma Resort or Nakoma Golf Resort, but the course is also known as The Dragon from its early days as one of the most notoriously challenging courses in Northern California.

It seems like they subdued The Dragon name a little bit in recent years after the course underwent a major renovation to “soften up” the layout. One of the big things they did was remove many of the bunkers. I think this course had over 200 sand traps when it was originally opened!

I have always been a little mad at myself for not coming up here sooner and playing The Dragon when it still had all of its teeth. It has been on my wish list for so long and I’ve always been dying to play here. Once I heard they renovated the course and weren’t using The Dragon name quite as prominently, I did lose a little interest, but it has still been one I wanted to play.

We took advantage of another great GolfMoose twosome voucher deal that made the price here very reasonable when it is normally on the expensive side in the summer season. The courses up here in Plumas County won’t quite charge the super-inflated Tahoe/Truckee prices, but they aren’t necessarily cheap rounds either. It’s good to seek deals where you can, and GolfMoose really make a difference on this trip with several voucher values.

We had a 10:20 tee time, but arrived closer to 9:30. There was a shotgun on the front nine at that time, but the pro shop lady was super cool about squeezing us in right away and starting us on the back. We played through a couple groups along the way and ultimately caught up with the shotgun groups for much of the back nine. Nonetheless, it was another good pace at under three hours.

Now that I have played Nakoma, I really wish I had played it back in the day. This is still a very demanding course that will test all your golf skills and patience. I can only imagine what it was like before. The Dragon name is still apt because it has plenty of bite and it’s a good metaphoric description of the terrain. This is a dramatic mountain course designed by Robin Nelson with the fairways and greens having a lot of humps and bumps—kind of like a dragon flying through the hills and trees. You get some serious changes in elevation and there is nothing boring or standard about this layout!

I’d say the course is surprisingly forgiving off the tee, though there are a few holes where you really have to hit your targets to avoid trouble. I’m sure this feeling was quite different when there were so many more nasty fairway bunkers in play. Otherwise, the real difficulty comes on your approach shots. Most of the greens here are elevated and very well-protected by deep bunkers and false edges. The greens themselves are relatively small and very undulated. Just getting on the green is a challenge, and then getting your ball in the hole is no easy task either.

Even in its current toned-down state, The Dragon is not a course that everyone will enjoy because it’s pretty difficult and, at times, a bit quirky. I happened to really love the layout because of the stunning mountain setting and such a dramatic design. Like I said, I only wish I had gotten to play it before when it was supposedly even more extreme.

There were so many memorable holes on this course. I think my favorites were the par-5 18th, which snakes its way up the hill, and the short par-4 4th. It is a fun risk/reward hole for longer hitters who might consider going for the green. I just loved the setting as it sits alongside a massively deep canyon that is pretty majestic to look at when you venture a little off the fairway and through the trees.

Another reason I might have wanted to play this course back in its heyday is because the conditions on this visit weren’t super inspiring. Things were definitely a little scruffy around the edges as this is no longer a pristine resort course. You might say The Dragon is a bit “scaly” these days. Overall, it was still fine with decent tee boxes, fairways that were usually more good than bad, and decent rough. Just some patchiness, thin spots, lumpiness and inconsistencies throughout to make it less nice than you’d like it to be given the setting.

And like everywhere else around here, they water the course a lot. The back nine especially had some super mushy spots that added another level of difficulty on some of the trickiest holes. The greens were playing well, firm and rolling a medium speeds. There were some thin spots on the greens, though, but nothing that came into play too much with the pin positions. Lastly, the bunkers were also kind of inconsistent. All I can say is some were better than others.

If I had no knowledge of what the course once was in terms of conditioning and ultra-over-the-top challenging layout, I would have undoubtedly enjoyed this visit more. Don’t get me wrong because I still liked a whole lot about this course and I would still recommend it to the mountain golf thrill-seekers out there. I just wish I had seen it in its prime.

Some pictures from The Dragon at Nakoma Resort (7/29/19):

 

 

 

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