For all its inherent beauty, mystical waters and gorgeous mountain vistas, highly touted Lake Tahoe can be one congested vacation spot in the summer months for anyone seeking a relaxing getaway.
If avoiding crowds and experiencing a big dose of serenity is the goal, head north of Tahoe for the 45-minute drive to the Graeagle region, where the great outdoors abounds and the number people are sparse.
Cruise along this scenic stretch of Highway 89 toward Graeagle and it’s easy to slip into a relaxed mode. The towering pine trees and picturesque northern end of the Sierra Nevada range will have many drivers easing off the gas and breathing in a big gulp of scenery.
The region is a playground for outdoor lovers and doubles as a terrific golf vacation spot as well. There are five distinct golf courses to choose from, and all of them have one commonality. On each course, the majestic pine trees are swaying slightly and whistling in the wind, creating the type of tranquility rarely found on most golf courses.
Grizzly Ranch Golf Club is the relative new kid on the block. Located in Portola, it opened as part of a private gated community in 2005 and was the bait to lure in plenty of homeowners. Yet the rather drastic economic downturn quickly scared away potential homebuyers and five years later the course went public and is now owned by many golf-loving community homeowners.
Grizzly Ranch is a course that caters to all golfers. Low handicappers can experience quite the challenge, because the layout can growl like an angry grizzly from the tips, which measure 7,411 yards with a slope of 140. There are three other tee boxes designed for less skilled golfers, including 5,374 yards for the ladies.
What’s cool about Grizzly Ranch is its playability, a facet some egotistical golf designers fail to consider. Not so with Bob Cupp, who used this stunning piece of mountainous property to create a course with generous Kentucky Bluegrass fairways, safe landing areas, several fun risk-reward holes, and challenging greens that were in impeccable shape in late July.
Formerly the head professional at nearby Whitehawk Ranch, Van Batchelder was hired away to run Grizzly Ranch as its director of golf. Batchelder went from one great golf facility to another. Some guys have all the luck!
“I hear many comments about the (Grizzly Ranch) course, starting with the great condition, the awesome greens, the fairness of the holes, the diversity of the layout, and the quietness of the surrounding area – there no freeways like there are in Truckee,” Batchelder explains.
There’s no noisy vehicles heard at Grizzly Ranch and often times there are not many golfers, either. Batchelder says an average day includes 65-90 golfers and the 2 p.m. twilight time ($89 through Sept. 28) can often lead to a quick 18 holes while still making it home in time for dinner. Regular green fees are $115.
Grizzly Ranch is situated at roughly 5,150-foot elevation, so the ball carries a little further in the mountain air. And that’s a good thing on several holes, especially the short par-4s at No. 11 and No. 15. One can take aim at the green from the tee box or lay up as the safer choice.
“I tell people they need to play at least three times and then they will see all the subtleties of Grizzly Ranch,” Batchelder said. “This is often overlooked, but appreciated once the player is aware.”
Another facet to be aware of is the Stay & Play packages, which vary in price depending on length of stay. A round or two at Grizzly Ranch and a few nights stay at the Wolf Tree Cabins is one enjoyable, restful golf vacation.
As my wife immediately pointed out – “these aren’t really cabins.” Our 1,500 foot Deer Run accommodation was located in the gated community adjacent to the 8th green. The view was spectacular and inside the “cabin” were two spacious bedrooms, a huge 550 square-foot, wraparound covered deck, 2 ½ bathrooms, large kitchen with granite counters and stainless appliances, stone fireplace, hardwood floors, flatscreen TVs, and extremely comfortable beds.
Did we feel like going home after two lovely, peaceful evenings? Absolutely not!
Golf is not the lone activity. The region is a nature-lovers paradise. The community is located approximately 30 minutes from the Alpine Lakes Basin and Plumas National Forest. There are hundreds of high alpine lakes and thousands of miles of clear running streams and the Sierra Buttes.
Fishing and hiking are two of the region’s primary lures. For the less active, there are some unique shops to visit in Graeagle and make sure to stop by the Indian Peak Vineyards tasting room for a good selection of mostly red wines.
One challenging facet regarding a stay at the Grizzly community is finding a suitable place to eat. Although Grizzly Ranch offers sandwiches and hot dogs for lunch, and features an accommodating bar with reasonable prices, drive time can often be 20 minutes to a half hour in pursuit of a good restaurant for dinner.
Here are a few dining choices:
• Gumba’s Pizzeria & Grill
• Longboards Bar & Grill, at Plumas Pines Golf Course
• Iron Door
• Wigwam Dining Room at the Nakoma Golf Resort
• Cuccia’s restaurant, pasta, pizza and wine bar
• The Lodge, at Whitehawk Ranch Golf Club
Grizzly Ranch is located in eastern Plumas County. Drive time is 45 minutes from Reno, 2 ½ hours from Sacramento, and 4 ½ hours from the Bay Area.