Dariel and Peggy Garner made a fortune selling exotic vegetables—Thai eggplant, Thai peppers, Chioggia. Then they bought 1,300 alpine acres in California's Sierra Nevadas, where they dreamed of building an environmentally sensitive world-class resort. "Golf was hardly on our minds," says Dariel, a former Berkeley radical who has played the game only once. But architecture was on the Garners' minds, so they hired Scottsdale-based Taliesin Architects, a subsidiary of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Next came a stroke of luck: The firm showed the Garners plans for a golf clubhouse that Wright designed in 1924 for the Nakoma Country Club in Madison, Wisconsin. "We said, 'Wow!'" says Peggy, still thrilled by the memory of that eureka moment.
As a tribute to Native Americans—nakoma means "I do as I promise" in Chippewa—Wright's plans called for five teepee-like spires and a sixty-five-foot stone fireplace rising like a giant campfire. In 1924 the Wisconsin State Journal called the design "the most unique building of its kind in America," but Nakoma club members balked at its $70,000 price tag and shelved the project.
Today, two years after the Garners spent $15 million to build it, the clubhouse at the Nakoma Resort & Spa (800-368-7786, nakomaresort.com) near Graeagle, California, graces a fine high-country course called The Dragon. The Garners imported 120 truckloads of Tepeaca stone from Mexico, huge beams of Canadian Douglas fir and hand-knotted rugs from China. Peggy convinced a New York fabric maker to re-create Wright's original "Imperial Triangle" design for the clubhouse's chairs and benches. Carpenters who mastered hand tools from the thirties grew so proud of their skills they asked to be called "Nakoma craftsmen."
The Dragon golf course, designed by Robin Nelson with LPGA Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan, is female-friendly, playing less than 6,000 yards from three of its six sets of tees. Yet it is a 7,077-yard test from the tips, wending through ancient pines. The Garners take pains to save water and limit pesticide and herbicide use, which explains why you may see a bald eagle overhead. No doubt Wright, a lifelong naturalist, would be pleased.