Turning Stone Resort brings three great golf courses to NY

By Darryl Berger, Contributor

VERONA, N.Y. -- When the Oneida Indian Nation decided to add golf to its Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, N.Y., it didn't enter the golf world timidly, it jumped into the deep end and produced a big splash. The Oneidas didn't cut corners, didn't spare costs and the result is a trio of big-league golf courses.

The first course at Turning Stone opened in 2000. The resort's director of golf, Bob O'Brian said, "It's incredible what's been created here in such a short time."

In addition to the courses we'll look at here, the resort has a Rick Smith-designed, nine-hole, par-3 course, has restored a full-length nine-hole layout and has built an indoor training center.

"I was amazed by the entire package they offer," said Rick Eagleton of Buffalo, N.Y. "From customer service, course conditioning, clubhouse to the courses themselves, this is a first-class operation. If you can foot the bill, this place will not disappoint."

Shenendoah Golf Club

The course was designed by Rick Smith and opened in May 2000. It plays 6,328 yards from the middle tees, but the 135 slope will let you know you've got plenty of challenge. Play from the tips and you can stretch it to more 7,100 yards. The course mixes traditional parkland and links style design.

Shenendoah doesn't allow for first-tee jitters. You'll have forced carries on the tee shot and approach on the 374-yard (white tees) par-4. Arrive safely on the green and you'll soon find out the fun is just beginning. The greens are super quick and putting will require your full attention.

The course features two very good short par-4s. Nos. 4 and 15 play just over 300 yards from the middle tees. If you want to fly your tee ball over marshland, both give you a shot at driving the green. But of course, that shot can result in having to reach for another ball.

Kaluhyat Golf Club

This is primarily a links course, with a few parkland holes sprinkled in. The Robert Trent Jones Jr. design opened in August 2003. Kaluhyat is the Oneida word for "the other side of the sky." It's appropriately named because if you haven't played there before and haven't invested in a yardage book, you won't know which side is up. Like most good links courses, there is a lot of visual misdirection. It's also true to the links tradition of the front nine playing out and the second nine playing back to the clubhouse.

You have five sets of tees from which to choose. The front set plays at about 5,300 yards. The middle tees measure 6,183 and the tips stretch it to just over 7,100 yards. The middle tees have a 70.1 rating and 131 slope.

Avoiding wetlands, lakes and numerous bunkers is the challenge at Kaluhyat. Keep checking that yardage book and play smart.

Several of the par-5 holes are worth examining.

The sixth hole is perhaps borderline unfair. A pond, which isn't easy to see, sits to the right of the fairway off the tee. Hit a decent tee ball and you are presented with a choice of trying to fly a marsh and leave yourself with a wedge to a tough green. Lay up in front of the marsh and your chances of hitting the green with a long iron are slim. The marshland could be moved either closer to the green or further away and I think it would be a vastly better hole. Kaluhyat leaves the critic very little to complain about.

The 11th is a tough par-5 and handicapped as the most difficult on the course. It's 621 yards from the tips and 563 yards from the middle tees and the approach requires a carry over marshland to an elevated green and unless you've busted two long shots, you probably won't be firing at the pin with a wedge in your hands.

The par-5 13th is a slicer's nightmare. It's a mid-length par 5 but it plays around a lake, which is just waiting for a slice from the tee, lay up or approach shot (lefties need to reverse that recommendation). More than a half-dozen bunkers are scattered down the left side of the fairway if you overcompensate.

Atunyote Golf Club

This is the headliner at Turning Stone. Tom Fazio designed the course after choosing the piece of property he was interested in working on. The result is an outstanding layout that's received broad acclaim in the golfing world. It first entertained play in June 2004, but has the feel of a course that's been around for awhile.

"Atunyote did about 10,000 rounds during its first year," O'Brian said. "We're not looking for the course to get a lot of play. It's one of those special occasion places, whether it's for business or socially. You play Atunyote and you know you've come to a special place."

The $200-per-round price tag will keep the number of rounds in check. But those willing to shell out the money will not be disappointed by the quality of the experience.

There are six sets of tees; two sets of gold tees, one for men and one for women. The course can stretch out to 7,300 yards, all the way down to 5,100. The white tees offer plenty of challenge at more than 6500 yards, with a slope of 131 and a 71.6 rating.

It's one of those special courses that has you anxious to get to the next tee to examine the offering ahead. One of the best holes, strategically and aesthetically is the par-5 No. 5. It curls around what looks like a small abandoned quarry, but it is only an impressive replica. Every shot seems to encourage boldness, but more conservative play can still yield a birdie.

A 13-acre, man-made lake is also used to great effect, creating three really strong holes, including the par-5 18th. The home hole features water to the right and a trio to well-placed bunkers up the left side.

The verdict

It would be less unusual to find three courses of this quality in a warmer climate, where they could be generating revenue throughout the calendar year. To find them 30 miles east of Syracuse is extraordinary. Obviously the casino has made it possible to finance this kind of project. For those looking for an upscale golf getaway, Shenendoah, Kaluhyat and Atunyote represent a sure thing.

Stay and Play

Turning Stone offers a range of accommodations from a luxury lodge adjacent to the golf courses, hotels attached to the casino to a motel down the road that provides less expensive rooms. The resort also has an RV park and a campground.

Dining Out

Turning Stone provides more than a dozen options. Rodizio Churrascaria is a meat-eaters must try. They hand carve a variety of slow-roasted fare tableside. Emerald Restaurant is open 24/7 and a useful selection for an early tee time breakfast spot.

Fast Fact

Turning Stone has been selected to host the 39th annual PGA Club Professional Championship in June 2006.

Darryl Berger, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment