There’s something to really like about a golf trip where guests roll up to the front entrance of their destination, hand over their golf clubs to the staff and then never have the need to think about anything but golf, food and fun the rest of their stay.
Call it the “once-we-got-ya’, you’re-ours-for-three days” package, and no one anywhere does it better than the folks at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, set in Central New York’s Oneida Indian Nation.
From world-class accommodations in any of the seven lodges, hotels and inns at the resort, to the casino with its table games, slots, bingo and poker room, to the myriad dining options, to — for our purposes — the trio of top-shelf golf courses, everything at Turning Stone is in place and ready to produce memories by the bushel-full.
My preference on a golf trip is 36 holes a day for as many days as I’m unpacked and able to stand. One can certainly do that at Turning Stone — its three courses are varied in design, in their features and their challenges while maintained to the nth degree.
Atunyote, designed by Tom Fazio, Kaluhyat (a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. routing), and Shenendoah, fashioned by Rick Smith, each have been awarded through the years for their quality and playability. But it’s the overall variety — and the varying degree of difficulty in the courses — that make Turning Stone a step above the competition.
Atunyote, a private club feel in resort setting
If there’s one course here that’s considered the Alpha among Alphas, it’s Atunyote, located about five miles off the main resort property. It’s certainly the most heralded course at Turning Stone, having hosted a PGA Tour stop for four years ending in 2010.
The Fazio-designed track is big-shouldered, with generous fairways, bright white-sand bunkers, and flawless conditioning. It’s set on a relatively open and a mostly flat piece of ground, with plenty of water features and stands of trees and hazards in place to focus the golfer’s play.
Much more forgiving than the Kaluhyat course, Atunyote is a parkland layout that accommodates an occasional shot sprayed off line and offers chances at saving par with a little imagination and execution, even after a wayward shot.
The par 3s at Atunyote are all tough as nails, led by the 230-yard 11th hole. Anything “just” missed to the right will find either a bunker short or a stream a bit further from the putting surface — it’s best to play out to the left, where there’s plenty of room to miss and then recover.
The reachable par-5 12th hole, carded at just 538 yards, requires two good shots and a little nerve to produce an eagle putt. The peninsula green has water to its right, so be wary of going at the flag when it’s set anywhere right of center.
A round at Atunyote feels more like one at a posh private club thanks to its grand entrance, access to locker rooms and its expansive practice facility, and plenty of service with a smile. You feel like a king from the moment you reach the front door at Turning Stone, but you’ll swagger a little more as you saunter to the first tee here; it’s up to you how you’ll feel after the round.
Jones gives no quarter at Kaluhyat
Leave it up to RTJ Jr. and his design firm to come up with the most demanding course at Turning Stone, as Kaluhyat gives no quarter — and that is not a bad thing.
Given the routing (which is carved through marshland and has as much as 50 feet of elevation change), its requirement for forced carries, its length (7,105 yards, the longest of the three courses) and its rating and slope (75.5, 150), you know exactly what’s coming at Kaluhyat; it’s up to the golfer to focus and stay fully committed over every shot.
I take that as a challenge — I actually enjoy trying to play my best when a course absolutely demands it. Some resort owners prefer their courses to be less demanding; having at least one course on a trip that demands true conviction is a real draw for me.
Jones has fashioned this course around and over a half-dozen lakes, which adds both difficulty and aesthetics to Kaluhyat. The conditioning when I played was impeccable, and the greens rolled smooth and quick, aspects all golfers appreciate.
The only “easy” hole at Kaluhyat is likely the 155-yard, par-3 fifth, which plays slightly downhill but requires a complete forced-carry over a marsh. The hole is set in a bowl of trees, protected from the wind, and the green is deeper than it seems from off the tee.
The most difficult of Kaluhyat’s gauntlet of demanding holes is the 621-yard, par-5 11th, which is played over bunkers on the left at 250 yards, then makes a left turn and brings wetlands into play about 120 yards from the greens complex.
You’ll need accuracy and course management, in spades, to navigate this course for any chance of scoring well. But there’s no reason to shy away from the challenge – in fact, one should embrace the tests given at Kaluhyat.
Shenendoah is a wonderful variety and so much fun
Shenendoah was the first of three 18 hole courses laid out at Turning Stone Resort, opening in 2000 under the design notions of Smith, who is a fabulous golf course architect. It’s the least-hyped course on the property, but produced my favorite round of the trip, perhaps because I found it varied and a ton of fun.
The track runs through a series of wetlands, which — combined with holes routed through stands of trees and some that are almost links-like in their wide vistas — allows Shenendoah to be a little bit of all things, and all of it good.
Shenendoah plays at a par-72 and at 7,013 yards from its back set of five tee boxes. It maxes out a rating of 74.2 and a slope of 140.
I’m not one for signature holes (I prefer to consider the course architect’s entire vision when thinking about what they’ve designed), but others point to the par-3 14th as the standout on Shenendoah. It plays over water with three bunkers in front and another at the back to give players his quality shots here.
I really liked the reachable par-4 16th, carded at just 291 yards but playing downhill to a 38-yard-deep putting surface.
Shenendoah was renovated in 2016 to make room for an expansion of the resort, with seven holes changed by Smith from his original routing. The changes have nothing but make a really good course even better.
So, you get a little bit of everything with the three courses at Turning Stone. Add to the trip a stay at the suite-only Lodge, a sumptuous steak dinner at TS Steakhouse, a good and lucky run at the craps table and you’ve got yourself one heck of a trip.