BuffaloGolfer.Com participated in a three-day tour of the Turning Stone Resort in Oneida, New York, during the summer of 2015. The junket revealed that Turning Stone is best understood when divided into three segments: Room and Board; Entertainment; Golf. This is the third installment of three on our time at Turning Stone.
Turning Stone Resort: Golf
Turning Stone Resort offers many diversions, events and attractions to its guests, but golf is at the heart of the matter. Three premier layouts, a rustic half-course, a 9-hole par three course, and extensive practice facilities ensure that no visitor to the resort will ever wonder “what is there to do?” Each course is unique in layout and conditioning, and any time on the fairway is time well spent. Ahead, we break down all of the golfing opportunities at Turning Stone.
The Big Trio: Shenandoah, Kaluhyat and Atunyote
Atunyote was the third course added to Turning Stone, and the host venue for the premier, PGA Tour events that have taken place at the resort over the years. The course was designed by Tom Fazio and has many characteristics of another course for which he currently consults: Augusta National, home of The Masters.
Rarely does the Atunyote course seem crowded. The resort goes to lengths to limit daily play, to afford guests the feeling of a true reserve, isolated from the draws of daily life. Pathways from tee to green are clearly marked, with no blind shots on the course. Sand and water hazards are common, but there a detour or alternate line can always be found, as long as the golfer resists being seduced and blinded by the heroic route. Hugging the insides of doglegs rarely results in a favorable lie.
Unlike many courses, Atunyote brags of no one signature hole. Many holes stand out, especially the long and twisting par fives, but none more than any other. Some climb to elevated greens, while others play to a putting surface located at fairway level. The greens are expansive, with subtle breaks and nuanced slopes. Unless you blast a ball wide into one of the water hazards, you’re not likely to lose a golf ball.
Robert Trent Jones II was certainly provided with the greatest challenge among the three architects at Turning Stone. The land over which Kaluhyat is routed slides along, through and around wetlands. It passes by broken ground, amid trees and over heathlands. It has hosted the NY state men’s amateur championship and various NYSGA state days events. And yet, it remains a beguiling course.
Part of Kaluhyat’s mystery is that the next shot is not always obvious. You have a tee ball in front of you, or a second on a par five, but you can’t necessarily see the green. The course demands that you play to a comfortable yardage and then manage what remains. The forced carries are unavoidable, as wetlands come into play on many holes. This presence of native areas makes the choice of tee blocks that much more critical. Remember this caveat that I’ve developed as I’ve aged: You’re on vacation and here for a good time. Play a bit shorter, have more runs at par and birdie as you familiarize yourself with the course. Move back a deck if you like the next time you’re here.
With the exception of the tee ball on number two, the approach to number sixteen and the entire seventeenth hole, there are no dramatic ups and downs at Kaluhyat. In fact, across all three courses, I cannot remember a single, decidedly-uphill tee shot or approach. The land is quite flat, so the challenge comes not from the ascent/descent, but from the lateral movement of holes. When it comes to putting, Kaluhyat’s greens are sizeable (for multiple hole options to limit traffic to a reduced number of areas) with modest, calm transitions from front to back and side to side. There’s break on nearly every putt, minus the sudden progressions you might find on a hillier, old-school course.
As happens with David Kidd’s original course at Bandon Dunes (Oregon, USA), the original Rick Smith course at Turning Stone might catch a bit of criticism from regulars who wonder at the oddities of the course. The 7th-9th holes are tucked off near the entrance to the resort, a bit away from the course proper. The drive from the 12th green to the 13th tee is a quarter-mile in length (or it seems that far). To these minor discomforts I say Hey, you’re in a cart. Relax and enjoy the ride. The diversity of shots required more than makes up for any vagaries you might find.
Smith had the foresight to create two shot par four holes, of the risk-reward kind, before it was commonplace to do so. The 4th on the front and the 15th on the back tempt the novice to take a crack at the green. If there’s nothing at stake (or it’s dusk and you’re the only one on the course) take a few swings at each with the driver, to get those yah-yahs out. The seasoned strategist will find the safe spot in the fairway, leave wedge to the green, and take a putt at birdie. On the other end of the spectrum, Smith also carved longish par-five holes out of the central New York farmland. The 5th moves around a sizable hazard on the right, always offering safety to the left, before turning and rising to the right, to the putting surface. The back nine begins with a tee ball similar to that found on number one, but the hole extends farther than the 1st, up and up to a green benched in an upslope, protected by sand in front.
I recall a trip east from western New York, not knowing that such a thing as Turning Stone existed. This would have been in the early days of the internet, before google had evolved into a verb. I nearly drove off the side of I-90, into a ditch, when I caught site of the third green and fourth hole at Shenandoah. This was before a berm was constructed to modulate traffic noise for golfers, semi-obscuring the course from the highway.
What I found when I first played the course was a hybrid of an open, heathland course (holes 2-5, 13, 14 and 17) where holes wave to each other, and a semi-secluded, woodland layout (the remaining holes) on which each hole stands apart from the others. Shenandoah was the beginning and continues to be an impressive cornerstone for the resort.
Rustic Golf @ Pleasant Knolls plus Par Threes Galore @ Sandstone Hollow
Top-shelf courses can exhaust even the most ardent collector of experiences. There are days when we need a respite from the 36-hole grind, and that’s precisely why Pleasant Knolls and Sandstone Hollow occupy an important place in the Turning Stone rota. Pleasant Knolls was inherited from the community, and sits (like Atunyote) a short drive by car from the main resort property. If you went cross-country, through the woods to the left side of the 11th tee at Kaluhyat, you would arrive at the 4th green at Pleasant Knolls. The course dates to 1950, stretches to nearly 3400 yards, and was designed by Ed Peters. Peters has no other courses to his credit, so to say that he did a fine job on his maiden (and only) effort is a truism. Pleasant Knolls might be the most appropriately-named course I’ve played. There are no sand bunkers anywhere, and the only hazard, a long stretch of H2O, comes on the ninth hole, after you’ve had plenty of time to razor-sharpen your game.
For those of us who first met golf on a par-three course, the Sandstone Hollow nine at Turning Stone would qualify as quite a step up. I’ve played Bandon Preserve in Oregon, and the Threetops course in Michigan, and they are the only two short layouts that I would place above Sandstone Hollow for purity of golf shots. The Hollow offers three sets of tees, so you could play a hole as short as 58 yards (#8, Red Tee) and as long as 234 yards (#3, Black Tee.) Rick Smith, designer of the Shenandoah course at Turning Stone, turned a marvelous hand on his short course as well.
My suggestion to you regarding Sandstone Hollow would be to get creative. Looking at the scorecard, a quick calculation of 9 holes times 3 tees each offers 27 possible distances. They fall into these ranges:
<100 yards: 4 tees
101-110: 3 tees
111-120: 4 tees
121-130: 4 tees
141-150: 3 tees
151-160: 3 tees
161-170: 1 tee
171-180: 2 tees
181-190: 1 tee
>200 yards: 1 tee
Back in 2011, a chum and I played Pleasant Knolls in the morning, followed by Sandstone Hollow in the afternoon. My pal was getting up in years, and these two courses were just his speed for a good day of golf. I dug out some video (back before the stabilization days of GoPro) from that day at Sandstone, and you can take a look at two of the clips below.
The Dome and Practice Range
Turning Stone offers the Sportsplex, an inflated dome near the current practice range and the Sandstone Hollow course. Inside are tennis and racquetball courts, a wide practice range for golf, a pro shop for equipment and apparel needs, and a TaylorMade Tuned Performance Center. In the summer of 2015, I had a chance to experience both the TaylorMade (full swing) and SAMS (putting) fitting processes. What I learned both beguiled and encouraged me. I discovered that I do things with the golf club on both full swing and putting stroke, that defy the laws of common sense, gravity and golf instruction. Despite those early setbacks, I somehow find a way to make it all work. Case in point: while at Turning Stone, I turned in a score of 74 on the Kaluhyat course, and a 78 at the Atunyote layout. I don’t make many birdies (an expected result of the vagaries in my swings) but when I’m on, pars my friend. Go figure!!
The practice ranges at Turning Stone are found adjacent to the 18th hole at Kaluhyat (for the two on-site courses) and at Atunyote. Rumor has it that a shopping mall will soon occupy the range space at the resort, so an adjustment will be made to the 18th hole at Shenandoah. The par five will be reduced to a par four, and the lost portion of tees and fairway, along with adjacent land, will become the new practice range. Since the 18th is a reachable par five, my thinking would be to make it a reachable par four, offering a chance to end the round with a birdie.