Hole in one

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Oneidas' golf developments garner professional accolades

VERONA, N.Y. - It's a big time for golf at the Oneida Indian Nation.

The tribe not only pulled off a successful PGA golf day in its world-class indoor golf dome in March; it was also recently honored by GOLF Magazine for its efforts toward environmental stewardship. And tribal officials are already prepping for a second annual large-scale PGA Tour event at its Turning Stone Resort and Casino's golf courses, scheduled to begin in late September.

The options for golfing at Turning Stone are almost limitless. The OIN's resort currently offers multiple courses featuring a total of 72 holes of golf. An indoor training center, which contains 40 hitting stations, two putting surfaces, two golf simulators and a bunker, is also popular among golf-loving visitors.

''We have all kinds of amenities that we offer to PGA-level professionals, and we give them back to our amateur guests,'' said Robert ''RT'' Todd, who's directed Turning Stone's golf services since 2006.

It took visions from three pre-eminent golf course architects - Tom Fazio, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Rick Smith - to design the main Shenendoah, Kaluhyat and Atunyote? courses at Turning Stone. Their work encompasses 54 holes; an additional two unique nine-hole layouts called Sandstone Hollow and Pleasant Knolls are also popular at the venue.

Prices to use the courses begin at $25 and range up to $225.

Several PGA-level professionals work on-staff at Turning Stone offering tips to all levels of players, a feature that sets its golf offerings apart from many courses in the region. Homegrown Oneida golf talent also maintains and oversees the venue daily.

When it came time to choose a location to host a PGA Play Golf America Day this spring, Chuck Harty, executive director of the Central New York PGA, said there was really no facility in the region that could compete with those offered by the OIN.

''We have a great relationship with Turning Stone,'' Harty said. ''We recognize their courses as the best in our area.''

Approximately 1,200 people participated during the special Play Golf America Day event, while more than 20 local teaching professionals were on hand to offer free instruction and golf clinics for beginners, intermediate and advanced level players. It was one of the more highly attended Play Golf America days nationwide, Harty said, adding that he's excited to do it all over again.

In addition to the Play Golf America Day endeavor, the Central New York PGA also holds annual meetings, special awards ceremonies and banquets at Turning Stone.

''We've found the overall presentation to be top-shelf,'' Harty said, ''whether it's for a business meeting, to entertain clients, or to conduct our championship.''

Harty most appreciates the PGA Tour Tournament conditions offered at the tribe's three main golf venues. ''You can just tell that they're ahead of the game at maintaining their courses,'' he said.

While golf pros love the technical aspects of the courses, the OIN has also made environmental stewardship a priority. All three of the tribe's main courses are Audubon International Certified Signature Sanctuaries. To keep that certification, course managers are charged with applying sustainable resource management practices in the long-term stewardship of the property.

The Shenendoah Golf Club site, labeled by some golf pros as ''the dean'' of the resort's championship offerings, features preserved wetlands, wildlife and ornamental native grasses.

''You'll see a lot of wildlife out here,'' Todd said. ''And we're very cautious about not disturbing it.''

Signs are also featured at many tees, noting traditional Oneida commitments to the Earth.

The tribe's environmentally conscious approach caught the attention of GOLF Magazine, which presented the tribe with a ''Green Golf Award'' in March. Turning Stone's offerings were also highlighted in the publication's ''Best Resorts'' feature in April.

With those environmental accolades in hand, tribal officials are now turning their attention to the second annual Turning Stone Resort Championship, scheduled to take place Sept. 29 - Oct. 5 this year. It is the only regularly scheduled PGA Tour event that currently takes place on American Indian lands.

''Everybody is so enthusiastic about this tournament,'' Todd said, noting that last year there were so many volunteers who wanted to take part in the action that some had to be turned away.

The Atunyote? course was the host site of the 2007 inaugural event, which tribal officials said attracted hundreds of golf professionals from throughout the world who competed for a $6 million purse. Steve Flesch, a professional golfer from Kentucky, was the ultimate winner and collected a $1.08 million winner's check.

Many PGA players were impressed with the venue.

''The golf course out here is just immaculate, in great condition,'' Chad Campbell, a PGA pro since 1996, told Oneida organizers after the 2007 tournament. ''The greens are some of the best we've putt on all year. The whole resort is amazing.''

Todd said that in touring other PGA Tour festivities nationwide, he's heard golfers whispering that the OIN's offerings are among the top courses in the country.

''I tell them, 'You don't have to whisper it,''' he said. ''You can say it out loud.''

Some participants from last year have even asked Todd if they can get the same room in which they stayed at the resort in 2007, and they're already asking about the entertainment the tribe will be spotlighting during the 2008 event.

''Entertainment has been a key thing for these PGA Tour players,'' Todd said.

''Normally they'll go to a site and there's not much to do and it's hard to get together as a group. But when you come to a place like Turning Stone, they're all staying right on property, seeing each other at the casino and entertainment centers.''

In partnering with the PGA, the OIN negotiated a six-year agreement with PGA Tour organizers to hold the event at its facilities. The tribe is currently seeking sponsors to help pull off another grand event this year.

The OIN owns Four Directions Media, parent company of Indian Country Today.