Shenendoah Golf Club fulfills 5-year-old promise

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VERONA, N.Y. (AP) - The Oneida Indian Nation has fulfilled a 5-year-old promise to establish a four-season destination resort in the rural landscape of central New York.

The Shenendoah Golf Club opened for area professional golfers May 25 as Brian Patterson, a member of the Oneida Men's Council, delivered a prayer in the Oneida language. Clan Mother Marilyn John said she prayed to the Creator earlier for a break in the weather which plagued the area.

Nation Representative Ray Halbritter drove the ceremonial first ball down the fairway after noting the stiff wind blew away rain clouds that had blanketed the area for weeks. "It always seems to work out," he said.

Shenendoah is distinguished by a designation by Audubon International as one of 17 courses in the country with environmental sensitivity in its design and given sanctuary status, said Mark Emery, an Oneida spokesman. The society conferred its highest honor, Certified Signature Sanctuary Status on this, the first Indian-owned course to be so recognized.

In a brief media tour, Halbritter noted the home of a blue heron, a fox and her kits, turkeys, geese and goslings, mallard ducks, red-wing blackbirds and pileated woodpeckers among other wildlife.

The 18-hole, championship level, par-72 course, which opened to the public May 26, stretches from 5,185 yards to 7,129 yards, was designed by golf pro Rick Smith, whose work includes The Signature course at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich. The slope rating is 142 - golf speak for difficulty. The average is about 120 and the most difficult course in the world - Pine Valley, N.J., is rated at 154. But, there are five tees per hole, accommodating all golfers from high handicappers to the most accomplished player, designers said.

The course has wooded parkland holes with groves of pine, maple and birch and open pastures to capture the links feeling and low country-style holes, said architect Warren Henderson. The 18-hole greens fee is $75 for hotel guests and $95 for others, including use of a golf car.

"The course provides variety and drama at every turn," Henderson said.

It is one of a trio of Oneida Nation-owned and operated courses including the nine-hole Sandstone Hollow at Turning Stone Casino and 18-hole Pleasant Knolls Golf Course on Patrick Road in Oneida.

The $20 million, 300-acre Shenendoah Club is named for the Oneidas' honored 18th-century chief, Oskanondonha, who encouraged his people to join the Americans in their fight for independence.

Oskanondonha signed the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, the foundation of the Oneida Nation's claim to land rights, sovereignty and tax freedoms.

The course was designed to be sufficiently challenging to attract professional golfers, but fair enough for other players, Henderson said.

The Rick Smith Golf Academy will offer classes on site. The Nation hired Mike Jones, a PGA Class A certified instructor to teach.

With the addition of Shenendoah, the tribe's complex in Verona includes a casino, a 285-room luxury hotel and a convention center that offers a Las Vegas-caliber entertainment lineup and the smaller nine-hole course. The gambling hall and resort draw about 3 million visitors each year.

Halbritter said the Nation is considering expanding the casino, first adding more hotel rooms and more space to the showroom. Even another golf course is being considered.

Additionally, the Oneidas operate a chain of gas stations, a T-shirt printing plant, a slot-machine factory and its wholly owned Standing Stone Media publishes Indian Country Today and The Lakota Times.