VERONA, N.Y. -- Evident in Oneida Indian Nation Men's Council member Chuck
Fougnier's voice is the pride he shares with his community members about
what the Oneida have built just 30 miles east of Syracuse. The Turning
Stone Resort and Casino's new hotel tower rises above the thruway,
signaling your arrival: and arrive you have if a golf vacation is in your
That same pride carries throughout the tribe's development and
philanthropy. In addition to the stellar golf facilities, a solid gaming
venue coupled with very fine lodging make the resort worth the trip. The
tribe also operates several other businesses, maintains a
community-supporting government and works with the greater area through its
charitable foundation. It's a whole community.
I played the Shenendoah Golf Club course first, which kicked off my two
days wonderfully. This Rick Smith design is the first in the stable of
three at Turning Stone and is, in my opinion, the best of the lot. Smith's
other designs include the often-reviewed Tree Tops clubs as well as the
highly acclaimed Arcadia Bluffs, all in Michigan.
With Shenendoah, Smith had a wonderful piece of nature ready for carving a
mix of holes that carried a variety throughout the round. Tree-lined
fairways on some holes reward the straight driver with shots at the green,
where in other places ample landing zones have you looking at a long iron
into a not-so-accommodating green.
The first and second holes are welcoming. An easy drive, a short iron and a
putt or two can have you yielding an easy par or two. The welcome stops
there. Holes three through five offer all the challenge you need and
initiate the transition from the woods to an open, rolling terrain and
back. The par-5 fifth is a go-for-it hole with a good drive, but watch out
for errant shots with fairway metal as you may find yourself in enough
trouble to make up and down for par a good score.
The back nine offer a superb selection of par-4 holes, with several longer
than 400 yards. The par-5 18th brings you back to decision-time because you
may likely have the wind at your back, some open terrain at the left front
of the green, and a need to recapture a couple of strokes lost on the
Two things are the most noteworthy of all the features within this fine
facility: the par 3s and conditioning. The collection of par 3s has few
rivals in Indian country golf. The sixth hole, the shortest of the bunch,
may likely be the signature on the property, but don't get caught up in the
beauty as you still need to hit a shot with the landing mind because the
green is tough. The final three par 3s are all long, have challenges
abundantly placed, and make par a good score to take to the next tee.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful shape of the golf
courses. Bill Taylor, a software salesman from Albany and my playing
partner that day, summed it up perfectly when he said that you just don't
find a blade of grass out of place at Turning Stone. It really is the case,
and Shenendoah's layout through this mature piece of land makes you think
you're playing a course that has been around for decades.
After a pleasant lunch in the very fine club house, I joined up with one of
the casino's guests for a round on Shenedoah's sister course Kaluhyat. I
had seen this course during its development stage and thought to myself
that we players were going to be in for a severe challenge. My thoughts
were right-on, and the afternoon's game proved daunting.
Robert Trent Jones II brought all of his tricks to the table when designing
this very challenging and often time-beguiling course. He has designed some
of the finest courses in the country including Hawaii's perennial favorite,
The Prince Course, and one of my personal favorites: University Ridge in
Madison, Wis. The designer brings an interest in the natural habitat of
each facility and preserves the environment around the course, which at
Kaluhyat makes the challenge more pronounced.
Some say, "This is a shot-maker's course." Kaluhyat's variety of terrain
includes elevation changes, wooded and rolling open spaces, some water, and
several strategically placed and penalizing sand traps. The second hole is
testament to this principle.
After a relatively benign opening hole, you need to begin thinking right
away about placement and distance on number two, a reasonable-length par 4
with not much room for error off the tee. This thinking continues on the
front nine, where the stretch between six and nine can make or break your
round. Six is a long par 5 with a need to mind your tee shot and think
about whether to clear the hazard on your second shot or leave yourself a
longer iron to the bunker protected green. Seven and nine are both long par
4s, with challenging approaches with at least a long iron for most players.
Eight, along with five, continue the tradition of great par 3s at the
The back nine offers two more wonderful par 3s and a series at the
beginning that make you keep your wits about you. Fifteen and 17 are
medium-length par 3s that demand some accuracy. On 17 you had better not go
right or you'll find yourself on a severe side-hill lie with a challenging
up and down for par. Perhaps the best stretch of holes on the course is 11
through 13. Eleven is an extremely long par 5 with no real "go for it"
decision, but you do have to make two fine shots to get yourself in
position to have a short iron to this challenging uphill green. Twelve is
another long hole at 420-plus yards. The difficulty comes in the narrow
fairway, which can grab an errant tee-shot and churn out a six very
quickly. Thirteen is another longish par 5, with water down the entire
right side of the second half of the hole. The three can be managed, but
you truly need to play down the middle with sold shots.
Kaluhyat's various terrain and challenges throughout make it certainly the
toughest course of the lot. I found myself saying "I would play that hole
differently" a few times during the round. The conditioning was once again
spectacular, and the vistas and quiet are what you hope for in high-end
resort golf. So my recommendation is to play the course at least once
before you expect yourself to score, and enjoy the natural landscape during
your first round.
As a golfer who enjoys the challenge of playing the "best" and being
treated like you are at a premier facility, I was pleased with the
wonderful treatment at all of the Turning Stone facilities. However, the
"feel" at Atunyote surpassed expectations.
I found clean, neatly stacked range balls, bags tags, complimentary
Titleist Pro-V1s, a complimentary lunch and bottled water, and a staff
tripping over themselves to make sure my transition from car to pro shop to
course was seamless. It truly was exceptional, and that is what Turning
Stone is betting on with the brand being developed at Atunyote.
With rates that start at $150, this is the most expensive of the series at
Turning Stone; but the facility is geared toward a clientele that is used
to those rates for the service and playability standard the course looks to
set. Corporate outings hosted at the resort's hotels, and high-end players
and guests, will be welcomed at Atunyote, as the course is set up to cater
to these folks and offer a playable course for most levels of golfer.
Tom Fazio, Atunyote's designer, is perhaps the most prolific high-end
course designer in the country. His stable of courses includes both Indian
country favorites at Dancing Rabbit Golf Club at Pearl River Resort in
Mississippi, the quickly acclaimed Black Diamond Ranch in Florida, and New
York's prestigious Hudson National Golf Club. His designs most often
include clearly identifiable fairway hazards and ample landing areas that
allow for attention to be paid to the more challenging approach shots.
Each of the holes at Atunyote displays these straightforward
characteristics. Holes five and six can both be considered signature holes
at most courses. Five, a reasonable-length par 5, offers a cliff-like
dropoff to water down the entire left side of the hole and a challenging
approach shot, with water looming, for anything over 125 yards and center
of the fairway. Six is a wonderful and challenging par 3 at 185 yards.
Fronted by water short and right, your par isn't assured if you simply
reach the green, as this putting surface undulates and challenges a long
two putt. Number nine rounds out the front nine with a challenging uphill
battle to reach this par 4 in two. Avoid the fairway bunkers on either
side, and you'll have a long iron or fairway metal that needs to be left to
left-center to get you to your par.
The backside at Atunyote begins with a challenging stretch and ends with
another challenging finishing hole. Ten, 11 and 12 are straightforward
holes where you can see what you are up against, and all require solid
shots with your irons to get on the greens in regulation. The par-3 11th is
of particular note at 230 yards from the tips at with a stream running down
the right side of the hole and green. After curling through the woods on
some very scenic holes, you end your round with the long, uphill 18th. This
finisher is playable, but two good shots are needed in order to have a
short iron into this very challenging, and fast, green.
Atunyote sets the standard for high-end service in Indian country golf and
beyond. As the newest member to this exciting new golf destination,
Atunyote carries on the tradition and raises the bar for tribally owned
clubs across the country. That said, a pure golfer's experience can best be
had by the subtle and challenging Shenendoah course. This design was ranked
the No. 1 course in Indian country recently, and all three were in the top
If you are looking for a world-class golf resort for your corporate event
or a group of buddies, and a challenging series, Turning Stone can't be
overlooked. Conditioning of the courses is as good as any place in the
country. The golf itself offers variety from the shot-maker's Kaluhyat to
the pampering facility at Atunyote.
You can expect to be shown wonderful treatment when you visit and you will
get a first-rate golf experience that will bring you back to this