Golf...just the tip of the iceberg at
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
By Steve Donahue
There’s a lot happening at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort — so much, in fact, that it’s impossible experiencing it all in one visit. Well, unless you can swing a month’s stay. Most of us don’t have that luxury, so it’s no mystery why so many guests become repeat visitors.
Fact is, this southwestern Pennsylvania mountain resort might offer more diversions for every family member than any resort on earth. Nemacolin has earned resort plaudits from every major publication, including AAA’s Four-Diamond rating for 11 years running. It’s also a GOLF Magazine “Gold Medal, Premier Golf Resorts,” No. 51 in Golf Digest’s current “The 75 Best Golf Resorts in North America” ranking and No. 54 among Conde Nast Traveler’s “Top 100 Golf Resorts” list.
Joseph A. Hardy III, founder of 84 Lumber Company, purchased 550 acres of the Nemacolin property at auction in 1987, hoping to provide his fishing-loving daughter, Maggie, a few acres of woodlands near a lake or stream. Thankfully for us, the pair immediately got a tad carried away, steadily transforming the property into today’s 2,000-acre, world-class resort. Maggie — who lives in a beautiful home in the resort — became full owner in 2002 and intends to continue making additions and improvements to Nemacolin, nestled in the Laurel Highlands. Her dad, now 91, still offers ideas and advice.
||Pete Dye brushed his Mystic Rock canvas with winding ribbons of immaculately manicured fairways.
The resort’s No. 1 amenity is its two 18-hole golf courses — Mystic Rock and The Links. The outstanding Mystic Rock, designed by legendary course architect Pete Dye, put the resort on the national map when it hosted the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumber Classic from 2003 to 2006.
The Links, which came with the original property, is a fun, 6,658-yard, par-70 test thanks to small, tricky greens that are subtly undulating and deceivingly fast. Most fairways offer open targets off the tee, albeit framed by high, thick rough. However, enough woods, water hazards and rocks come into play on approaches to keep you honest.
Lest you think for a minute The Links is a pushover, especially after playing Mystic Rock, consider the rude awakening you receive by The Links’ opening three holes — an uphill-all-the-way 570-yarder, a 208-yard par 3 and a 453-yard two shotter. Then there’s the ninth hole, whose tee box is only a few hundred feet from the end of Nemacolin’s 3,900-foot-long private airstrip. If that’s not unique enough, your drive must clear a tee-front pond and a tall Native American statue looking back into the water from the far shore. Indeed, one of the first things I noticed upon arriving on the property are the numerous eclectic statues — many of them of animals — and pieces of artwork placed liberally around the acreage, all part of the $45 million Hardy Family Art Collection.
Definitely include The Links on your activity itinerary, but make no mistake — Mystic Rock is the resort’s shining star. The 7,526-yard, par-72 beast’s trademark Dye-abolical bunkering, water hazards and boulders were designed to confound us all, including the world’s finest tour professionals during the 84 Lumber Classic’s four-year run. My advice — enjoy the course and, because the course rating/slope from the tips is 77.0/149, keep your expectations realistic.
Dye brushed his Mystic Rock canvas with winding ribbons of immaculately manicured fairways surrounded by spectacular rock walls and landscapes; large, strategic bunkering; liberal doses of water hazards and a zillion trees.
Nearly every hole made some kind of an impression on me, but a couple stand out. The 634-yard 11th (507 yards from my tees) was seemingly endless. A blind drive to the weaving fairway emanates from a tee that sits below, and some 100 feet from, the beginning of the fairway. Oh, the shot must also avoid water on both sides. I found the right-side wet stuff and took a drop, smoked my next shot dead-left from the sidehill, downhill lie into the left-side water and, after another drop, ripped my pushed approach shot — to a green tucked against the water on the right — into the H2O again before I waved the white flag.
Then there’s the 525-yard 16th, where the drive from elevated teeing ground must avoid woods on both sides and the next two shots must dodge left-side water that wraps around a peninsula putting surface. I managed a three-shot par, and followed that with a lucky, chip-in birdie on the intimidating 204-yard 17th, featuring a boulder-lined, tee-to-green pond hugging the green’s left side. I semi-popped up my tee shot a little short and right of the green, about 60 feet from the hole, with the water looming maybe 15 feet behind the hole. I hit another tee shot just for fun, and plopped it right into a tiny, trademark Dye pot bunker hugging the right side of the putting surface. After chipping my original ball into the hole, I failed in three attempts to extricate my sandy mulligan ball onto the green. Word of advice — stay clear of that pot bunker. There’s barely enough room to stand in it, never mind make a backswing and follow-through. And don’t forget the water lurking some 40 feet away.
Like the resort itself, Mystic Rock has earned multiple awards from numerous publications, including Golf Digest, GOLF Magazine, Golfweek and Conde Nast Traveler. For instance, the course ranks No. 75 among Golf Digest’s prestigious “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses, 2013-2014” and No. 57 in Golfweek’s “America’s 100 Best Resort Golf Courses” ranking.
The Nemacolin Golf Academy — which offers instruction, club fitting and technology — was bustling. I heartily recommend utilizing the resort’s caddie program, featuring forecaddies and carrying caddies. My forecaddie, David, earned a gold star for dealing with me for 36 holes. A great kid in his first summer caddieing at Nemacolin, David gave me great reads, yardages and advice on where and where not to hit my shots. Of course, I often didn’t hold up my end of the bargain on the latter advice, but fortunately he also has a keen eye for locating errant shots. Plus, David was great company and enhanced my Nemacolin experience, which included incredible lodging and cuisine.
My lavish two-room Suite King is one of four suites in Falling Water, the resort’s 42-room boutique hotel overlooking Mystic Rock’s 18th green. The hotel’s original function was as a clubhouse for the PGA Tour event, with a few rooms for competitors and VIPs. Joe Hardy asked players in the inaugural 84 Lumber Classic how the resort could improve for the following year’s event. The unanimous request was for a large clubhouse with a spacious locker room, so Falling Water was built in nine months, ready for the 2004 tournament. Once the event’s four-year run ended, Falling Rock was converted into a luxury hotel inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, two of the famed, late architect’s homes —Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob — are within 20 minutes of the resort and offer daily tours.
Falling Rock is a gem, literally. The AAA Five-Diamond property (eight years running) boasts the resort’s AAA Four-Diamond steakhouse, Aqueous; the Amber bar; the Mystic Rock golf shop and the expansive locker room; exclusive fitness room; hot tub and heated outdoor infinity pool; and a 10-option Pillow Menu. Each room also features a 200-gallon soaking bathtub and stand-alone European-style showers and, best of all, 24-hour butler service. I’m about as low maintenance as they come, so I only needed my butler for ice and a couple of cans of soda (the only way to get each, as there are no vending machines) upon check in, but it was great knowing he was there if I did need him.
Aqueous — as superb as my filet, loaded baked potato and asparagus dinner was —isn’t even the resort’s top-rated restaurant. That honor goes to Lautrec, the resort’s fine-dining offering in the Chateau Lafayette, Nemacolin’s signature hotel inspired by the famed Ritz Paris. Lautrec is a Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant. I also dined at the casual Tavern, which provides casual, American fare in a pub-like atmosphere.
The Chateau Lafayette was still undergoing lodging, and conventions-and-meetings spaces renovations due to be complete in February, 2015 — part of a $30 million resort-wide update. Besides Falling Rock and the Chateau Lafayette, Nemacolin’s additional accommodations include The Lodge (an English Tudor-style hotel original to the resort), townhomes, luxury homes and the Maggie Valley RV Park.
Not surprisingly, service throughout the resort is amazing. That includes the resort shuttles, for which I never had to wait more than one minute to pick me up and ferry me to restaurants, amenities and the Woodlands Spa on the other side of the resort. The drivers are as pleasant as can be, and all knew the names of family members who boarded at other spots during my rides. Very impressive, indeed — no wonder folks keeping coming back.
Speaking of the Woodlands Spa, I can’t recommend it enough. Candace’s Mystical Massage — using a blend of massage techniques and therapeutic body work, including hot stones — performed magic on my aching body after my 36-hole day. The spa, incidentally, has also earned a plethora of “best-of” awards from a variety of publications, including Conde Nast Traveler.
As previously mentioned, Nemacolin keeps ’em coming back with its endless list of amenities, led by its new Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin, which opened on July 1, 2013. The casino’s 28 table games and nearly 600 slots combine with casual dining and live entertainment at the Lone Wolf lounge to give the resort’s leisure and corporate guests another entertainment option, especially at night, when Nemacolin is otherwise silent, save for the action at the Tavern’s billiards tables.
Corporate types represent roughly 55 percent of the resort’s guests, which is why Nemacolin offers the 32,000-square-foot Executive Conference Center, which includes 25 meeting rooms, exhibit areas, a business center, three ballrooms, a 200-seat lecture hall and large outdoor spaces, and there are also an in-house Special Events Department and ThemeWorks teams for custom-designed events.
There are also three museums on-site — the Woodlands Auto Toy Store, The Pride and Joy Airplane Hangar and the Magical Fashion World of Shells. Joe Hardy has always been an animal lover, so he created The Wildlife Academy, featuring special wildlife habitats; Safari Tours (you can feed real lions, tigers, bears and, oh my, a camel near The Links course); the Wild Animal Show; Nursery Tours; Horseback Trail Rides; Pony Rides; Carriage Rides; Millioke Meadows, home to two sacred buffalo; and Dog Sledding (traditional in the winter and Jamaican in summer).
Hardy also created Nemacolin Wooflands, a pooch spa offering doggy cuisine prepared by the resort’s chefs; dog facials; swimming in an indoor pool or a nap in a private suite. Hardy even built The Woodlands Animal Care Center, a primary animal care hospital with rehabilitation facilities serving the resort and town of Farmington, which previously had no vets or animal hospital.
Nemacolin also offers a plethora of retail stores; four swimming pools; a separate spa for kids 5 to 15; tennis, squash, croquet and shuffleboard courts; The Field Club, which includes a sporting-clays facility, archery, Orvis®-endorsed fly fishing in nearby lakes and streams, upland bird hunts and guided hunts, and a Jeep® Off-Road Driving Academy; the Hardy girls’ gym with a wide range of tumbling and gymnastics equipment; mountain biking and rentals; zip line on the new, 3,000-foot Fatbird SuperFlyer dueling zip lines; a towering rock-climbing wall; ropes courses; paintball; the spectacular 18-hole Fallingbrook miniature golf course; nature hikes; disc golf; bowling; arcade games; Kidz Klub fun and educational children’s programs; wine tastings in a 25,000-bottle wine cellar; Holistic Healing Center; and winter sports such as downhill skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, snow shoeing; cross-country skiing and dog sledding.
Did I leave something out? Probably, but you get the picture. The bottom line is there’s something for everyone at Nemacolin Woodlands resort — just ask the repeat visitors.
Steve Donahue is a veteran freelance writer and editor who has played nearly 900 golf courses in all 50 states and 10 countries. He is based in Watertown, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
1001 Lafayette Drive
Farmington, PA 15437