Operated by the Oneida Indian Nation, the Turning Stone Casino and Resort in Verona first opened its doors to visitors in 1993. It now offers golfers the use of three championship-standard courses, two of which – the Atunyote and Kaluhyat – were designed by Tom Fazio. The first course to appear at the resort, however, was Rick Smith's Shenendoah in 2000.
At 7,315 yards from the tips, Atunyote is the longest layout at the resort and the course is marketed as the premier 18-hole configuration at Turning Stone, validated by its hosting the BC Open in 2006 then the Turning Stone Resort Championship from 2007 to 2010.
Every hole at Atunyote is named after a bird – starting with “Red Tail Hawk” on the 398-yard 1st and ending with “Bald Eagle” on the long par five 18th – and many of these avian species can be spotted in and around the water hazards dotted around the course.
The four par threes on the card are all testing holes and the toughest of these (stroke index 8) is undoubtedly the 250-yard 11th, which plays to a green that slopes from left to right, towards a creek that runs alongside the putting surface. When Atunyote was on the PGA Tour roster, this was the longest par three that the pros played all season.
As my (admittedly limited) experience playing casino golf courses was not good, I didn’t have high expectations when I teed it up at Atunyote. I’m pleased to report that my expectations were exceeded. The course has interesting greens, some strategic holes and the routing sends the player in all directions. And though it was built with carts in mind, it’s thoroughly walkable. I would have liked it to play firmer and faster and with more opportunities to play a running approach. And the man-made waterfalls are a bit much, but overall I found it quite enjoyable.
So many times when people are rating courses, they are really rating other elements that have very little to do with the core ingredient that needs their primary attention -- the architecture. Atunyote is the muscle course among the golf offerings at Turning Stone.
On the plus side, the turf quality at Atunyote is generally very good. The customer service dimension is also superior. From the minute you arrive there's a genuine desire to provide golfers with first-rate hospitality and a warm welcome.
The course is clearly a tough test -- especially from the championship markers. But, the land itself is fairly ordinary and really does little to add to the experience. Fazio has added an array of bunkers and there's the obligatory connection to water hazards at certain points during the round. The greens are appropriately protected and, as I mentioned at the outset, they're often exceptional in terms of their conditioning. Throw in the creature comforts of a stylish clubhouse and for many golfers the totality of those elements can mean a high rating.
Given I have played nearly 100 Fazio layouts I have seen this design movie numerous times previously.
The architecture of Atunyote does not advance the discussion. It is better than a number of Fazio layouts that feature obvious formulaic patterns but it's hardly remotely near anything close to use the words compelling architecture.
Like I said, for many people the architecture is often on the same page with the quality of the food or drinks ordered or how good the shower heads are when the round concludes. Conditioning should be a factor but only as a secondary item to the qualities of what the architecture brings forth.
Fazio and his team have made a very successful and profitable business in churning out designs structurally very good, but the depth is determined by the complexity of the architecture. In the haste to complete projects the architecture is the soul of any course -- where the real details are to be unearthed when playing.
Atunyote will be a most pleasant experience for many because of the aforementioned peripheral aspects. However, for architectural mavens it lacks a lasting character that lingers long after the last putt is holed.
M. James Ward