Golf may be an adjunct to the Oneida Indians’ Turning Stone Casino Resort in Verona, which first opened its doors to visitors in 1993, but the tribe can now lay claim an early 1950s 9-hole course (Pleasant Knolls) in their burgeoning golf offering.
The less said about the bunkerless Pleasant Knolls course in Vernon the better, but when architect Rick Smith built the Shenendoah layout in 2000, he raised the golfing bar stratospherically, high enough for the Shenendoah to stagie the PGA Professional Championship in 2006.
Wrapping around three sides of the main hotel complex, the Shenendoah is not the headliner at the resort, that moniker is reserved for Tom Fazio’s Atunyote, which staged the now defunct Turning Stone Resort Championship between 2007 and 2010. However, the Shenendoah is a thoroughly modern and challenging test in its own right ,which is routed nicely around the property’s woods and wetlands.
Turning Stone’s first course is generally ranked lower than its younger sibling, but I found it more interesting than Atunyote. The green complexes are more challenging with the kind of contours I find most enjoyable. Moreover, the player is confronted with a plethora of strategic challenges, both on the tee shot as well as on the second shot on the par 5s—an area where architects sometimes go to sleep. Conditioning was good in May 2021, playing firmer than Atunyote. I prefer the option of hitting either a running or an aerial approach and Shenandoah had eleven of these—twice as many as Atunyote. Shenandoah is a harder walk, but still my favorite Turning Stone course.
The amazing element of multi-course complexes is that it's not unusual that the marquee course gets plenty of internal hyping but that a secondary course merits more attention. That's the case at Turning Stone.
Atunyote is the headline layout when coming to the facility. The layout has hosted a range of big-time events -- including when the PGA Tour played there a number of years ago. Atunyote is challenging but there's little on the architectural side to really strike the emotions. Difficulty alone does not equate to architecture of note.
The Shenandoah layout is anything but a back-up golf alternative. The course has hosted its share of key events -- most notably the PGA National Club Pro Championship.
Rick Smith did a quality effort -- the holes are both playable and can be quite testing when pins are tucked in the corners. The layout is a split presentation -- wooded holes on one side versus more open meadows land.
Smith balanced the presentation and the routing is quite good -- eschewing predictable patterns that better players can simply hone in on for easier scoring. The closing stretch include a potentially driveable par-4 at the 16th followed by a demanding long par-4 at the 17th and concludes with a fine risk/reward closing par-5.
New York is loaded with a vast array of top tier golf options -- most notably on the private side which has no equal in all of the USA. The public side is nowhere near as deep but when an overall assessment of The Empire States's best accessible layouts is done -- Shenandoah clearly secures a spot on any top ten listing.
M. James Ward