PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club


Going Native

July 27, 2011

The elevated second tee at Turning Stone's Kaluhyat Golf Club.

If the complimentary yardage book falls from your cart, fret not, for the hole descriptions are engraved verbatim on each tee sign at Kaluhyat Golf Course

, the most demanding of three sweet championship courses at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, N.Y. It's unlikely these tidbits of strategy will help you score better, but the crafted infusion of Oneida culture--the resort is on reservation land--deserves to be read. At the short 10th, "the dual nature of this par four is reminiscent of the Oneida perspective in which the universe manifests both creative and destructive forces." The text likens the split fairway at the ninth to a tribe decision to support the colonists instead of the British at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Brilliant.


Channeling native spirit my way, I decided to walk and tote the yardage book in my hip pocket. The starter asked if I was crazy, warning that the ninth didn't return to the clubhouse. (He would later drive out to check on me.) However, he was jolly and genial the way upstate New Yorkers are and insisted on fetching me a bottle of water before I set out on my journey.

There were some big hikes between greens and tees, but these were peaceful moments because all the courses are certified Audubon cooperative sanctuaries. Unless you're hitting it solid and straight, the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Kaluhyat (pronounced Gah-loo-ya) will land punches, which is totally fine provided you maintain your humor. Don't be that guy who bemoans his score while others are trying to drink in a sunrise or sunset on this course, spectacularly situated in the middle of nowhere. On certain holes you can glimpse the resort's Tower hotel, but mostly there are just a few dairy barns and farmhouses in the distance.

, which means "eagle," flies 7,482 yards from the tips and hosted a PGA Tour event, The Turning Stone Resort Championship, from 2007-'10. The Tom Fazio-designed holes are big-boned, painstakingly manicured, and pave interesting swaths through a mix of hardwood forest, marsh and open land. Played from the right set of tees, it's most enjoyable even if your swing's a little off.

, designed by Rick Smith, is certainly the most gentle. The fescue that frames most holes comes into play only if you hit it really crooked. The fairways have wide hips that seem to nudge bunkers out of view and open their arms to receive. The superintendent's staff takes extra time to hand-mow the collars, so you can get up and down with the putter all day long. Arranging golf at other gaming destinations, like Las Vegas, can turn into a production. The appeal with Turning Stone is that you can valet your car and forget about it until checkout. The shared clubhouse for Kaluhyat and Shenendoah is a short walk from the casino, and a shuttle ride to Atunyote, four miles away, is easily arranged. If the impulse to hit balls or play an emergency 18 strikes you, it can come to fruition in minutes.


So here's the deal: Kaluhyat and Shenendoah are each a $120 green fee if you're staying at the resort, and Atunyote is $200. However, there are a variety of stay-and-play packages to sweeten the deal. Starting at $320 a person during the week, you can stay two nights at The Hotel and play Kaluhyat and Shenendoah. If you come for the weekend looking to play a lot, for $500 you can add Atunyote to the rotation and get unlimited replays on the other courses.

After golf, I suggest two options to unwind. The first costs $8 and comes in the form of a giant fried-haddock sandwich at the clubhouse. The second is a massage at the elegant, first-class Skaná spa, starting at $115. If you want a truly transcendent afternoon, after your rubdown have a cocktail (disclaimer: they suggest drinking water), then play nine holes at Sandstone Hollow

, the resort's par-3 course. The green fee is only $15, yet it's as immaculately conditioned as the others. If you can't find smooth tempo after the sandwich/spa/alcohol triumvirate, I don't know what to tell you other than relax, bub.

My first night I stayed at The Tower, in one of the 285 sharp, modern rooms above the casino, for $194. Downstairs I encountered all the usual games of chance, as well as the variably shaped collection of humanity typically inclined to seat themselves at slot machines and buffet restaurants. Out of 20 dining options at the resort, I chose the Brazilian restaurant, Rodizio's. The bar is a convivial place to watch a game, but you'll want a table for the never-ending parade of ribs and steak. If you're coming with buddies, this is the way to do it. But if you're traveling with that special someone, or even alone, consider springing the extra cash to reserve one of The Lodge's 95 rooms. You won't be disappointed. At $299 a night, it offers all the expectant luxury, threadcount and more. After chilling in the terry cloth robe and slippers, dine downstairs at Wildflower's and order the house specialty, the Dover Sole finished in beurre noir.

For me, the 4½-hour drive from New York City was definitely worth it. Who knew there was so much great golf off exit 33 of the New York State Thruway? Plus, I must go back because director of golf Robert Todd promised that on my behalf (as well as for all the other "crazies") his superintendent was going to start mowing footpaths that lead from the tee boxes to the fairways, instead of just back to where you park the cart.

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Clockwise from top left: The indoor pool at the Tower Fitness Club; hefty portions are served at Rodizio's; Atunyote Golf Course's 18th green; meet a friend in the airy atmosphere of The Lodge lobby.