For me (thankfully, since it’s a long, long process to get to the point where playing well is a safe expectation), the golf experience is about more than the score.
It’s the scenery, challenge, people, fresh air, the uniqueness of a course and just plain being outdoors and soaking in the world while I work at hitting a little ball into a little hole.
If you’re like me and want your golf outing to be a tapestry of all that, welcome to the Nemacolin Resort (https://www.nemacolin.com) and its 36 holes of pure Pete Dye vision (and diabolical instinct, at times). The two resort courses, Mystic Rock and Shepherd’s Rock, are challenging and unique; breathtaking and just plain beautiful.
Both courses serve as a centerpiece to the sprawling Western Pennsylvania resort, where you’ll find a spa, pools, posh lodging, lots of food choices and more. But today we’ll talk about the golf.
Let’s start with Mystic Rock. I’d say it’s my favorite of the two since, while super challenging, it’s a bit more forgiving than Shepherd’s, but truth be told: Both courses come out high for different reasons.
Famed designer Dye stepped in to create the 18-hole beauty that takes you up, down, sometimes around, over water, past rock walls (formed from the rock blasted to make room for the course), up close with amazing artwork like the famed John Daly statue in front of the rock-formed waterfall on the fifth hole and the glorious statue of Chief Nemacolin himself (namesake of the resort and a friend of George Washington) on the 16th.
It’s a feast for the eyes so delicious you almost don’t mind the challenge you face playing here the first time.
That’s by design too. Dye was famed for tossing visual deception and angular challenges into his courses. I knew this and was ready for it.
I was thankful, from the start, to be attended by my outstanding caddy, Dallas. Good news here, regular-life golfers like me: A caddy for your round at either course is only a $40 charge (plus tip, of course). I’m not sure I could have scored as well as I did without Dallas up ahead, pointing in the direction the hole would take.
Like on the par 5 11th, a crazy kind of blind hole that takes you over a huge hill where (and you cannot see this yet) there are boulders and a lake to the right. Dallas stands atop a hill and motions me to hit toward him. “Trust me!” he shouts. I do and land safe. I’d never have know that – and other tips – without Dallas. Opt for the caddy, folks.
Even the par 3s, for the most part, present unique challenges. I found the red tees (no shame in that being my home for now) to be a bit more forgiving, but not in a way that stripped away the excitement of playing such a unique course.
I finished my round at Shepherds thrilled with having a personal best score but more so, filled with the joy of playing a round that truly has it all.
I’d been warned that Shepherd’s, opened in 2017, was more difficult. That said, I was relieved when my playing partners – all super experienced players whom I trust with feedback and opinions – lamented that – at least the first time you play it – it almost feels like Dye, who came back to design this course as his final course before passing on, was in a diabolical mood.
Some holes play like a Chutes and Ladders game with angles and hills that – it feels like no matter where you place the ball – send you down or over to a spot you’d not even considered.
Here, even more so than Mystic, the input of a caddy makes all the difference. It’s a bit frustrating, that course, and at times you think, “Really?” But it’s fun.
You forgive the challenge because It’s beyond beautiful.
It felt like every time we turned a corner, approached a tee box or headed down a hill I was pointing out at the Allegheny Mountains exclaiming “Just look at this beauty!” That kind of amazing setting helps smooth the edges of what may sometimes be frustrating play.
But here’s the thing: It’s frustrating in a way that makes you want more. The morning after our round there, with just a few hours before it was time to head to the airport, a group text came in.
“Anyone want to give at least nine holes of Shepherd’s another go?” It began. The yeses dinged one after another.
That’s the thing about golf. It can beat you up and twist your brain but, with interesting challenges and an epic setting, we’re always back for more. A golf escape to Nemacolin will help you experience just that.