Nemacolin Resort isn’t just a golf destination — it’s like Disney World on grass.
Replace ocean-adjacent Florida with rural Pennsylvania, throw in two Pete Dye 18s and a slew of other non-golf activities and you have the recipe for a family-friendly escape that beggars the word unique, and easily lives up to unusual. But in the best possible way.
Nemacolin — the name pays homage to a hereditary chief of the Delaware Nation — is on the outskirts of Farmington, Pa., a comely rural redoubt along the westernmost ridges of the Appalachians and a 90-minute drive from Pittsburgh. Verdant rolling hills are studded with sugar maples and traversed by white tail deer, and every other square inch is carpeted by the pastel, pink and white mountain laurel, the state’s official flower. Autumnal changing of the colors is a big draw in these parts.
But Nemacolin is more than just a scenic getaway: It’s a wondrous theme park/resort and calculus-hard test of golf rolled into one. Among the property’s array of attractions: a compact wild animal park; an aviation and vintage car museum; casino gambling; ziplining; fly fishing; and a private airstrip should you be able to afford fuel for your Gulfstream these days.
Then there are the sleeping green giants that Dye must have conjured in a fever dream. Either that or he was told to bar no holds when it comes to challenge, a mission he accomplished with his usual sadistic aplomb and then some. Shepherd’s Rock and Mystic Rock remind one of that ominous antique mall warning about an objet d’art being “lovely to look at and hold, but if you drop it — consider it sold.”
Indeed, the bounteous vistas and serene quiet are mesmerizing, but don’t get caught favoring vainglorious selfies over commitment to your swing, lest you post a number only Elon Musk could decipher. That especially applies to the putting surfaces, which on a bad day could easily lead to multiple four-putts. Tilted and tiered, fast and furious, Nemacolin’s greens make Augusta’s look shaggy. Caveat emptor!
The first of the two Dye layouts, Mystic Rock, was the former site of the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumber Classic back in the early-90s, the moniker derived from the cellulose-based fortune of Nemacolin’s owners, the always-colorful Hardy family. Measuring some 7,500 yards from the tips, it boasts a forbidding rating of 77 and slope of 149. Amazingly, Dye returned to toughen the course in 2005, which is like making Hell hotter at the Devil’s whim. Landing areas are generous, though bordered by thick foliage, and false fronts and side-sloping greens are the rule. The good news? It is a lovely walk and vigorous mental workout at the same time.
Shepherd’s Rock — a Dye and Tim Liddy collaboration — is arguably more playable, but don’t get lulled by the massive fairways and welcoming looks from the tee. Just ahead lay 149 jagged-edged bunkers, and greens that are even more wildly contoured and whippet-fast than its exacting sister course down the road. The three finishing holes are postcard-perfect vantage points to take in the bucolic scenery, capped off by a waterfall-framed green at 18 that would make Donald Trump jealous.
If one had world enough and time, the rest of the resort is as surprising and memorable as the golf, with less degree of difficulty and far more forgiveness. Feast on high-end dining at Lautrec — expect champagne and truffles and Wagyu beef, even an haute cuisine vegan menu. There’s also an ersatz-but-authentic ice cream parlor, strewn with vintage urban artifacts and antiques, and Barattolo, a checkered-tablecloth Italian joint.
When it comes to rest and relaxation, pick your pretty poison: from an austerely appointed French castle (The Chateau, natch), to the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Falling Rock boutique hotel; there are rustic cabins and capacious estates as well — you could bring your entire extended family and even select enemies and still have room for five of the family dogs, which are permitted here as well.
The best news is that after you’ve suffered a drubbing at the hands of Dye, the Nemacolin Golf Academy has recently added technology and design upgrades that make it a virtual swing rehab clinic. Four customized hitting bays open up to a 25-station driving range. and feature Trackman swing analysis hardware, Swing Catalyst force plates and GCQuad launch monitors.
If these 21st-century gizmos don’t improve your game, take heart. There’s always ziplining.