VERONA, N.Y. -- With 72 holes and a major casino, Turning Stone Resort is the largest golf resort in New York.
But even though it is located within a relatively easy drive of roughly 30 million people, few golfers in the New York City metro area know about it.
That needs to change.
The marquee layout is the Tom Fazio-designed Atunyote Golf Club , which hosted a PGA Tour event for five years until 2010 (Tiger Woods was a champion here).
Located about a five-minute ride (or complimentary shuttle) from the main resort, Atunyote is the Northeast's answer to high-end Fazio casino courses like Shadow Creek in Las Vegas or Fallen Oak in Biloxi, Miss.
Guests buzz for admittance into Atunyote. Massive iron gates part, and a long winding driveway that seems to go on forever leads you to the clubhouse.
Everything about the place is first rate, especially the meticulous maintenance. And it doesn't hurt that the course receives little play.
The course has many Fazio trademarks, including an impressive and varied set of par 3s, widespread use of flashed, high-back bunkers to create visual intimidation and the illusion of limited landing areas while distorting depth perception, along with elaborate artificial rock-lined, flowing streams and waterfalls.
But what's different about Atunyote is that there are hardly any trees, underbrush or rough, and nearly the entire course is open and mowed short, making it hard to lose a ball, except in one of the lakes.
It's very fun and playable, and it's easy to see why the pros liked it, since you can bash the ball a long way and then play it from almost anywhere. Of course, the pros also have great short games. Mere mortals might struggle on the fast, undulating greens. And with no rough to hold up the ball, visitors face a lot of pitches and chips from collection areas.
Atunyote also has one of the best practice areas you'll find anywhere. Besides the empty driving range, extensive short game areas and ground for practicing uneven lies, the staff will provide you with buckets of various brand balls, in addition to the stock NXTs, if you ask. I've ever seen that at another course -- public or private.
One reason Atunyote is played so little is that, for the region (near Syracuse), it is perceived as very expensive, with greens fees more than $200. The irony is that there are a huge number of golfers within easy driving distance of Turning Stone who happily pay the same or more to play far inferior courses in places like Florida or Palm Springs, requiring a flight, while overlooking this gem in upstate New York.
On the map, it's in the middle of nowhere, but it is very simple to get to, just off the interstate. The $100 replay option also makes it more affordable, as it is easy to play twice in one day. (I got in 36 holes in seven hours, including lunch).
Turning Stone's Shenendoah and Kaluhyat courses
Shenendoah is a natural tour de force, laid out through vast expanses of wetlands and preserved areas. It's teeming with flowers and wildlife and is as much park as golf course. There are many strong holes that are fun to play (though I don't love the penal cross hazard on the first hole, reachable from the tee. A tough way to start).
Kaluhyat is no walk in the park. It's a target-oriented, demanding layout where there's little room for error. It's one the hardest-rated courses in the state (75.5/150 from the tips).
That's three different golf experiences of varying difficulty.
Typical of casino layouts, none of the five courses has a single home.
Lodging at Turning Stone Resort
The rest of Turning Stone Resort follows this same "something for everyone" philosophy and is, in effect, several resorts in one.
At the high end is the Lodge at Turing Stone, a freestanding four-star, four-diamond boutique hotel located just next to the main golf clubhouse. The Lodge consists of spacious suites, each with a balcony and a huge luxury bathroom with a walk-in shower and oversized soaking tub. The Lodge also contains the resort's finest dining eatery, Wildflower, a fancy cocktail bar, gym and deluxe spa.
A stay at the Lodge is akin to the American Club at Kohler or Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation, a small luxury property with great food and access to multiple good golf courses. Deep-pocketed guests don't ever need to know they are at a casino as the Lodge at Turning Stone is self sufficient.
Then there are two casino hotel options -- the fancier 20-story Tower and the middle-of-the-road Hotel. Both are part of the main casino complex, with a large gaming area, plus a second spa, fitness center and several restaurants (including a new high-end urban-style steakhouse), bars and nightclubs for every taste.
Even less expensive is the 61-room motel-style Inn at Turning Stone, just more than a mile from the main campus. There is also an RV park as well as a 30-acre fishing and hunting lodge with rustic wilderness cabins.
Turning Stone is a remarkably complete resort suited to a wide range of travel styles and golf tastes. The golf, dining, lodging and entertainment are all way above average, and other facilities include tennis and two huge all-season golf domes, where guests can play simulators, practice or attend golf academies even in winter.
Whether you live in the Northeast or can grab a flight to nearby Syracuse or Albany, Turning Stone is a major golf resort destination that is worth a look.