Two courses at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort offer a truly tough test

August 30, 2018
nemocolin woodlands resort

These days, playability is the buzzword in golf design, but sometimes you get the urge to tackle a true toughie. Welcome to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, deep in the heart of Palmer country, 55 miles south of Pittsburgh.

You may remember Nemacolin Woodlands Resort from its time as a PGA Tour host (2003-2006) of the 84 Lumber Classic. A decade earlier, resort owner Joe Hardy enlisted Pete Dye to build him a brute, Mystic Rock, which measures 7,526 yards, with a stratospheric rating of 77.0 and a slope of 149. Dye toughened the course in 2005, a point hammered home by holes such as the watery, rocky, 185-yard, par-3 12th and the uphill, 468-yard, par-4 18th. In fairness to Dye, ample corridors, bailout areas and hazards off to the side do give mortals a chance to play with the same ball for a while.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort’s newest track is year-old Shepherd’s Rock, another Dye design, with his associate Tim Liddy doing the heavy lifting. The figures—74.7/138—are daunting but more manageable. Shepherd Rock’s massive fairways offer little visual intimidation, but with 149 sharp-edged bunkers and more heavily contoured greens than its sibling, the test is stern enough.

So why pay good money for all this difficult golf? Because it’s fun. On Mystic Rock, thoughtful play will help you dodge the multitude of hazards. And Shepherd’s Rock encourages rocking your driver again and again. That’s fun. If the wheels come off, Nemacolin is home to one of the best instruction and custom-clubfitting teams in the U.S., led by GOLF Top 100 Teacher Eric Johnson. As long as the challenge is fair, there’s great satisfaction in overcoming obstacles. The Laurel Highlands, which let you peer into three states, are pretty easy on the eyes, too. So follow your bliss—and relish the beatdown.