Rare new golf course to open at Nemacolin Woodlands
April 9, 2017 12:00 AM
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
The opening of Shepherd's Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands is a rare occurance in golf these days as more courses throughout the nation are closing down.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mike Jones is sitting in his office, looking out the window, his view for the past 11 months only slightly less stunning than the one he enjoyed for the previous nine years at his old job. On the wall are pictures with some of the famous players in the world of golf, including Jordan Spieth, shortly after the young Texan’s dominating eight-shot victory in the 2016 Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua resort in Hawaii.
At 55, Jones has done the unthinkable. He left the Hawaii islands, where he was general manager/director of golf at Kapalua, one of the most famous golf resorts in the world, to move to the cloud-shrouded hills of Fayette County and lead what is being hailed as a golf revival at the Nemacolin Woodlands resort in Farmington.
At a time when course construction has slowed to a crawl — and more and more courses are closing around the country — the construction and debut of Shepherd’s Rock is an anomaly. In Western Pennsylvania, the Pete Dye-designed course, slated to open in July, is a rarity. The previous new 18-hole course to open here is Totteridge, the Rees Jones design that made its debut in 2002 as a private course. It is now open to the public.
At Kapalua, Jones helped oversee the operation of the PGA’s Tour unofficial season-opening event for winners-only. At Nemacolin Woodlands, which once played host to the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumber Classic from 2003-06, he is director of golf and recreation and responsible for overseeing the completion of Shepherd’s Rock, which sits next to Mystic Rock, Dye’s other 18-hole creation at the mountain resort.
The question that begs to be asked: Why?
“Kapalua was a great place, but it was famous before I got there,” Jones said. “To me, this was a challenge. I can’t sit still. It was a challenge to make this a golf destination.”
After nearly a decade in paradise, Jones has come to the mountain resort owned by 84 Lumber founder and owner Joe Hardy and his daughter, Maggie, to oversee the construction and debut of Shepherd’s Rock, resuscitate the golf academy under the direction of former Oakmont director of instruction Eric Johnson and put Nemacolin Woodlands back on the national golf map.
Jones even has hired a club fitter, Aaron Staricek, to work with Johnson and build a player’s clubs right there at the academy within a couple hours. And it doesn’t matter the manufacturer — TaylorMade, Titleist, Callaway, Ping, even the ultra-expensive PXG irons. Justin Collins, formerly of the Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, W.Va., is the new head professional.
“The opportunity to be involved in the construction of a new course, which doesn’t happen very often these days, and come in and take over as project manager was exciting,” Jones said. “That’s our goal — to make this a golf destination. With the vision the Hardys had, they were committed to do that, not only financially but in concept.”
Last year, according to the National Golf Foundation, only 10 new golf facilities opened in the U.S., the lowest number on record. This included The Loop at Forest Dunes in Michigan and Mossy Oak in Mississippi. There could be fewer in 2017.
What’s more, 190 courses closed in 2016, reducing the number of golf facilities in the U.S. to 15,104. Since 2006, facilities have declined by 5.6 percent, according to the NGF. The association projects 150 to 175 courses will close each year as contraction continues.
The NGF’s latest report indicates there is still new course activity in the pipeline, including 55 18-hole equivalent golf courses under construction and another 37 in the planning stages. But not all of those are new courses. There are 16 that are merely additions to existing property.
While portions of Shepherd’s Rock are built on the property once occupied by the 18-hole Links Course, there is absolutely no similarity between those holes and the new holes constructed by Dye and his design team, headed by Tim Liddy. It is 7,151 yards from the back holes and includes a hole — the 455-yard par-4 ninth — that is the best on the entire property.
In addition to Shepherd’s Rock, other courses scheduled to open this year are Streamsong Black in Florida; the reversible Silvies Valley Ranch in Burns, Ore.; Bayou Oaks in New Orleans; and Stoatin Brae in Augusta, Mich. Shepherd’s Rock is hoping to be in the running for best new course in America.
“That’s the goal, to try to get it to along the lines of the great golf resorts of the world, the Pinehursts [in North Carolina], the Sea Islands [in Georgia],” Jones said.
The focus at Nemacolin Woodlands has changed indeed. Gone are the days when the desire was to attract a PGA Tour event, which the Hardys did with their four-year run with the 84 Lumber Classic. The only remaining vestiges of the tournament are the statues of John Daly and Vijay Singh, a former champion, that still stand on Mystic Rock.
Oh, the family still wants to show off their new course to other professionals, which is why the Tri-State PGA’s section championship will be there in late August. But more important, they want to build a membership base and resort clientele with service, instruction and 36 holes of designer golf. They are bucking the trend by investing millions in a new course.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s a lot to leave in a sense,” Jones said of his move from a world-famous golf resort, an annual PGA Tour event and the beaches of Hawaii. “But when they talk about challenges, the challenges were cool.”
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac.
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