FARMINGTON, Penn – There is nothing ordinary about the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, which is majestically set on 2,000 acres in the Laurel Highlands in Farmington, Pennsylvania, just 70 miles south of Pittsburgh. Joseph Hardy, who purchased the property at auction in 1987, has seen to that.
Hardy, who made his fortune as the founder of 84 Lumbar Company, has poured a significant portion of his money into transforming the property into a world-class resort, with two championship golf courses, a golf academy, a luxurious spa and pool facility, five distinct lodging options, 15 restaurants or lounges, an adventure center that includes tennis, squash and croquet courts, a rock climbing wall, a casino, disc golf, nature hikes, a shooting academy, a collection of rare automobiles, a cigar bar, fly-fishing, horseback riding and a wildlife academy that is home to 100 species, including lions, tigers, zebras and buffalo.
On and on it goes. You could spend a month here and not have enough time to do everything.
Hardy’s goal was to make his resort unique, and he spared no expense in achieving his goal. Everywhere you turn there is something resplendent to ponder. Hallways with original Norman Rockwell paintings only scratch the surface of the multimillion dollar art collection on display. A library featuring a dozen matchless Tiffany lamps valued in the seven figures. Sculptures and statues around every corner. Crystal chandeliers. A stunning shell collection that has to be seen. And 90 sculptures situated on Shepherd’s Rock golf course alone.
The centerpiece of the resort is the grand Chateau Lafayette, which opened in 1997 and is modeled after the Ritz Paris. Falling Rock, with its Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design, followed in 2004, and the Lodge, a Tudor-style hotel, is also part of the ever-expanding portfolio.
Within Chateau Lafayette’s elegant walls, amidst the marble floors and the soaring ceilings, is the cozy and wood-paneled Lautrec, the refined restaurant that has earned a Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond Restaurant rating. More casual dining is available at The Tavern and The Caddyshack.
But even if you come here interested only in golf, you will not be disappointed. Mystic Rock hosted the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumbar Classic from 2003 to 2006, and this Pete Dye creation is every bit as daunting and intriguing a layout as you would imagine. Golf Digest lists Mystic Rock in “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.”
Dye literally moved mountains when building the course, incorporating the boulders unearthed during construction into the design. If you choose to play from the tips, which are more than 7,500 yards, you’ll be looking at a course rating of—wait for it—77! Even the blue tees measure more than 6,800 yards. The white markers, at 6,313, are more manageable.
Manageable doesn’t mean easy. Bunkers and water hazards are everywhere, while the tee shots to the narrow fairways can be menacing. Choose the wrong club on your approaches, or play to the wrong side of the greens, and you’ll pay a price for your recklessness. The eighth hole, a par 5, and the 12th, a par 3, each feature two greens, while every par 3 hole demands a carry over water or a waste area.
Shepherd’s Rock, also a Dye design, opened in 2017 and is less frightening. Yet it still contains the kind of white-knuckle shots that have caused many golfers to curse Dye over the years. There are dramatic elevation changes, beginning with the downhill drive on the first hole, which plays a massive 619 yards from the tips. Another memorable hole is the uphill ninth, where all you can see from the fairway is the tip of the flagstick framed against the blue sky. Dye, famed for his island greens, here has designed an island tee. Of course, water doesn’t come into play on that shot, but it certainly does on numerous other occasions.
Here’s an idea: Before tackling these challenging layouts, visit the Nemacolin Golf Academy, where PGA teacher Eric Johnson, who spent more than a decade at Oakmont Country Club, is the resident magician. The academy includes state-of-the-art swing video technology that will track your clubhead speed and flight, a putting analysis and a custom club fitting lab.
And then head over to the spa to soothe your muscles, or to one of the pubs to quench your thirst, or to the shooting academy to test your aim, or to the Infinity pool at Falling Rock to savor the sunset, or maybe just wander the hallways to marvel at the artwork. You get the idea. The word “bored” will never cross your lips at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.