Golf Without the Glitz

Lesser-known resort courses are perfect, low-key choices

These days, arranging a golf event can be as challenging as the sport itself. A perception of frivolity can intrude like a patch of tall grass; suspicions of wasteful spending can descend like a ball diving into a bunker; doubts about return on investment can sting like a run of double bogeys. What's a meeting planner with a golf agenda to do?

For one thing, you can follow the sound advice offered in "Making the Case for Golf" (M&C, July 2009 and online at, which outlines the provable bottom-line benefits of a smartly managed outing. For another, you can pick a golf resort that hasn't doubled recently as a setting for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

The six properties profiled on the following pages are well known on the golf circuit but might not necessarily appear on a planner's short list of meeting properties. All offer comfort without a lot of commotion, cutting-edge event facilities and quietly beautiful golf courses able to accommodate everything from one-on-one tutelage to a corporate tournament.  

Atunyote Golf ClubTurning Stone Resort Casino
Verona, N.Y.

Nestled in Central New York's Mohawk Valley, just 30 miles east of Syracuse (and Hancock International Airport), Turning Stone Resort offers more than 740 guest rooms in a variety of settings, a plethora of meeting space, a total of 72 holes of challenging golf spread over five courses, plus a casino and a spa.

Owned and operated by the Oneida Indian Nation, Turning Stone unfolds along 1,200 acres, with plenty of room for three 18-hole, championship-level golf courses. The longest of the three, at 7,749 yards, is the par-72 Atunyote (the Oneida word for "eagle") Golf Club, a Tom Fazio design and site of the Turning Stone Championship, the only PGA Tour event held on Native American soil. Features include the spacious fairways and undulating greens characteristic of Fazio, along with natural aspects such as a deadwood marsh and dramatic rock formations -- all helping to explain why Turning Stone placed third in Golf Digest's most recent Reader's Choice Awards for top resort courses.

Guest accommodations are divided among the 297-room Hotel at Turning Stone; the 287-room, 20-story Tower with views of the valley; the elegant 95-suite Lodge, set among wooded hills; and, down the road, a cozy 62-room inn offering value pricing. Dining options include the Forest Grill Steakhouse (with dishes courtesy of the Oneidas' own farm-raised Black Angus cattle) and Peach Blossom, serving Asian cuisine.

Event facilities can accommodate board meetings, executive retreats or any gatherings of up to 1,500 people in more than 100,000 square feet of multifunctional space, including a conference center/ballroom with 22,000 square feet, an events center/exhibit hall spanning almost 30,000 square feet and 24 breakout rooms of various sizes.

the Shenendoah ClubhouseAt the golf club, the Shenendoah Clubhouse offers a pro shop, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, and a 5,500-square-foot ballroom for up to 400 attendees. The resort provides in-house audiovisual and catering teams.

Turning Stone Casino offers more than 80 table games and a spiffy new poker room, while the Showroom nightclub features all manner of live music and comedy. For true relaxation, the resort's luxurious Skaná spa combines modern amenities with Native American cultural themes and makes use of fresh herbs and organic products.

Off-site attractions include stock car racing at the Albany Saratoga Speedway, a number of restored Revolutionary War-era homes, antique shopping and museums celebrating everything from glass blowing to the Erie Canal.

The resort is open year-round, with golf offered from April to November.

Circling Raven Golf ClubCoeur D'Alene Casino Resort Hotel
Worley, Idaho

Coeur D'Alene Casino Resort HotelWhat began back in 1993 as a modest bingo emporium run by the Coeur D'Alene tribe has steadily grown into today's handsome resort complex with plenty of space for golf, gaming and gatherings (and with more in the works).

The property's Circling Raven Golf Club, which in 2009 won its third consecutive listing in Golf Magazine's Top 100 Courses, is a 7,189-yard, par-72 beauty. The 18-hole layout covers 620 acres of wetlands, grasslands and woodlands. A foursome here could well comprise any combination of elk, deer, moose and black bear, all indigenous to this patch of northeast Idaho.

The course's greatest challenges are its four par-3 holes, requiring careful driving over 200 yards from the back tees. Perhaps the most unusual feature is the Union Pacific rail line crossing the property at the first hole (named "Gallops on the Logs," the Coeur D'Alene tribal name for "train"); trains pass slowly through about three times per week, while tunnels guide golfers under the tracks.

Coeur D'Alene Casino Resort Hotel offers 202 guest rooms, all with flat-screen TVs and most with high-speed Internet. An expansion in the works will add 98 new rooms, a 15,000-square-foot spa, an indoor/outdoor pub and more, all due for completion (and probable LEED certification) in late spring 2011.

For groups, the resort offers a 50,000-square-foot events center suitable for trade shows and conventions, a 24,000-square-foot conference center for meetings and banquets, plus a variety of smaller conference rooms. At the golf course, the Stensgar Pavilion has 5,800 square feet for meetings, banquets and awards ceremonies.

The resort's casino has 100,000 square feet of gaming space and some 1,800 machines. On-site dining choices range from the quick (the Food Court) to the plentiful (the High Mountain Buffet) to the scenic (the Twisted Earth Grill, with a deck overlooking the golf course).

The area around Worley includes a 72-mile bike trail, a state park and myriad natural lakes (some with beaches) within an hour's drive.

Coeur D'Alene Casino Resort Hotel, a 45-minute drive due east from Spokane International Airport in Washington, is open from April 1 through October.

The Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course
Stonewall Resort
Roanoke, W.Va.

In the midst of the 2,000-acre Stonewall Jackson State Park in northwest West Virginia lies the Stonewall Resort, completed in 2002 with an impressive golf course that takes full advantage of its natural surroundings.

"I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone's golf game," Arnold Palmer once said. "It's called an eraser." Of course, the master was joking, though his challenging 18-hole Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course at Stonewall Resort could make even a seasoned pro wistful for some Wite-Out. Happily, while the course is of championship caliber, it offers six separate tee placements that allow golfers of all abilities to choose their desired level of play.

The front nine holes border Stonewall Jackson Lake, the second largest such body of water in the state, but the course also is known for its gently sloping hills and sweeping, lush valleys, perfect for long drives. The two-story Golf Shop has typical clubhouse features: a pro shop, locker facilities, a lounge and Lightburn's Restaurant, with its floor-to-ceiling windows framing panoramic views of the state park.

Operated by Benchmark Hospitality International, Stonewall Resort features 192 deluxe guest rooms plus six suites in its 1920s, Adirondack-style Lodge, all with views of either the lake, mountains or the golf course, along with 27-inch TVs and high-speed Internet access. In addition, 10 two-, three- and four-bedroom lakeside cottages feature gas fireplaces, vaulted ceilings, spacious baths and modern kitchens, along with private boat launches.

For meetings and events, the resort's 22,000-square-foot conference center in the Lodge (approved by the International Association of Conference Centers) includes a 4,200-square-foot ballroom, while eight breakout rooms and three conference rooms can accommodate up to 300 attendees. In addition, a 7,000-square-foot exhibition center can host trade shows, while a plush 20-seat executive boardroom has a fireplace and state-of-the-art facilities for videoconferencing.

The resort also features the Mtn. Laurel Spa with a 500-square-foot fitness center. The in-house MountainMade store is a local artisans' cooperative selling handblown glass, wood carvings, quilts and more. Dining venues include Stillwaters Restaurant, with its exhibition kitchen, large stone fireplace, and "new Appalachian cuisine" garnered from the forests, farms and waterways of the region.  

With 82 miles of shoreline, Stonewall Jackson Lake provides many recreation options, including hiking, kayaking, guided fishing trips and more.

Stonewall Resort is open year-round, with golf available from April through mid-November. The property, a two-hour drive south from Pittsburgh, is 90 miles north of Charleston International Airport and 33 miles south of Clarksburg Airport; US Airways provides daily flights into both facilities.


Robert Trent Jones at Ross BridgeRenaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa
Birmingham, Ala.

14th hole at Robert Trent Jones at Ross BridgeOpened in 2005, the casually elegant Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa is one more sign that its home city of Birmingham, in north-central Alabama, has evolved far beyond its steel-mill roots while still retaining a small-town feel. The property itself is surrounded by woodlands and lakes and is crowned by its spectacular golf course, designed by the master of the form.

Carved into the rolling terrain of Shannon Valley, the 18-hole, par-72 Robert Trent Jones at Ross Bridge is, at 8,191 yards, the third largest course in the world. With 330 acres of lush landscaping, the course was designed in a vintage parkland style and has 10 holes playing along the banks of two lakes connected by an impressive 80-foot waterfall. The par-3s are especially tricky here, thanks to some bedeviling changes in elevation and a host of natural obstructions.

The course, voted one of America's best by Zagat, is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail -- a group  of 468 champion holes at 11 sites across Alabama -- dubbed by the New York Times as "some of the best public golf on earth."

The Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa has 248 guest rooms, all with private balconies, and 11 suites, along with a 12,000-square-foot spa offering everything from aromatherapy to reflexology.

Dine at Brock's, a Mediterranean-inspired eatery that specializes in pairing locally grown produce with fresh seafood, or the Clubhouse Restaurant, a comfortable hangout for casual fare.

Also on-site: 21,000 square feet of function space, including 15 meeting rooms, the largest of which is a 9,794-square-foot ballroom that seats up to 1,200. A 12,000-square-foot terrace overlooking fountains and the pool is available for outdoor receptions, and VIP suites are ideal for networking and entertaining clients.

At the foot of the Appalachian Mountains, the city of Birmingham is now known for its medical and financial institutions, as well as a number of cultural draws such as the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Alabama Civil Rights Institute. Nearby are the Talladega Super Speedway and 9,940-acre Oak Mountain State Park.

The resort is about 20 miles southwest of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, which handles 100 daily flights to and from major metropolitan areas throughout the United States.
Pine NeedlesPine Needles Lodge & Golf Club
Southern Pines, N.C.

Pine Needles Lodge & Golf ClubNamed for the fragrant pine forests of southeastern North Carolina, Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club was established in 1927, which is when Scottish-born Donald Ross designed its golf course. Fresh from a restoration, this 18-hole, par-72 classic is as exciting to play today as it was more than 80 years ago.

Golfers here enjoy a rolling landscape dotted with maples, holly trees, azaleas, dogwood and loblolly pines. The action starts with a par-5 gentle dogleg to the right that requires an uphill drive moving from left to right. On the third hole, a short par-3, a precise tee shot is necessary to avoid a small pond and wetlands area. Other highlights include the formidable bunkers guarding the green on the 16th -- just as Ross designed them.

The attention paid to the restoration of this venerable course -- reversing the changes that over time reshaped some greens and weakened some pars -- is a testament to Peggy Kirk Bell, sole owner of the property since 1955 and a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Not coincidentally, Pine Needles hosted the U.S. Women's Open in 1996, 2001 and 2007.

When it comes to accommodations, the resort's 74 guest rooms, many with a terrace or balcony, are spread over 10 rustic, chalet-style lodges complete with exposed beams. Facilities include the Crest Dining Room (where a variety of banquet menus are available) and access to all the food, drink and amenities of a sister property, the 103-room Mid Pines, right across the road and featuring its own Ross-designed course.

On-site and across the road, more than 23,000 square feet of meeting space is available, with 15,000 square feet at Pine Needles alone. Here are two meeting rooms seating 400 and 200, theater-style, and a variety of smaller spaces and breakout rooms.

With its historic downtown district, Southern Pines and the nearby villages of Aberdeen and Pinehurst are colorful places to wander through, featuring lots of art galleries and boutique shops (pottery is a local specialty).

Area airports include Fayetteville Airport (45 miles to the northwest) and Raleigh/Durham International (70 miles to the southwest). Pine Needles and its golf facilities are open year-round.

Fazio FoothillsBarton Creek Resort & Spa
Austin, Texas

16th hole at Fazio FoothillsA first-class resort offering four championship golf courses, Barton Creek Resort & Spa covers 4,000 acres in the heart of Texas Hill Country and was ranked the number-one golf resort in the Lone Star State by Golf World in its 2010 Reader's Choice Awards.

Owned by KSL Resorts, the property first drew the golf world's notice in 1986 with the debut of its initial layout, the 18-hole, par-72 Fazio Foothills -- another sterling Tom Fazio design. While here, too, a variety of tee placements cater to a wide range of skill levels, the course demands respect from even the most experienced player.

Take, for example, the dramatic par-3 ninth hole, which plays over forbidding creeks and rushing waterfalls; or the par-4 10th hole, which drops almost 100 feet from tee to fairway; or the par-4 16th, its green defended by a veritable gauntlet of water and sand.

Each of the property's other three courses -- Fazio Canyons, Crenshaw Cliffside and Palmer Lakeside -- has its own special panache. The on-site Barton Creek Golf Academy offers two- and three-day schools ideal for incentive winners of a sporting mind.

The resort itself is quick to soothe after the rigors of a match, its 312 guest rooms and secluded villas offering pretty views, individual study desks with high-speed Internet access and more. In-house eateries include the Hill Country Dining Room, which features specialties such as toasted curry lobster bisque and sesame-seared tuna, complemented by an expansive wine cellar.

Barton Creek's Conference Center contains 43,750 square feet of flexible space, including a 7,200-square-foot ballroom, a 156-seat amphitheater, and more than 25 meeting rooms and conference suites, accommodating groups of up to 500. An on-site conference services manager employs certified meeting professionals to help with all aspects of an event, including A/V, special functions, ground transportation and more.

Other amenities at the resort include a fitness center, tennis and a self-guided nature trail. The hip college town of Austin, serviced by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, holds plenty of options for entertainment and culture.