With increased national exposure, prominent new hires, and a second golf course under construction, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is stepping up its efforts to put thePennsylvania property on the map as a premier golf destination.
From providing the setting for two episodes of the reality TV show “The Bachelorette” this past summer to hiring two of the top names in the golf industry, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa., has been doubling down on its efforts to attract new clientele to its property in the scenic Laurel Highlands region of southwestern Pennsylvania.
And with the construction of a new 18-hole golf course called Shepherd’s Rock, the property hopes to extend a rose to serious golf lovers as well. Slated to open by July 1 of next year, Shepherd’s Rock will join Mystic Rock as Nemacolin’s second Pete Dye-designed championship golf course.
Nemacolin Woodlands ResortWebsite: www.nemacolin.com
Golf Holes: 36 (Mystic Rock,18 holes; Shepherd’s Rock, 18 holes)
Course Designer: Pete Dye (both courses)
Property Type: Resort
Year Opened: Mystic Rock, 1995; Shepherd’s Rock, scheduled to open summer 2017
Golf Season: April 1 – October 31
Annual Rounds of Golf: 18,000-plus at Mystic Rock
Turf for Shepherd’s Rock:
—Greens: Penn A1/A4 Bentgrass
—Tees: Penncross Bentgrass
—Fairways: Pennway Bentgrass
—Rough: Bluegrass/ryegrass blend
—Secondary Rough: Fine fescue blend
Turf for Mystic Rock:
—Greens: Penn A1/A4 Bentgrass
—Tees: T1 & Alpha Bentgrass Blend
—Fairways: Dominant Extreme 7 Bentgrass
—Rough: Bluegrass blend containing Midnight, Beyond, Sudden Impact, Nuglade, and Raven varieties
—Secondary Rough: Scottish Links Fine Fescue blended with Little Bluestem
Honors and Awards
Director of Turfgrass and Grounds Alan Fike has been heavily involved in the construction process—but once Shepherd’s Rock is completed, tending to a pair of golf courses at Nemacolin will be business as usual. Up until last year, Nemacolin (which was featured as C&RB’s June 2009 cover story, “A Tiger in the Woods”) had two 18-hole golf courses—Mystic Rock and The Links. The Links was closed in July 2015, and most of its layout is being used for construction of Shepherd’s Rock back nine.
So Fike expects a smooth transition for his maintenance department with the addition of the new course. “We’ve had two 18-hole golf courses here before, so it won’t change anything,” says Fike, who has worked his way up the ranks at Nemacolin after starting as a general laborer on The Links course.
While Fike has spent his entire 24-year turfgrass career at Nemacolin, other recent changes in management personnel have signaled the property’s intention to prioritize golf even more than it has in the past. In May, Mike Jones left Hawaii’s elite Kapalua Resort after nine years to become Nemacolin’s new Director of Golf and Recreation. A month later, Director of Golf Instruction Eric Johnson, one of Golf magazine’s Top 100 teachers in America, was hired; Johnson arrived at Nemacolin from Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club just days after the conclusion of this year’s U.S. Open at that storied club.
In addition, Managing Director Monte Hansen has headed the Nemacolin staff since December 2015, after previously serving as General Manager of Keswick (Va.) Hall and Golf Club. Hansen’s resume also includes experience at notable properties including The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., and Memphis’ Peabody Hotel.
“With Shepherd’s Rock coming online, our commitment to golf is going to be very evident,” Hansen reports. “Hiring people like Mike Jones and Eric Johnson speaks volumes to our commitment. I think golf will be one of the focal points of the resort.”
Nemacolin has experienced more than personnel changes as it seeks to raise its profile as a premier golfing destination. During the $15 million construction of Shepherd’s Rock, the property has also changed the vision for its newest course.
Nemacolin originally planned to build a nine-hole addition to Mystic Rock, the former home of the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumber Classic. Then Fike and golf course architect Tim Liddy discussed the idea of drawing up plans for another nine holes. Once Nemacolin owner Maggie Hardy Magerko, who also serves as President and owner of 84 Lumber Company, was on board, construction shifted to an 18-hole layout.
“We liked what we saw and thought, ‘This needs to be its own golf course,’” notes Hansen.
Shepherd’s Rock will be totally different from The Links, and its front and back nines will contrast with each other as well. While the front nine was constructed in a wooded area, the back nine is being built from 14 of The Links’ 18 holes. The unused portion of The Links will serve as open space.
“We want to try to give Shepherd’s Rock its own identity,” says Fike.
Shepherd’s Rock’s tree-lined front nine will feature natural wetlands and fairways that are flanked by Dye-created mounds. Other signature features include stone-stacked rock walls on Nos. 1, 4, 8, and 9, and a brook that flows from a 2.5-acre lake, which wraps around the green, on the par-4 ninth hole.
The railroad-tie face on a greenside bunker on No. 13 is a signature Dye feature, and an island tee box distinguishes the par-5 fourth hole, which will have a carry of about 230 yards. “Most people have an island green,” notes Fike. “We have an island tee box.”
The wide-open back nine will provide views of the surrounding Allegheny Mountains, with ample landing areas off the tees. No. 18, the 684-yard, par-5 finishing hole, will have one of the best views on the property. “We moved the green up on top of a hill, so it looks like an infinity green,” says Fike. “The sun sets there; it’s going to be spectacular.”
By moving the green 40 yards up the hill, notes Jones, golfers will be able to see mountains, valleys, and sunsets for a 50-mile radius.
Native areas on the new course will contain a mix of fine fescues and tall, wispy broomsedge grass, to give the appearance of a tall-grass prairie. Old reclaimed barns and sheep pastures will also be included in the landscape. (There are no plans yet, however, to assign any maintenance duties to the sheep.)
Building on Experience
The opportunity to be involved in the construction of Shepherd’s Rock was one of the reasons Jones came to Nemacolin. “Our goal has been to build a challenging golf course, but we want it to be fun,” he says. “We want people to come back and play it over and over and over again.”
Like Jones, Fike has been heavily involved in the construction process as well. He helped the Mystic Rock construction superintendent before the golf course opened in 1995 after a two-and-a-half-year building period, so he is drawing on that experience to guide him through the Shepherd’s Rock project. That previous golf course construction experience has helped him fine-tune details such as irrigation fittings and wiring for Shepherd’s Rock, he says. “I’m not new to the construction side. I know what it takes to get it done,” Fike adds.
He oversees the golf course construction contractors, who report to him daily. He also has a construction superintendent who works under him and will remain on staff after Shepherd’s Rock is complete. And because of Nemacolin’s connection with 84 Lumber, Fike reports, the property has supplied some of its own materials for the construction.
“I have to make sure everything is going smoothly on a daily basis and that everyone has what they need,” says Fike. “We always have things going on here.”
With his experience, he also knows that unexpected challenges always crop up along the way. For instance, the summer was hot and wet, increasing the possibility of disease. However, construction was still slated to be complete by the end of October—if Mother Nature cooperated.
“I enjoy construction because it is different from general maintenance,” Fike says. “It’s fast-paced, and I learn from the people I’m working with. I’ve learned about irrigation design and layout, and how to work through problems and keep things on the move.”
Johnson has been able to offer his opinions about the construction of Shepherd’s Rock as well. In fact, when he played Shepherd’s Rock with members of the Hardy family in early October, he had the privilege of being the first person to strike a golf ball on the new course. “It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life,” he states.
“It’s the most nervous I’ve ever been on a golf course.”
All in a Day’s Work
While the Nemacolin staff hopes that Shepherd’s Rock will be fun and challenging to play, Fike expects a similar experience when it comes to maintaining the golf course. Overseeing maintenance of Mystic Rock has familiarized him with the intricacies of a Dye design, he says, and the complex bunkering and steep facing around the greens will make Shepherd’s Rock labor-intensive. Otherwise, however, he doesn’t expect the addition of the new golf course to have a significant effect on maintenance practices.
Title: Director of Turfgrass and Grounds
“We’ll have more bunkers with steeper faces,” he says. “We’ll add staff and do a lot of fly mowing and trimming.
“You never want to interrupt the architectural design of it,” he adds. “So we just have to figure it out.”
The golf course currently has a maintenance staff of 27 people, including Fike, and he expects that number to increase to 45 in 2017. Crew members will work on both courses, he says.
“When I took over a few years ago, I wanted to intermingle everybody, so they would know both golf courses and how to take care of them,” he explains.
Offering input into the design of Shepherd’s Rock has given him influence in the maintenance aspects of the golf course as well. Fike, along with the construction superintendent, selected stress- and disease-tolerant bentgrass for Shepherd’s Rock. Only the greens on the two golf courses, which Fike calls “distinct Pete Dye designs,” will have the same type of bentgrass.
However, Fike notes, in the 20-year span between when Mystic Rock, which was renovated in 2004, was first built and Shepherd’s Rock has come on stream, the progression of golf course construction is evident. “We have different bunkering, and we shave the banks with new equipment,” he says.
The Shepherd’s Rock greens will be covered during the winter, to keep them warm and to prevent disease. Once staff members uncover them in the spring, they will start fertilizing, mowing, and grooming the putting surfaces. Grow-in is expected to take 12 to 16 weeks.
Just as Dye uses features of the land in his golf course designs, Fike expects to maintain Shepherd’s Rock the same way he takes care of Mystic Rock.
“I’m all about soil and cultivation practices. We’ll apply a little NPK [nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium fertilizers] and fungicide to ward off disease,” reports Fike. Of his water-usage philosophy, he says it’s “deep and infrequent, to make it playable. You want to make [the golf course] fast and mean.”
Nemacolin will also get new equipment next year to maintain Shepherd’s Rock. “We’ll get rid of the older equipment we used on the old Links course,” says Fike. “Ninety-eight percent of that was riding equipment, and we don’t need that anymore. We’ll do a lot of walk-mowing, fly-mowing and trimming.”
While Fike has a good grip on the maintenance needs of the new golf course, he also has built a strong working relationship with the new management team members since they have arrived.
Hansen says Fike’s longevity at the property complements the new staff members’ skill sets. “He knows the grounds, the course and the individuals on the membership side and the guests,” Hansen says. “He knows the area and understands our weather, the humidity and the grasses that grow here. He’s really good at what he does.”
Hansen meets with Fike and Johnson once a week on an informal basis. He has a regularly scheduled weekly meeting with Jones to review their agenda and goals for the property.
“I try to instill a culture of empowerment,” says Hansen. “Certain things affect the overall feel of the golf course. They’re professionals. They’ve been in the business a long time. I trust them whole-heartedly to enhance the guest experience and the profitability of the entire operation.”
Johnson and Jones will work with Fike to plan major golf course maintenance projects, such as aeration, a year in advance, so guests will always have assurance that one of the golf courses will be available when they make reservations.
“We work out our plans at the beginning of the year so we don’t disrupt any guest plans,” Johnson says. “We need to make sure each golf course is in the best possible shape it can be year-round.”
And top-notch golf course conditions will go a long way toward increasing Nemacolin’s prominence as a golfing destination. When Shepherd’s Rock opens next summer as a partner to Mystic Rock, Nemacolin guests will have the opportunity to play two championship courses.
“A lot of resorts have two golf courses, but not many have two Pete Dye courses,” Hansen says. “Mystic Rock is more challenging golf-wise, and Shepherd’s Rock is more fun and more visually stunning.”
The additional golf course will open up new revenue streams and markets, giving guests more variety and different membership options, Hansen adds. “Having two golf courses enables us to get more aggressive with membership sales and open up to new demographics,” he notes.
To continue the property’s efforts to increase the number of rounds played at Nemacolin, Jones has been putting together plans for new golf packages and local or national memberships. “We’re a drive-in market,” he explains. “Having a second golf course will give our guests options, so they can stay for more than one day.”
Adds Johnson: “It’s historic, because I don’t believe there’s been a golf course built in the Pittsburgh area for over 20 years. With the addition of Shepherd’s Rock, we’ll be one of the leading golf resorts out there.”
And when Shepherd’s Rock opens, the Nemacolin staff will be ready. “It’s about getting guests here,” says Fike. “We’re giving them two great golf courses to play and another reason to come here and stay.
“We want to make Nemacolin a world-class name in the golf industry,” he adds. “It’s time to show everyone what we can do.”