Pennsylvania's Mystic Rock Course at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa

By Shannon Gazze, Contributor

FARMINGTON, Penn. - A bronze statue of "The Squire," Gene Sarazen, graces the tee box on the second hole at Mystic Rock, the Pete Dye signature golf course that is the pride of Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa.

Mystic Rock Golf Course - Greens
The bentgrass greens at Mystic Rock are always kept fast.
Mystic Rock Golf Course - Greens
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Mystic Rock Course at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

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Nestled in the Laurel Highlands of southwest Pennsylvania Nemacolin Woodlands Resort sprawls across over 2,000 wooded acres. The resort offers 36 holes of championship golf, Mystic Rock and the Links. Pete Dye added the Mystic Rock Course 25 years after the original Links opened in 1970. Both golf courses offer a strikingly different character as well as unique challenges.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 7526 yards | ... details »

Sarazen is sculpted resting on his golf club as he serenely gazes out over the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania. Perhaps he is taking in the magnificent natural beauty around him. Perhaps he is following one of his majestic drives as it travels out over the Bermuda grass fairway. Then again, he may be cursing Dye as his golf ball disappears into one of the many "rock outcroppings" at Mystic Rock.

The course, which opened in 1995 as part of a $100 million-plus renovation project by Nemacolin owner and 84 Lumber magnate Joe Hardy, is a classic Dye design. It is plush and expansive and just about impossible to master. Boulders ranging from golf-ball-sized to mobile-home sized dot the pastures and border the lakes, which are in play on 10 holes and touch the greens on seven.

Several of the white-sand hazards on the course could be better described as beaches or trails than traps or bunkers. The sand on eight, 14 and 15 covers a few acres of territory. The sand on one, four and nine traverses the length of the fairways. And the par-five 11th and 16th holes can only be described as vicious.

From the tips, Mystic Rock plays to 6,832 yards and a par 72 (the slope rating is a daunting 146). Dye strategically placed every hazard and outcropping to encourage golfers to use the utmost caution as they navigate the course. Fairways tend to widen at crucial landing areas and narrow as they approach the greens. Putting surfaces are fast and rolling, but getting there seems to be the real trick.

The white tees stretch to 6,300 yards, a much friendlier distance that still requires a great deal of accuracy and smart play. Gold markers are set at 5,860 yards and the red markers at 4,800.

On the hole-by-hole guide available in the club house, Dye is quoted as saying Mystic Rock is "a very special course - it could be my best - time will tell." Considering Dye's impressive list of successes, that's a bold statement.

Inexplicably, Mystic Rock was left off the Golf Digest list of Pennsylvania's top 25 courses, though it has made the publication's list of Top Courses You Can Play in the past. It was, however, good enough to host an invitational tournament organized by Arnie Palmer and attended by Tiger Woods.

But as spectacular as the course is, it's only a small part of the wooded wonder that is Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa.

First, there is an accompanying links golf course that is somewhat dwarfed by Mystic Rock, but is respectable enough to warrant its $79 price tag.

Unfortunately, both courses will be closed as of Nov. 28, to reopen April 1. Fortunately, the closing coincides with the reopening of Mystic Mountain, a five-slope ski facility that also offers a half pipe for snow boarders and cross country skiing on eight trails.

You can still get your fill of golf over the winter months by using the resort's Par-T indoor golf simulator. Use real clubs to play Doral, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, or Mauna Lani for the virtual price of $15 for nine holes, $25 for 18.

Resort guests are pampered with five-star dining and accommodations. A $2 million swimming pool complete with swim-up snack bar gives "wet bar" a whole new meaning. The resort even has it's own airfield, regulation polo grounds and manicured croquet course.

Among many other activities, Nemacolin offers an equestrian barn, a sporting clays facility and shooting academy, video and shopping arcades, a full-service spa, billiards on four restored antique tables (circa 1880s), miniature golf, hiking, biking ... the list goes on and on.

Nemacolin Woodlands is located about 65 miles southeast of Pittsburgh on U.S. Route 40. Three states can be seen from the heights of the resort, but you'll have to know where to look because whether it's Pennsylvania, Maryland or West Virginia, tree tops are all you see for miles.

Needless to say, the leaves falling on Mystic Rock right now make it a formidable task to locate your golf ball in the rough. You'll want to bring an extra sleeve of balls any time you play the course, but make sure you have about a dozen before you set out under fall conditions.

One thing that sets Mystic Rock apart from any course I've ever played has little to do with the actual course. It's the service from the snack bar at the turn. There's a phone on the 9th tee with call-ahead instructions for Mulligan's Cafe. Orders placed at the tee can be picked up at Mulligan's drive through window and golfers can be on their way to the 10th hole. Why didn't somebody think of this sooner?

After you've deposited your dozen golf balls into the forest, you may want to check the schedule at Nemacolin's golf academy. The academy offers private and semi-private lessons and two clinics per day. Have your swing videotaped and analyzed at the range by PGA teaching pros or chip to one of two spacious practice greens.

A few tidbits to note: Mystic Rock and Nemacolin Links are soft-spike courses; Also, carts are mandatory. Mystic Rock's first tee is a healthy drive from the clubhouse, so walking wouldn't be an option there anyway; Reservations for either course are accepted up to 60 days in advance from resort guests and a week in advance from non-guests.

Oh yeah, you'll also want to know that Mystic Rock runs $125 for guests, $150 for non-guests and $75 for twilight golf (after 3:30 p.m., Sunday through Friday). Prices include carts and range balls.

With Dye's John Hancock on their course and so much to offer besides the golf, Nemacolin Woodlands has earned its place among the country's best resorts. "The only thing we don't have ... is the ocean," Hardy says on the Nemacolin website. "But we're working on it."

Shannon Gazze, Contributor

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