Director of Golf Operations Chris Anderson offers a primer on golf season in Pennsylvania’s majestic Laurel Highlands.
NEMACOLIN, Pennsylvania – Chris Anderson is no stranger to the wonderous Allegheny Mountains resort property known as Nemacolin. In fact, he’s been intimately familiar with each of the resort’s Pete Dye designs there since he joined the staff five years ago as the director of turfgrass, moving from The Greenbrier in West Virginia.
In January, he was elevated to the director of golf operations and shares a distinct excitement for the 2023 peak golfing season at Nemacolin.
While Anderson arrived a year after Nemacolin opened its Shepherd’s Rock course, he’s seen plenty in his time. Two years ago, updates were made to Mystic Rock’s bunkers, playing surfaces and tee boxes with Pete Dye associate Tim Liddy on hand for the project.
Last year, the resort celebrated its 35th anniversary and earned 22 Forbes Stars for the third consecutive year and with renovations to the property’s storied The Grand Lodge set be unveiled this fall, the future for this larger-than-life destination looks particularly bright.
With such anticipation for another terrific summer in the Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Anderson opened up about what his ideal golf trip would look like here, some of his favorite holes and what he tells his peers about what it’s like working at the 2,000-acre beauty.
When you talk to your friends in the golf industry, how do you describe to them the uniqueness of Nemacolin as a golf vacation destination?
I would describe it as a big property with more activities than you can accomplish in one stay. There are so many different things you can do on property, from golf, obviously, to the swimming pools, to jeeps, to rock climbing walls, paintball, and horseback riding. The variety of different things our guests can do from here is one of the things that attracts a lot of people.
Nemacolin is home to two Pete Dye courses, and some may assume that each course is exceptionally challenging. But playing from the proper set of tees makes the experience immensely enjoyable. How do you help set expectations for playing both Mystic Rock and Shepherd’s Rock?
Mystic Rock and Shepherd’s Rock to me are so different in the design concepts, you can see how Pete Dye designed courses in the 90s and how he was designing courses as his career was winding down. We basically offer two different time frames in his career. Mystic Rock (which opened in 1995) is a tighter, narrowed-fairway course with subtle greens. A little more shot-making and angles come into play there. We have tees for everybody. The bunkering on Mystic is a lot different than Shepherd’s as well – they’re a lot grander in size.
Shepherd’s (which opened in 2017) has 10 more acres of fairways, so they’re a lot bigger and wider. There are more fescue areas and bunkering, as I mentioned, there are more, pot-style and smaller bunkers. The kind he used later in his career. It’s a little shorter, but the front side is a lot longer than the back. It also offers tees for every level of play.
What are some of your favorite holes on Mystic Rock, and why?
I like No. 5, it’s a par-5 that’s a risk-reward. It’s short enough from the proper tees to go for it in two. But the risk you take to go for it – there’s a double green that we move the pin on, but the bottom green that we use a couple times a week is surrounded by water on two sides. So, if you’re going for it in two you have to mess with the bunker on the right and water on the left and backside of the green.
Thirteen on Mystic is a short par 4, but the bunkering is some of the best we have. It’s a nice little simple par 4 that if you hit a good drive, you should be able to make a good score on that hole.
Then, 18 really changed from a playability standpoint. We added a bunch of bunkers on the right-hand side, so it’s a good look for a nice finishing hole now.
Shepherd’s Rock takes you through some distinct natural settings and landforms. There’s extreme variety. Which holes stand out as some of your favorites?
On the front nine, the par-3, No. 5. From the Resort Tees, it’s a 150- to 160-yarder, but it has an infinity green look where the green disappears into the big pond behind the green. It’s a nice look.
Playing No. 9 from the back tee, which plays 700 yards – playing that par-5 from the back tee is a pretty fun hole. It’s even uphill the whole way.
On the back nine, No. 11 has a nice wide fairway and a wetlands area down the left-hand side, and a wetlands area in front of the green that you have to carry. It’s in a great spot on the back nine there.
Eighteen has a good waterfall finishing hole there. It’s very nice.
What’s your career low score on both courses?
I shot 75 on Mystic once. At Shepherd’s, I think my low is 78. Maybe 79. That’s one of the unique things about the resort and having two Pete Dyes; they are vastly different. The concepts are the same but how they’re laid out and how they play are so different from each other.
Nemacolin offers one of the most complete golfing experiences in the country in a setting that has to be seen to be believed. How would you design the perfect three-day golf agenda for a foursome at Nemacolin?
You’d come in the first day, play golf in the afternoon on Mystic Rock, then go to dinner that night. The next morning – this is where you can go either way – but you can play Shepherd’s in the morning after breakfast and play Mystic in the afternoon again, then go to dinner. Finish the third day in the morning at either Shepherd’s or Mystic, whichever you prefer, then take off after that. We have a handful of places where you can enjoy dinner, some place different every night. You can encapsulate the entire resort that way.
In addition to golf, what are these essential experiences you like to see people put into their vacation time at Nemacolin?
The Field Club is fun to go shoot some sporting clays. The trappers out there a really good and make it enjoyable even if you don’t shoot that often. Everyone ends up hitting clays when they go out there. That’s how good it is. We have The Peak, which has a phenomenal outdoor pool area, lounge chairs, swim up bar, big screen TVs and live bands. You can pretty much hang out there all day. The spa would be nice, too, especially if you’re playing 54 or 72 holes while you’re here. Go get a massage after you play golf.
If someone’s never been to the Laurel Highlands and seen the particular natural beauty there at Nemacolin, how do you describe it to them?
Up here, on the mountain, it’s very mild. It doesn’t get extremely hot during the summertime. That last couple summers we may have gotten into the 90s a couple times. That’s all. Being at 2,000 feet elevation keeps the temperature down and makes it comfortable all year around. Then you have the views from the mountains and the foliage in the fall. We also have a lot of great things to do in the area – hiking, rafting, bike trails. You’re really able to enjoy a lot of the outdoors that this area has to offer.