At a time when courses around the country are being closed not built, Maggie Hardy-Magerko was asked why the posh Nemacolin Woodlands resort would want to spend even more money to build another 18-hole layout to go with Mystic Rock, its once-upon-a-time site for the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumber Classic.
“Because we can,” she said.
And so it is that the resort that has spent more than $250 million in the past 3½ years to be what Hardy-Magerko called “one of the best in the world” debuted its latest contribution to the golf industry — Shepherd’s Rock, a 7,151-yard layout that might lack the snarl of its sister course but makes up with a tranquil ride through meadows and countryside in a more pleasing and enjoyable setting.
Shepherd’s Rock was designed by Pete Dye assistant Tim Liddy, who used a lot of the same design techniques employed by his boss at Mystic Rock, which opened in 1995 but has had more touch-ups than an auto-body shop. After a three-day celebration that included two-time major champ John Daly and a handful of PGA Tour players, performances by singer Huey Lewis and comic Frank Caliendo, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the course officially opened to the public on Wednesday.
“This is the cherry on our resort,” said Hardy-Magerko, who owns and operates Nemacolin Woodlands along with her dad, 84 Lumber founder Joe Hardy.
Hardy-Magerko, the youngest of five children from her dad’s first marriage, said she had Shepherd’s Rock built — and named — in honor of her father, who “shepherded” her through life and helped her navigate both the resort and 84 Lumber through some tough financial times.
The debut of Shepherd’s Rock, one of just a handful of courses to open in the country this year, is just another example of the Hardy’s ongoing attempt to add to the spectacular amenities at the resort, with little regard to cost.
“We don’t do much thinking,” Hardy-Magerko said. “We don’t do a lot of analysis paralysis around here. We just do it.”
That is evident at Shepherd’s Rock, which originally was intended to be just an additional nine holes built on unused property at the resort. But 13 months ago, the decision was made to use some of the land from the old Links Course and build nine more holes, creating a brand new 18-hole layout.
Even though a majority of the front nine was built on the Links property, none of the holes bear any resemblance to what existed before. The only detectable similarities will occur at No. 2, a 386-yard par-4 with a bowl-shaped greens complex that was built on the same stretch of land of the old No. 9; and Nos. 6 and 7, a pair of par-4s on the low end of the property that play back toward Hardy-Magerko’s spectacular hillside home.
“To me, it’s a variety of holes,” said director of golf Mike Jones, who was brought in from the Kapalua resort in Maui, Hawaii, to oversee the construction of the final nine holes. “You’re going to have some holes where you can bomb it, some holes when it’s a little tighter off the tee, be a little smarter off the tee. It’s typical of Pete Dye. He wants you to make choices out there.”
While the back nine (3,317 yards) plays more than 500 yards shorter than the front (3,834) and has more of those decision-making holes, it also showcases some of Liddy’s artistry and creates the type of pastural atmosphere the course name intones.
At No. 13, a 538-yard par-5 that doglegs left around a hazard of native grasses and shrubbery, the hillside to the right of the fairway looks like an Irish countryside, with a wooden-crafted fence surrounding a field of sheep and rams. At the 410-yard 15th, a view behind the tee of Sugarloaf Knob on the Laurel Ridge inspired Liddy to use Sugarloaf-like moguls to frame the left side of the fairway.
But maybe his greatest creation, and what some think is the best hole on either course, is the dramatic 455-yard 18th, a bending par-4 with a hazard running the right side of the fairway that leads to a lake with rock wall framing the right side of the angled green. Behind the putting surface is a man-made rock waterfall that provides a stunning backdrop to any approach shot.
To accommodate the lake and waterfall, the recreational-vehicle area that was built for PGA Tour players during the 84 Lumber Classic had to be eliminated. Curiously, the hole was originally intended to be the final hole of the front nine, but, because of the stunning nature of the design, Hardy-Magerko had the two nines flipped so the course could end with that masterpiece.
“It’s a great complement to Mystic Rock, which is the No. 1 ranked course you can play in Pennsylvania right now,” Jones said. “Our goal is to make Mystic and Shepherd No. 1 and No. 2 you can play in Pennsylvania. At that point, we don’t care which order.”