Seneca Nation's Hickory Stick Golf Course brings new RT Jones Jr. public track to Niagara Falls
Western New York State has another star attraction almost within earshot of the thundering waters of Niagara Falls: the $25 million Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Course. One of the few new daily-fee courses to open in the country this year, the track is set on a rolling meadowland in Lewiston.
Hickory Stick was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. with great sensitivity to the environment. Constructed to use less water, Bluegrass fairways are closely mowed encouraging low running iron shots along firm, fast ground.
With five tees, the course stretches from 5,417 yards from the forwards to 7,016 yards from the tips.” It’s a course you can hit out with the big stick,” remarked one of the guys in our foursome.
There aren’t a whole lot of trees on the track, but there are plenty of wetlands, five ponds and large bunkers ringed by heather and thick native grasses. As my playing partner said when his approach shot went a bit wide,” I got lucky. It’s in the sand. No way I want to be in that grass.”
Another guy after trying to hack his way out of grass around another bunker, finally picked up his ball. “I’m done,” he mumbled.
Curiously considering the course was built from scratch on 257 acres of land, the 18th hole is a par 3. It seems a bit peculiar until you learn the front and back nines were flip flopped after a great deal of discussion. The layout originally wound up with three strong finishing holes, a par 3, a par 4 and a 572 yard par 5.
The argument that carried the day was that by flipping the nines, those sitting on the clubhouse patio could watch a good show as players hit over a pond to the 18th green. While the 18th may seem a bit wimpy, the new layout is compensated by the fact that hole 17 is one of the most memorable holes out there. A double dog leg with a pond and bunkers, it’s fun to play.
Most of the holes have generous landing areas, but narrow down towards the green. For example, the third hole, a 500-yard par 5 has a super long green and the drive is tricky. Anything left of the stake is toast. Here landing in the bunker is not so bad. You certainly don’t want to end up in the snarly fescue anywhere.
A reed-lined creek divides the sixth hole, par 4, into two fairways. At first glance, you think it’s best to stay right, but that means a carry over a deep bunker for your second shot while going left leaves an easier though longer shot into the green.
Named for the rare and protected Shellbark Hickory growing on the site, flag sticks are appropriately made of hickory.
Managed by KemperSports with Fran Roach as general manager and head professional, Hickory Stick was built on land purchased by the Seneca Nation of Indians marking the nation’s first off-territory development project. The Nation also owns the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel, a big monster of a place 15 minutes away, with a spa, 6,500 slots, 140 game table and 800 rooms.
Kevin W. Seneca, director of the Seneca Gaming Corporation, said although he does not play golf himself, he is excited about the new course. “Today is the dawning of a new era in golf in Western New York,” he said welcoming those who came to play on opening day.
Hickory Stick is an important addition to the western New York golf scene. I found it to be very playable, especially when driving from the recommended tees, in my case the reds. A couple heavy hitters in our group, looking at lengths of 584 yards for a par 5, were obviously not suffering from any ego problems. “We’re moving up to the blues,” they announced.
Seneca Hickory Stick G.C. may not have the drama of casino courses like Lake of Isles, Atunyote, Kaluhyat, and French Lick, but Hickory Stick is quite enjoyable to play, at least for now and less expensive than most major casino tracks. When and if they let the fescue and other native grasses grow, it could become considerably more wicked.
Operations this summer are being carried out in temporary facilities. A special preview play rate of $65 includes a cart and use of practice facility. It’s an easy course to walk, but whether you walk or ride, the green fees are the same. A new clubhouse is under construction.
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