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Travel Articles by David Bear
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A turning point for Turning Stone





Turning Stone Resort
Turning Stone Casino and Golf Resort in Verona, N.Y., is owned and operated by the Oneida Indian Nation.


If you go: Turning Stone ResortWhere: Located at New York Thruway Exit 33, about 30 miles east of Syracuse, a six- to seven-hour drive from the Pittsburgh area. The gambling and golf resort offers a range of amenities, attractions and accommodations to suit a variety of guest budgets.
Information: 1-800-771-7711 or



VERONA, N.Y. -- Just 13 years old, the Turning Stone Casino and Golf Resort already ranks as the Empire State's top resort destination, attracting 4.5 million visitors a year. Yet in a sense, this sprawling complex, just off the New York State Thruway 30 miles east of Syracuse, came of age only within the past six weeks.

Since June 22, Turning Stone has hosted not one, but two national golf tournaments, the PGA of America Professional National Championship and the B.C. Open. The latter was staged with just 12 days' notice rather than the years of planning more typical for PGA tour events.

In doing so, Turning Stone not only became the first resort owned by American Indians to host a PGA tour event but also sealed its reputation as the Northeast's top golf resort.

"The fact that the Turning Stone was able to respond to our needs in such a short time is amazing," said Hal Seward, director of tournament development for the PGA Tour. "I spent 17 days there, and it's clear that everyone is committed to excellence."

As I discovered during a recent visit, beyond its three championship courses, full-gaming casino and entertainment complex that hosts a steady stream of Las Vegas-level performers, Turning Stone is something of a civic success story.

Opened in 1993, this resort owned and operated by the Oneida Indian Nation has become an economic engine that has revived the fortunes of both a shrinking group of native peoples and an entire region.

Archaeological studies suggest that the Oneida (Onyotaa:ka in their native tongue -- the people of the Standing Stone) have lived in the area that is now east-central New York for 10,000 years. Together with the Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora, the Oneida Nation formed the Iroquois Confederacy. When Europeans arrived, the Confederacy forged alliances with the Dutch and later the British, based upon notions of mutual respect, defense and trade.

After disgruntled Colonists rebelled against British rule, the Oneidas were the first allies to their cause along with the Tuscarora, while other nations of the Confederacy sided with the English. The Oneidas fought bravely at major engagements of the Revolution, including the battle of Oriskany on Aug. 6, 1777, which proved decisive in the war's outcome. That December, when George Washington's troops were freezing and starving at Valley Forge, the Oneidas carried 600 bushels of corn to their aid.

For their loyalty to the fledgling United States, the Oneidas received federal protection for their lands in the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua. But a series of other treaties orchestrated by New York State ignored the federal promises to protect the rights of the Oneidas, and gradually, their 6 million-acre homeland shrank to just 32 acres. In the 1830s, many Oneidas were relocated to Wisconsin and Canada. Decades of poverty followed for those who stayed to keep the sacred fire of the homeland burning.

A core group of committed people kept seeking redress, but the situation didn't begin to turn around until Supreme Court decisions in 1974 and 1985, which ruled against the New York treaties and allowed the Nation to reacquire title and certain sovereignties to its ancestral homelands.

The Oneida's economic success story began modestly, with the 1979 opening of a bingo hall in a double-wide trailer. Six years later, it erected a high-stakes bingo hall. Then, financed largely by revenues generated through gaming and other businesses organized by the Oneida Nation Enterprises, the Nation began purchasing and reacquiring land in Oneida and Madison counties. It now owns 17,000 acres.

In the process, the Oneida Nation has become one of a few Indian communities in the United States to succeed economically while following its traditional systems of governance and culture. Its guiding council makes decisions on behalf of its 1,000 or so members, 600 of whom live in the area. The operating principle has been to provide long-term benefits to the Nation that are consistent with traditional values. By "long term," the Oneidas are thinking seven generations.

For example, considering the damage that alcohol abuse has wrought on American Indians, no alcoholic beverages of any kind are sold on Turning Stone properties, including its casinos, restaurants, golf clubs or entertainment venues. (Alcohol, however, is served occasionally at VIP events and parties.)

When Turning Stone Resort opened in July 1993, it offered a full gaming operation in addition to bingo, with 130 tables of traditional casino games such as craps, roulette, blackjack and money wheels, along with a poker room with 32 tables. It also introduced Instant Multi-games, a cashless version of traditional slots. The casino now has nearly 2,400 machines, and it is more a Las Vegas-style casino than the glorified, slots-only parlors that Pennsylvania is proposing.

The adjacent hotel that opened that year provided 279 guest rooms, and a nearby inn has another 62 rooms.

Since then, Turning Stone's new construction has been nearly continuous. From what I was able to tell during my short visit in June, it has succeeded by following two simple rules of hospitality: Give guests what they want, and do it right.

In 1999, the Showroom debuted, an 800-seat cabaret-style theater with a 4,000-square-foot stage that now hosts 125 major acts a year, from Aretha Franklin, Bill Cosby, Liza Minnelli and Tony Bennett to Jethro Tull and Travis Tritt.

Golf also was introduced in 1999, with the purchase of a small nine-hole course and the construction of a second. The following summer, the Shenandoah Golf Club opened, Turning Stone's first championship-caliber course. Designed by Rick Smith, the 7,129-yard eighteen, which wends from its stone and cedar Tudor clubhouse through native wetlands, woods and tall fescue, immediately garnered kudos from national golf press.

In August 2003, the Turning Stone's second championship course began play. Named Kaluhyat (ga-LU-yut, an Oneida word for "other side of the sky"), the course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. incorporates mature forests and ancient wetlands, so although new, it has the feel of an ancient track, a challenging one that greatly rewards precision shots and sound strategy.

Less than a year later, Atunyote (uh-DUNE-yote, Oneida for "eagle") was completed. Designer Tom Fazio selected a secluded setting two miles from the main resort and wove a tight, 7,300-yard course in and around a preserved deadwood marsh.

Turning Stone Resort
Hole 5 on the Atunyote Golf Course, which is part of the Turning Stone Resort.
In early July, severe storms flooded the En-Joie Golf Club in Endicott, N.Y., the longtime venue for the B.C. Open. The PGA tour event was relocated to Atunyote. Although Turning Stone had only 12 days to prepare, the tournament garnered lavish praise from the pros.

"Atunyote is an outstanding course with a superb layout," said Mr. Seward, the PGA Tour official. "You can tell by the turf conditions, the grounds are always maintained at a high level, not just for special events."

And new accommodations at Turning Stone keep springing up. In October 2004, the 19-story Tower Hotel brought another 287 rooms to the main Casino complex.

This year, the 98-suite Lodge at Turning Stone opened, and a spa will follow in the fall.

The Oneida Nation now employs 5,000 people, making it central New York's third-largest employer. Its ventures produce hundreds of millions of dollars a year, which the Nation uses to fund community services, from recreation centers, health care and a heritage museum to jobs and a scholarship program that offers education and training.

For travelers who enjoy golf and gaming, Turning Stone offers an enticing combination of high-quality activities unique in this part of the country.


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