On my first visit to French Lick (Ind.) Resort several years ago, I distinctly recall a man lying on the floor, face up, in the middle of the enormous, circular lobby of the West Baden Springs Hotel. He wasn’t ill; he didn’t require medical care. Rather that was the best way for him to fully appreciate the hotel’s magnificent domed atrium.
A hotel employee told me that would happen from time to time at West Baden Springs. And no wonder. The hotel apparently was regarded as something of an architectural marvel when it was built in 1902, and it remains an impressive sight.
At Golfweek, we devote a fair amount of editorial space to golf and gaming, including publication of our annual list of the best casino courses. Our focus primarily is on the courses our readers can enjoy when they’re not cleaning up at the blackjack tables.
This is one of the most dynamic parts of our industry. For better or worse, we have become a nation of casinos, and that sector is responsible for some interesting recent golf developments. Those include the dramatic restoration of The Greenbrier’s Old White TPC after 2016 flooding washed away the course; Nemacolin Woodlands’ opening earlier this year of what might be Pete Dye’s final course, Shepherd’s Rock; and the scheduled mid-2018 opening of Sage Run, architect Paul Albanese’s second course at Island Resort & Casino in Michigan.
In these far-flung casinos – in places such as central Pennsylvania and Lake Charles, La. – you won’t find Vegas-style shows, but you will find some wonderful surprises. For me, one of the best was that visit to West Baden Springs Hotel. (The resort’s casino is located in the sister property just down the street, French Lick Springs Hotel.) I spent every available moment there exploring all parts of the hotel, then took the hotel’s history tour to learn even more about it.
It was a reminder that you don’t have to go to Las Vegas to find memorable experiences at casino resorts. Here are a few more:
• Any visit to The Greenbrier has to include a trip to the 112,544-square-foot bunker opened in 1961 to house Congress in the event of an enemy attack. Its existence was exposed by The Washington Post in 1992, and it subsequently was decommissioned. When the tour bus makes the short drive around the resort and pulls up in front of the massive, 25-ton blast door, it’s a reminder of the threats the country faced, and may face again. It was built as a temporary underground home for 1,100 people, complete with a medical clinic, decontamination chambers and meeting rooms for the House and Senate.
• Nemacolin Woodlands surely is among the unlikeliest great resorts in the U.S., given its location in a rural, economically challenged part of Pennsylvania. It’s home to a 21,000-bottle wine cellar and two hotels – one Five Stars, the other Four Stars. The accommodations are almost as good for your pets at Nemacolin Wooflands. Fido can schedule a berry facial, order room service prepared by the resort’s chefs, frolic in an indoor pool and relax on plush bedding. Nearby, Nemacolin Woodlands even has a zoo – a real zoo with lions and tigers and zebras.
• In upstate New York, Turning Stone Resort has three courses ranked among the top 50 on our casino list. But it’s a short season in Verona, N.Y. Not to worry. Golfers can play year-round thanks to the Golf Dome at Turning Stone Resort. It’s seven stories high and 110-yards long with 40 bays, a pro shop, putting green, practice bunker, teaching area and simulators.
• Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., has two courses ranked among our top 50, but there’s so much more to do there. The resort was developed as part of the larger Talking Stick Cultural and Entertainment Destination, with neighboring attractions that could keep guests busy for a week or more. One of the best is OdySea, the largest aquarium in the Southwest. OdySea has a variety of immersive experiences, including SeaTREK Helmet Diving, which allows visitors to spend an hour underwater interacting with various species.