Highlands luxury

Whether guests are in search of adventure or pampering, Pennsylvania's Nemacolin resort knows how to please.


In retrospect, Gen. Edward Braddock's army could have used a weekend at the Nemacolin Adventure Center.

In July 1755, while advancing toward the forks of the Ohio River with the intention of ousting the French from Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh), the British general and his soldiers were met by heavy fire from French and Indian forces. Losses were heavy; Braddock was mortally wounded.

Historian Henry Steele Commager describes the scene: In the face of attack, "there was confusion, mismanagement, terror, panic, and flight." In other words, sort of like a bad business venture, but with muskets.

The Adventure Center, just one feature of the 2,800-acre Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, 190 miles west of Baltimore near Uniontown, Pa., offers corporate team-building and trust-generating exercises.

Perhaps if Braddock and his regiments (which included young Col. George Washington) had spent time up in the treetop-level rope course or engaged in combat paintball or encouraged each other to scale the 50-foot climbing wall, discipline might not have deteriorated. And Braddock's retreating troops would not have had to conceal his body under the surface of the road that now passes by the resort and its mocking French-style chateau and Indian-theme boutique hotel.

Alas, Braddock was 250 years too early. Today's generals of the business battlefield bring their troops to Nemacolin to retrain, refresh and reward them. Although an estimated 40 percent of the resort's guests are couples and families who come not for business but merely to unwind amid luxury, a typical weekend morning also will see the conference rooms crowded with people brainstorming, reviewing performance and making projections.

Were you merely driving by, you might wonder what all this is doing way out here.

The old National Pike - U.S. 40 - looks like an ordinary two-lane blacktop, the bulk of its traffic diverted onto Interstate 68, a few miles to the south. What local businesses there are along the old road are what you might expect in rural Pennsylvania: a chain saw shop, small cafes, roadside fruit markets. A billboard advertises a backhoe service.

But for many years the Laurel Highlands has been a place where Pittsburgh money comes to play. For example, in 1939 the Kaufmann family, owners of a Pittsburgh department store enterprise, had a modest getaway home built nearby - Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.

Nemacolin Woodlands (named for the Delaware chief who first showed white men the Indian trail that became the National Pike) was built in 1968 as a private game reserve for Pittsburgh industrialist Willard F. Rockwell.

It subsequently passed to the Scaife family, then back to the Rockwells and, in 1987, finally to Joseph A. Hardy III, who had parlayed his ownership of a lumberyard into a multibillion-dollar building supply company called 84 Lumber.

Butlers do it all

Rockwell's original English Tudor building (rechristened the Lodge) remains, but it is now linked on one side to the five-story Chateau LaFayette, whose design is based on the Ritz Hotel of Paris and on the other side to a conference center with a 200-seat lecture hall.

Separate from the main buildings is the new Falling Rock boutique hotel, built for the 2004 PGA Tour 84 Lumber Classic, played each year on the resort's Mystic Rocks golf course. Inside, a copper-leaf ceiling tops a cathedral-like lobby that soars three stories. Native American design elements pervade, including a 27-foot cast of Chief Nemacolin.

Each guest room in Falling Rock is assigned a 24-hour team of "butlers," in charge of accommodating guest whims. (Who brought that pizza at 3 a.m.? The butler did it.)

One of the butlers gave me a tour of the hotel, and it occurred to me that the butlers, the wait staff, the shuttle bus drivers - indeed, all of the resort staff - seem to have been hired on the basis of fresh-faced earnestness. If they ever get grumpy, they apparently go off the grounds to do it.

Falling Rock also is the clubhouse for the Mystic Rock course. During my most recent Nemacolin visit, people kept telling me, "You have to see the locker room."

Locker rooms are not ordinarily among a travel destination's must-sees. But this is what the locker room in golf heaven must look like. It would be sacrilegious to snap a towel in there. The wooden lockers themselves appear crafted by an upscale casket company; there are watercolors by local artists on the walls and hand-carved chess sets on the tables. The Hardys had in mind golfers such as Vijay Singh, who won the 2004 event, and Tiger Woods, who also has played the course.

The owners like to tinker with Mystic Rock, narrowing its fairways, reshaping its greens. It has gotten a lot of attention in golf magazines. Both it and the more traditional Links course put the golfer in the middle of the striking scenery that made this area a favorite with Pittsburgh tycoons.

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