When we woke up that morning in our palatial room at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Mother Nature had thrown us another curve ball in our three-day sporting clays quest.
For the past two days, as we shot at the Greenbrier and The Homestead, a winter rain storm had moved into Virginia. In a way, it worked in our favor at the Greenbrier, where the muddy trails created some excellent off-roading, but made for a devil of a drive through zero-visibility fog in our drive to The Homestead.
The weather certainly held for us at The Homestead, allowing shooting-club manager and Level III instructor David Judah to work his magic before the sleet moved in. Now, through our window, we were faced with a torrential winter downpour that made the icy roads even more treacherous.
Given our wonderful room, it was very tempting to stay indoors and order breakfast from room service. Our huge marble bathroom featured every extravagance, including an oversize Whirlpool tub. The large shower was adorned with recessed lighting.
Perhaps the most comfortable bed we’ve ever slept in, the king seemed to float in the expansive room. A brass chandelier hung from a 10-foot tray ceiling. A chaise lounge and sofa were comfortably situated in one corner of the room. While so many hotel rooms keep you awake with mechanical noises from the building, our suite was pure silence. If you had simply drawn the drapes and ordered a bottle of Champagne, it would be easy to think you were a guest in a French Chateau (in fact, the building where we stayed was called the Chateau).
There were plenty of other temptations at Nemacolin to keep us indoors that gloomy morning.
Top of the list would have been the spa. At night, the place exudes the golden light that you could only associate with a heavenly experience. A Swedish Massage, a deep-tissue massage, hot-stone massage – or maybe a facial or a Woodlands scrub…they all sounded like a deliverance from what we saw through the window.
The resort has 11 bars and 14 restaurants, and we had already found shelter against winter the night before in the Cigar Bar, smoking a Padrone 1926 and a Davidoff Ambassador with some of that wonderful, peaty, Laphroaig single-malt scotch. We were ensconced in overstuffed leather chairs, the fireplace stoked and Pachelbel’s Canon filling the room. It was certainly one of those perfect evenings.
Still, a warmer time of year would have lent itself to the abundance of outdoor actives, regardless of the rain: horseback riding, fly fishing, golf, mountain biking, the zip line, hiking, swimming – everything the 3,000-acre, five-store resort provided in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands.
As part of the Alleghany Mountains, the beauty of the region had inspired legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design one of America’s landmark houses, Falling Water. The scenery also hosted two other Wright-designed homes opened to the public, Kentuck Knob and The Duncan House – a 1957 home that accepts overnight guests.
Meanwhile, it was getting close to our meeting with Robert Crow, the Director of the Nemacolin Shooting Academy.
We quickly packed and called a bellhop to take our bags down to the SUV. The lobby of the Chateau bespoke of grand elegance. Next thing we knew we were checked out and loaded up. It was a four-mile drive to the 140-acre Shooting Academy. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived the rain had turned to sleet.
Even though we were outfitted with our Irish Setter waxed shooting jackets and waterproof upland boots, the idea of shooting sporting clays in this weather literally sent a shiver down my spine.
When it comes to wingshooting and you’re either in a blind or crossing a pasture, inclement weather is part of the ordeal. But I always found that while sporting clays simulated the best wingshooting shots, it never quite attained that same compulsory foul-weather cachet.
A round of sporting clays in a nice spring rain can be exhilarating. But when you find yourself in a winter downpour that had turned to sleet, you have to ask yourself if this is something you really want to do.
We met Robert in the Shooting Academy Lodge. It was a big, rustic building with a pro shop, banquet facility, Orville’s Pub & Grill and a retail operation. The three of us were the only ones around, except for a few staff that would stop by to ask Robert some questions.
And so, over a few cups of coffee we had to make the decision. When the final vote was cast, we had opted to forgo the round of sporting clays, and instead Robert would give us a tour of the course from his SUV.
As we approached the course, we drove past a small herd of elk in a fenced preserve. The group consisted of a bull with six cows. The bull was magnificent with its 6 by 7 rack. For a moment, we were transported back to the 1740s, when the resort’s namesake, Chief Nemacolin, lived in the rugged Laurel Highlands Mountains.
Since 1968, the Nemacolin property passed through the hands of Pennsylvania industrialist Willard F. Rockwell, Cordelia Mellon Scaife, to its present owner, Joseph Hardy III, founder of the 84 Lumber Company. Mr. Hardy and his daughter, Maggie, decided to transform the private hunting estate into a world-class resort.
Robert explained the course and facilities as we drove through the course. The academy has three NSCA Level II instructors and 12 Level I instructors to accommodate the packed shooting schedule (in nicer weather of course). If you didn’t feel like shooting sporting clays, there was a dramatic five stand pavilion and wobble trap. Driven pheasant shoots were offered during the season.
In actuality, there were two sporting-clays courses, with a combined 30 stations. The course we toured was comprised of 17 stations, and served as the primary course. During ski season, the other course would be opened, with pot-belly stoves on most of the stations. The other course was also used for tournaments.
The hand-crafted stations along the trial offered varied presentations that Robert described to us:
- Station 1: Rising crossers from beneath your feet on report.
- Station 2: Pair of incomers from the left.
- Station 3: A mini outgoer and a standard outgoer on report.
- Station 4: True pair of quartering, crossing outgoers from the right.
- Station 5: True pair of incomers consisting of a midi and a standard target.
- Station 6: True pair of outgoers from the left, one from beneath your feet, the other from eye level.
- Station 7: A dropping, left-to-right crosser on report and a quartering incomer.
- Station 8: True pair of teal and high incomer.
- Station 9: True pair of crossers, a midi and a standard target.
- Station 10: A right-to-left crosser and a tower from the left on report.
- Station 11: A 3-station Compak deck.
- Station 12: A crosser from the right and a long, dropping incomer.
- Station 13: A rising target along the side of the mountain and teal presented as a true pair.
- Station 14: A true pair of crossers shot from a bunker in the side of the mountain.
- Station 15: A midi teal and a standard teal on report.
- Station 16: True pair of quartering tower shots.
- Station 17: A left-to-right rabbit and a right-to-left battue on report.
As we entered the parking lot of the lodge, I wish I could’ve said that we regretted not shooting the course in the sleet; the weather was just too, darn brutal. What we found really inspiring about Robert’s tour, though, was our commitment to return this summer to Nemacolin and really crush some clays.
To read about the Greenbrier in the first installment of The Triple Crown of Sporting Clays resorts, please click here.
You can find the second installment about The Homestead at this link.
Information about Nemacolin is available here: http://www.nemacolin.com.