I've never met a casino resort course I didn't like.
Why? They tend to be kept in great shape, fueled by profits from the gambling operation. Most are designed by well-known regional or national architects. That usually guarantees they are resort friendly (playable for my game) with a little bit of risk-reward elements thrown in to foster the gambling motif of the property.
In honor of National Native American Heritage Month - celebrated every November since 2012 - I'm ranking the best tribal-owned casino golf resorts for this week's version of The List. During the course construction boom of the 1990s, tribal leaders turned to golf, building courses to complement their casino hotels. Grassy playgrounds became another amenity to attract visitors, a great way to enjoy the outdoors on tribal lands away from the neon lights of the casino floor.
There are probably more good tribal casino golf resorts that most realize. Beyond my five favorites, I include 25 more at the end of the story to show just how deep the roster of candidates is. Here's a look:
Turning Stone Resort Casino, Verona, New YorkGolf Advisor Round Trip: Turning Stone
Turning Stone, owned by the Oneida Indian Nation, is central New York's premier golf getaway. Located roughly three hours from New York City is an escape of endless golf variety - three courses, an extra nine holes, plus a nine-hole par-3 course, and a golf dome - coupled with gaming, fine dining, shopping and nightly entertainment. I won't bore you with words. Watch our episode of Golf Advisor Round Trip (above) to see what you're missing.
25 more of the best tribal casino golf resorts in America
* Arizona's Casino Del Sol Resort (Sewailo); Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino (Whirlwind Golf Club); Talking Stick Resort; Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino & Resort (Ak-Chin Southern Dunes)
* The Prairie Brand Casino and Resort in Kansas (Firekeepers Golf Course)
* Michigan's Grand Traverse Resort & Spa (The Bear/The Wolverine/Spruce Run); Island Resort and Casino (Sweetgrass/Sage Run)
* Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort Hotel in Idaho (Circling Raven)
* New Mexico's Big Rock Casino (Black Mesa); Sandia Resort and Casino (Sandia Golf Club); Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel (Santa Ana Golf Course/Twin Warriors); Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort
* Connecticut's Foxwoods Resort Casino (Lake of Isles); Mohegan Sun
* Pearl River Resort in Mississippi (Dancing Rabbit)
* Coushatta Casino Resort (Koasati Pines) in Louisiana
* Harrah's Cherokee Casino Hotel in North Carolina (Sequoyah National)
* California's Singing Hills Golf Resort at Sycuan (Willow Glen/Oak Glen/Pine Glen); Pechanga Resort and Casino (Journey at Pechanga); Fantasy Springs Resort & Casino (Eagle Falls); Rolling Hills Casino Resort (Sevillano Links)
* Oklahoma's Hard Rock Casino & Hotel Tulsa (Cherokee Hills); WinStar World Casino & Resort
* Minnesota's Jackpoint Junction Casino (Dacotah Ridge); Fortune Bay Resort (The Wilderness at Fortune Bay)
What tribal-owned resort courses have you played and enjoyed? Let us know in the comments below.
We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center, Fort McDowell, Arizona
The We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center, owned by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, broke ground in June on a new 166,000-square-foot casino with hopes that it will open sometime next spring. The existing casino building will remain, but will be re-purposed in some unknown capacity.
The resort rooms are nice with several good places to eat, but the real draw are the two golf courses across the street: Cholla by Scott Miller and Saguaro by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. There's lots of competition for the best 36-hole facilities in the Sonoran desert - Grayhawk, Troon North, the Boulders, TPC Scottsdale - but it's hard to top the beauty and routings of We-Ko-Pa.FROM $167 (USD)PHOENIX/SCOTTSDALE | Enjoy 3 nights' accommodations at Wekopa Casino Resort and 3 rounds of golf at Wekopa Golf Club (Cholla & Saguaro Courses) and Sunridge Canyon Golf Club.
Barona Resort & Casino, Lakeside, California
The towering 400-room casino hotel and the highly regarded Barona Creek Golf Club - owned by the Barona Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians - pair up as perhaps San Diego's most overlooked golf destination. It's hard for out-of-state golfers to veer away from the coastal hot spots of Torrey Pines in La Jolla and Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, but the reward is a challenging and scenic journey among the natural hillsides, streams and native areas used as hazards by architect Todd Eckenrode. Steer clear of the more than 100 bunkers.
Little Creek Casino Resort, Shelton, Washington
This 190-room casino hotel and the adjacent Salish Cliffs Golf Club are owned by the Squaxin Island Indian Tribe, offering a taste of the rugged Pacific Northwest for those bold enough to drive south beyond Chambers Bay, the 2015 U.S. Open host. The casino will celebrate 25 years in 2020.
Salish Cliffs, created by Gene Bates, is carved from the dense forest of the Kamilche Valley, riding a dizzying 600 feet in elevation change. A double green on no. 9 and no. 18 ends each nine in style.
Yocha Dehe at Cache Creek Casino, Brooks, California
Yocha Dehe (pronounced "Yo-cha Dee-hee) ranks among my favorite "finds." I had never heard of the Troon Golf-managed course or its architect (Californian Brad Bell) until an invitation to check it out. I felt lost driving the rural roads of Yolo County west of Sacramento before the casino owned by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation was revealed. Over the hill out back is Yocha Dehe, this oasis of green grass and ponds set in an idyllic valley.
The round starts with one of the most inspiring first tee shots in California - a massive drop off an elevated tee with out of bounds on the right. Water pinches tighter as the routing comes to a close.
An ongoing $200-million expansion will add a new 459-room hotel, bringing the resort's total to 659 rooms by the end of the year. It should help golfers secure a stay and play, something that was virtually impossible in the past.