In a sun-drenched clearing surrounded by hickory trees, the Seneca Nation broke ground Monday for its first development outside sovereign territory -- a $20 million golf club designed by award-winning golf course architect Robert Trent Jones II.
The ceremony brought together leaders from the Seneca Nation of Indians and Niagara County on a perfect day for golf. But no one was yelling fore just yet.
Opening rounds at Hickory Stick Golf Club won't be played for another two years, although the 251-acre site on Creek Road in the Town of Lewiston already is on the tax rolls.
The 18-hole public golf course will generate an estimated $300,000 in property tax revenue and nearly $400,000 in sales tax revenue in its first year of operation, Seneca officials said.
"This is a project that was sought by every community in Western New York," said Supervisor Fred M. Newlin.
Before Newlin became supervisor in 2004, the golf course was going to be a municipally funded project run by the town, which would have taken it off the tax rolls. But Newlin went looking for a private developer and found the Senecas.
"This area has always been, and forever will be, our home," said Maurice A. John Sr., president of the Seneca Nation.
Named for the shellbark hickory trees clustered throughout the site, the course will feature a scenic layout that will include many ponds.
The par-72 championship level golf course will wind for more than 7,000 yards across the Niagara Escarpment. The complex will include a driving range and a 15,000-square-foot clubhouse, restaurant and pro shop.
The Senecas expect Hickory Stick to attract more than 4,000 patrons in its first year of operation, mostly from the Northeast, Midwest and southern Ontario.
"We believe that Hickory Stick Golf Club won't just compete with the high-end golf courses across the river and throughout New York State, but that it will stand above the competition as a destination for all golf fans," said Barry E. Snyder Sr., chairman of Seneca Gaming Corp.
Snyder said he expects the golf course to be a successful tourism draw like the Seneca Casino and Hotel in Niagara Falls, which attracts 8 million people each year.
Meanwhile, the economic impact on the local community from construction will top $11 million, said Brian Hansberry, president and chief executive officer of Seneca Gaming Corp.
The impact on the economy during the first year of operation will be an estimated $4.3 million. The project will create 44 jobs, with a payroll of about $1.4 million.
The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency granted the Senecas property tax reductions and sales tax breaks for five years, after which the property will be fully taxable.
County officials estimated the benefits will save the Senecas $1.6 million.
Jones, the course designer, was among those who attended the groundbreaking ceremony.
During the ceremony, Seneca Indian Clayton Logan used incense and feathers to bless the course.
Then, Seneca and county officials tuned the first sod with 10 ceremonial gold shovels. Immediately afterward, Snyder, Jones and others grabbed golf clubs and drove the first balls, tearing up the first divots in the process.
"This golf course is a very natural, beautiful field," Jones said. "As well as bringing in golfers from across Western New York, it will attract visitors from across the border."
Hickory Stick is the first Western New York project for Jones, who was raised in the Rochester area. His firm has designed more than 230 courses in 38 countries on six continents.
Last year, Jones received Golf Digest's "Best New Public Golf Course" award for his Osprey Meadows course in Donnelly, Idaho.
Jones' courses include 108 that have hosted Professional Golfers Association tournaments and United States Golfers Association championships.