First opened for play in 1999, the course at Old Stonewall Golf Club is a joint Hurdzan/Fry production, where fairways are set out in two distinct circuits: a typical low country front nine and a more undulating back nine that exhibits a number of spectacular elevation changes.
Former owner Rick Hvizdak developed the course, along with the somewhat surreal castle-themed restaurant/clubhouse that adjoins it, before selling the complete facility on to Sewickley entrepreneur Joe Nocito in 2012.
Level lies are hard to come by on a course that’s laid out on such rugged terrain, where enormous limestone blocks are found all over the place; lining cart paths, supporting elevated tee boxes and underpinning hillside greensites.The sensational 474-yard 16th is undoubtedly the signature hole on the property, playing as it does to a fairway that lies 80 feet below an elevated tee position, which allows the average golfer to experience a satisfying five second hang time for their 300+ yard drive. It’s always nice to feel like a pro out on the course, even if it’s just for one shot.
Perhaps ownership actually decided to build the castle-themed clubhouse after seeing the completed golf course; after all...that sort of excess wasn't a far-cry from the routing Michael Hurdzan & Dana Fry planned for the back nine. The course's signature stretch (if you will) from Nos. 12-16 will probably alienate two sets of golfers. Both will acknowledge the first 12 were well-maintained, with several bits of excitement (nos. 2-4 are often overlooked in light of what comes later) but from there, Player A will drool at the degree of heroism presented to him...while the more conservative design advocate will shake his head in disgust. Both are correct; but this reviewer tends to get giddy when playing such exotic fare in the Midwest. Among the highlights for the heroic will be No. 14, a Par 3 raining down from a turret of a tee box to a green surrounded by manmade waterfalls, framed by the course's signature "stone wall" slabs. No. 16 takes the cake, however, with forced ravine carries upon both drive and approach (and a nasty mid-fairway bunker to contend with on the latter). It's a hole would make for a striking closer, but unfortunately the plot Hurdzan was given simply didn't allow for it. This makes the closing stretch back to the clubhouse a bit of a drag, even with as stiff as No. 18 plays. The mountainous terrain on the back nine also means you'll play the course's only two Par 5s on the front. Ultimately, Olde Stonewall is very much aimed at certain course personalities, and not the others.
One will find Old Stonewall in the Borough of Ellwood City which sits on the western edge of Pennsylvania near the Ohio boarder. The 8,000 residents of Ellwood City are indeed lucky to have a course of this caliber in their backyard. The other two public courses in Pennsylvania I would put in the top 3, Bedford Springs and Mystic Rock, are both part of a resort but not so here. The course conditions were excellent when I played, rivaling what one would expect at any private country club. The two nine are different in character and both are very good. The front nine is more traditional with two par 5’s and two par 3’s. The back nine is quite dramatic with some significant elevation changes. One of the things I liked was that the architects let the land dictate the back nine. There are no par 5’s and the two par 3’s are back to back. That’s what the site dictates. The routing could be confusing but the signage does a great job of getting you to the right spot. It reminded me a bit of another great course, Greywalls in Marquette, Michigan in that respect. The par 4’s on the course are the real stars. Lots of risk and reward and you need to think about your second shot when hitting your first. People will disagree about which hole should be the signature hole on the course which is a pleasant problem to have. I found the fairways to have adequate width even when they looked more narrow at the tee. The course may not be for everyone. If you only like to walk when you play the back nine’s elevation change is probably too much to make that a rational decision. Having played many courses in this region of the country, if you drew a 75 mile circle around Old Stonewall, I doubt you would find a more exciting venue open to the public.