Ever been in a tight spot and felt in need of a good Philadelphia lawyer to get you out of trouble?
Well, back in the early 1990s, well-heeled golfers in the Keystone State had just the man to, not exactly extricate anyone from the mire, but instead, establish a private golf club where a select number of members could retreat for a round of golf.
Jack May was the prominent legal eagle who established Stonewall and he entrusted architect Tom Doak to lay out 18 minimalist holes around a clubhouse converted from a set of old stone farm buildings. Golf would be the only sport on offer (with no tennis courts or swimming pool) and the fairways would be free from cart paths and carts.
Doak’s light touch in routing the course through a rather undulating landscape is very easy on the eye and the fairways weave around woods, wetlands, lakes and creeks in a very pleasing manner.
The par three holes are all gems (three on the front nine and two on the back) with the intimidating, downhill 5th the best of these as the tee shot must carry over wetlands to a green framed by trees and protected by a creek on the right side.
Some find the inward half a little less interesting, maybe due to the absence of any water features, but the par four finishing hole ends the round on a high. After an uphill tee shot (where the ball must avoid a number of bunkers on the right of the fairway) to a crest, the second shot is then played downhill to a green with more sand on the right side to catch wayward approach shots.
Stonewall is now a 36-hole golf facility as Tom Doak added the 18-hole North course in 2003.
Tom Doak at his best. While the course is somewhat demanding off the tee, the real test are the approach shots to rather small greens. Those greens contain subtle slopes and breaks which may not be visible at first look. The front nine contains various ponds and a stream that winds its way through four different holes. The entire course has steep elevation change throughout, and both nines offer beautiful views of the Pennsylvania countryside. The course's finisher, a long downhill par 4, was ranked the #1 18th hole in the Golf Association of Philadelphia's "Dream 18".
Stonewall Old is a rollicking good time. Much like the insignia of the Cow holding a club in his mouth. I have been fortunate to be a friend with one of the original club members. Have had the pleasure to play here back then and numerous times since. The flow of the course follows a very dramatic hilly area which is kept is superb condition. The green complexes are very dynamic. This course will make you think quite a bit about where to put your ball and definitely where not to. If you get an invite drop everything and go.
Stonewall Golf Club is located in the rural community of Elverson on the outskirts of Philadelphia where the club purchased a former cattle farm. The unique logo with a cow and a golf club references that history.
The Old Course (or North Course) was designed by Tom Doak with Gil Hanse assisting. Apparently the club had hired Tom Fazio originally but he was too busy with Shadow Creek and other projects, so the club sought assistance from Doak.
Immediately Doak rejigged the routing, and used the old farm buildings as a focus for a number of holes including the spectacular closing hole..
My first impressions were that it was not readily identifiable as a Doak course- the greens and bunkering were relatively quiet compared to his later projects. And the greens tended to be smaller targets! But the quality routing became evident as our round progressed, and in my opinion this is one of Tom's major strengths..
The course starts with some nice holes but grabs your attention with the strong par 4 fourth hole which moves up and down on a fairway framed by trees both sides,and then over water to a very pretty green. The second shot off an inevitable hanging lie is a tough shot to bring off. But there is no relief..
The par 3 fifth hole has an elevated tee and requires a mid to long iron shot to a green site below which is protected by bunkers, and has water front and right. It is a memorable hole.
Another hole of note is the par 3 seventh hole, a mid iron shot across a valley to a green tucked into the hillside on the other side.
Hole 8 is a par 4 that skirts a lake, before heading to a green that has the farm buildings as a backdop. Although the hole looks natural, word has it that Doak moved a lot of dirt to make it look so..
Hole 9 is a mid length par 3 over the lake to a green with a severe right to left camber toward the water. Putting from above the hole is tough!
And the strong closing hole has to get a mention. It is a good test of golf, but when you crest the hill the view of the green and old stone farm buildings is just drop dead gorgeous.
Well done Tom Doak!
I really like Stonewall Old and have had the pleasure of playing it many times. It is a golf course that offers a lot of challenges due to the tilted and small greens yet you don't feel like you have been beaten up at the end of the round. There are also some lovely views as you play around two ponds and at the top of hills.
The par threes are likely the highlight of the golf course as they are all very different which is unusual for a golf course. The fifth hole is very downhill with danger lurking to the right due to the trees and a stream to cross. The green is titled and very good.
The seventh plays over wetland and has a wetland to cross and a large bunker in front of it. The green has a ridge running through it.
The ninth plays over the second pond on the course and you cannot miss it up on the hill to the right as the green slopes away from you. Miss this green to the right and you have little chance of getting close with your second shot if the pin is on the right.
The fifteenth has danger down the right side due to the slope of the hill next to the green that will kick any ball hit right into the trees resulting in a lost ball. This par three also has the quickest green on the golf course.
The 17th is the weakest par three on the course. It is very well bunkered in the front but is a level shot and relatively short unless playing from the back tees. It is okay that 17 is a breather hole because the finishing hole is a real challenge offering awesome views of the barn to the left of the hole. Your second shot is a tough one with many bunkers to navigate.
Standing on the 14th tee you have the best view of the property and surrounding countryside. It is very very pretty.
There is challenge aplenty on this golf course Perhaps the front nine is a bit more interesting but overall it is a well conceived and well designed golf course with smallish greens, good variation in hole length and requirements for strategic thought.
Doak inherited this layout from Fazio and it's hosting the 2016 US Mid-Amateur and I feel that the players will truly enjoy the challenge and hospitality.
The most notable characteristic of the course are the tiny greens. Any ball on the green will be close! This is a nice contrast with the width of some of the fairways.
The par 3s are certainly the most attractive holes on the course.
The par 4s and 5s are made interesting due to the frequent changes in elevation, the stretch of 4 through 7 are the pick of the bunch and are almost as cool as the club’s logo!
I’m planning to play both the Old and the unranked North courses at Stonewall next month. I chuckled when I read this review while doing some research. It’s almost as disparaging as Tom Doak’s rating for the Castle course at St Andrews, so I had to find out what Doak and his acolytes had to say about Stonewall Old course. The final few words in his Confidential Guide assessment summed up the vagaries of ratings for me “you learn much more about your work from members who have played the course 500 times than you can from golf course raters.” While this is absolutely true, it explains the inherent difficulties in assessing golf courses. Most golf course raters play lots of different courses once only and more often than not make a judgement based on a single play. Members have a much better appreciation of their own course and are usually positively biased when it comes to assessing its merits. I wonder how many times Doak played the Castle course? I’ll be surprised if he played it more than once.
I’ll reserve my Stonewall judgement until I’ve played the courses, but I think only four golfers finished under par for the stroke play element of the 2016 Mid-Amateur, which the Old course co-hosted with the North course, so neither was brought to its knees.