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.
Doak inherited this layout from Fazio – who had initially converted a cow pasture into a golf course. This is not one of the celebrated courses in Doak’s decorated portfolio and is not a golf course that inspired me to rush back. It’s hosting the 2016 US Mid-Amateur and I feel that the players will bring this place to its knees, and I must admit, it’s a very odd choice of venue. It feels like a very new course, and I think it will feel this way for decades to come.
It’s aesthetically poor, being quite frank. The routing doesn’t have the charm or architectural inspiration which is disappointing. Furthermore, I wouldn’t guess in a million years that Doak had anything to do with the place if it wasn’t written on the scorecard. 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. It’s immediately apparent that this is a “second shot” golf course, and proof that such a concept exists in golf.
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 , but don’t offer much in terms of memorability. When all of the photographs of a golf course are consistently of the same 2 or 3 holes, that to me just highlights that the course lacks much in terms of anything that stands out as unique. The stretch of 4 through 7 are the pick of the bunch, however the rest of the course does not appeal to the eye, and in some places it just offers a clear reminder that cows belong here, not golfers.
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.