6,312 yards, 135 slope from the Blues
The newer course at Stonewall is known as the North Course, also built by Tom Doak and his talented crew, which included Brian Schneider, Brian Slawnik, Kye Goalby, Kyle Franz, Don Placek, Eric Iverson and Don Proctor. That’s quite the line up. When the Old course was completed, Doak agreed to return and build the North, which he did ten years later in 2003. The yin and yang between the North and Old courses at Stonewall is striking and gives the membership a nice range of golf styles. The North is quirkier with lots of below ground shaping cut into the hillsides, giving it a much peppier character than the Old, which is more polished, grand scaled and flowing. Here, the course flaunts bold angles, juts abruptly in various directions and gets flat out turbulent around the greens. It wants inventiveness from you and above all, seems to strongly suggest the golfer not take himself so seriously. Golf is a game that will never be conquered, so trying shots never before tried, attacking a hole several different ways, having shots you never needed to try before in the first place because of the design, while flipping off the consequences of it all is where a lot of the joy of the game resides. The North is a celebration of that, or at least it is to me.
On its own and without consideration or comparison to the Old, the North is on good land that reflects the jaunty nature of the design. Hills pop suddenly then roll gradually, plenty of bunkers with a deceptive amount of forced carries yet still lots of emphasis on the roll of the ball. Intricate greens with a touch of quirk, the routing romps about the hills and meadows, carving out a distinct character that makes sure no matter how many times around, you’ll never have the same shot twice and more importantly, will never stop having a hell of a time. There’s variety and while most of the thrill in that way resides at the greens, there are tee shots and others that stick out as unique and are fun. The par 3’s were fine but left me wanting for more, mainly because I kept wanting to see more of the wild approach shots we came across on the 4’s and 5’s. What I enjoyed most about the course is that it has that sense of freedom. There are places where the designer or design team are allowed to let loose and do what they want. And perhaps there’s some oneupmanship or experiementation among the design team, or not, but it feels like they had fun while building it, which seeps into how it plays.
I played here last fall as one of the first groups out on a weekend morn. While the sun and setting took their time getting up for the day, the vibrancy of the course took hold from the First and shook us awake. Then, well, kept shaking, until I found myself in my car after the round, pleased as punch…yet at the same time, a little punchy. Fall was in full bloom and that crispness that seems to pervade at its height was certainly with us as we made our way around. With the footsteps of winter distant yet looming, it was easy to set aside those thoughts of what’s to come and simply enjoy what’s at hand.
The First is a 413 yard par 4 (from the Blues). Heading straight out with the driving range running parallel off to the right, there are fairway bunkers on either side to note but otherwise the fairway is wide enough to swing away. While the fairway starts as an uphill affair, it eventually crests and starts downhill to the green, where bunkers are on the either side before it and the green runs front to back. The downhill slope running from the approach shot through the green is a nice touch and a subtle note to expect a bit of variance at the greens.
The Second is a 197 yard par 3. This variance carries with us here. A green in the distance, hiding among the hills and a, well, stonewall, extending across the shot line is all we get at the tee. The hillside running from right to left cues us about the terrain movement and the short grass we see from the tee is a false front, so more distance is better than less here while getting too far sideways off the tee will not be good for anyone.
The Third is a 470 yard par 5. This was the first time anyone in my group played the course, so we all got to learn as we went along that day, which quite honestly was a lot of the fun. Figuring out where to hit at the Second, then trying to locate the tees at the Third, then where exactly to hit the tee shot (despite the well laid out directions from the member at the start of the round), took a bit. But we saw the bunkers and figured the fairway had to be over there and went for it (we were right). This tee shot reminded me of the Third at Old Macdonald, the old, “hey there’s a hill let’s golf over it” concept that I adore. The bunkers are indeed a visual cue and the fairway wraps around them, dog legging right. The top of the hill plateaus before plunging down to the green. The twist in the fairway just before green to the right, along with the bunker placement, makes it look like bunkers are pretty much every where, but really there are three staggered on the right while one is at the left. While the tee shot is for getting to the plateau or even the downhill beyond, the second should be devoted to deciding on and setting up the ideal approach shot. There are countless options at your disposal.
The Fourth is a 383 yard par 4. The fairway starts off towards the left before coming back around and dog legging right, so the golfer is able to decide how much of the fairway to cut off from the tee, although bunkers and long grass on the right will snag those who either decide or hit their tee shot incorrectly. The fairway is pinched by bunkers on either side around approach shot territory before widening again as it heads to the green. The configuration of the fairway to the green and bunker placement make for some interesting approach angles and with the green contours, the placement strategy gets even more interesting. Give me a bucket of balls from 200-150-100; even 50 yards in and leave me out there the entire day; that would be a day well spent.
The Fifth is a 390 yard par 4. Greens and tees converge at this corner of the property, creating another mini crisis for the rookies trying to figure out which tee was supposed to be next. After map charting, consulting the score card and throwing a tee in the air, we ended up on the right path. The hole is fairly straight but because of the contours, it’s tough to see where the fairway is headed from the tee. It heads on a gradual downhill to the green, which is set off to the right. The shaping of the bunker and mounds and notches to the right of the green were intriguing to me, mainly because they emanated a welcome sense of detail and craft you love to see out there. Not sure why that particular area struck me that way but it did.
The Sixth is a 144 yard par 3. The green a tad below us from the tee, it is perpendicular and wide, yet pretty shallow. The bunkers are placed around the green erratically, which I mean as a compliment. And I mean, should be done a lot more often. The green is raised on all sides except for the hillside on the left. I wish I hit a better tee shot here. To do the hole justice.
The Seventh is a 425 yard par 4. A slight dog leg right uphill the entire way. Bunkers have congregated on the right and are waiting to ruin you for this hole, so while it may be tempting to carry them from the tee, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to go left of them. The green is raised from the fairway, running right into it. Deep with bunkers below on either side, deftness with the flat stick is in order.
The Eighth is a 524 yard par 5. Back at the converging corner, we now take the tees we decided against before. The tee shot is over another one of those stonewalls as the fairway bends to the right a bit, where a couple large bunkers await. The second shot goes over yet another stonewall to the fairway that runs at an angle to the green, so figuring out how the second shot will go and take advantage of the contours of the second fairway was good fun. Lots of room on the left side of the green to play with while the right side has one of those sunken bunker pits that I found kind of cool.
The Ninth is a 163 yard par 3. The clubhouse is adjacent to this tee while the hole leads us to another part of the property. It feels like the Eighth is the Ninth since it leads to the clubhouse but it is not. A creek runs between tee and the wider green with bunkers placed around it, all moving right to left. It felt similar to the Sixth in many ways, which was only a few holes prior. A fine par 3 in its own right but felt a bit repetitive and more utilitarian of connecting to the other property. The design is taking the lead of the land but the transition between nines takes getting used to.
The front nine starts off nicely and maintains a peppy cadence. Tee shots are generous and allow freedom to plot the approach and the approach shots are all interesting, which comes from the placement and shaping of the green complexes. My ranking of them is 3, 4, 5, 8, 7, 2, 1, 6, 9.
The back nine starts with the 350 yard par 4 Tenth. A forced carry over long grass to the wide fairway, trees along the right side while bunkers are along most of the left. The fairway is wide and the crook makes it seem like it dog legs but it does not. The green is above the fairway, bunkers encircling it. The swale is pronounced and it plays a subtle Biarritz, so pay attention to pin position on the approach.
The Eleventh is a 386 yard par 4. Crossing Reading Furnace Road, this side is where we are through the Seventeenth, crossing back over for the Eighteenth. Tees are set off to the right, slightly complicating arranging a line of play, and the fairway climbs uphill immediately. Bunkers line the right side at the start of the fairway while the left side has a larger one. After the left fairway bunker, the fairway dips downhill and widens while canting right to left all the way to the green. The bunkers are now prevalent on that left side with the tilt, so favoring the right side is always a good idea.
The Twelfth is a 319 yard par 4. The bunkers we saw on the right at the prior hole present themselves similarly here, but the fairway is a lot wider even though that’s not immediately apparent from the tee. A lot of tee shots will be blind as they disappear beyond the crest of the hill, but there’s plenty of room off to the right to set up a preferred approach angle, or staying left results in a shorter second shot into the green. Like the tee shot, there’s plenty of room to the right of the green so if you feel the need to miss, miss in that direction. The area around the green is good fun, allowing for a whole lot of different shots in and recoveries. A short par 4 but with how it is draped about the contours, course knowledge and experience factor in immensely while strategic decisions abound.
The Thirteenth is a 199 yard par 3. Water off to the right and in such an open space, wind is likely to make its presence felt. Lots of room short to play with as need be and the green is big enough for those belting tee shots.
The Fourteenth is a 414 yard par 4. A dog leg right where bunkers on the right finger towards the center in a couple areas leading up to the green, which results in the fairway fluctuating in width and signaling to the golfer a general idea of where each shot should end up. Advancing up the left side eliminates worrying about these bunkers but naturally leads to a longer route to the green. The green has bunkers on both sides and a short grass collection area at the rear.
The Fifteenth is a 382 yard par 4. The tree line on the left remains rigid through the green, with the Third of the Old course on the other side. A fattened fairway gets a bit more complicated to maneuver with some well placed bunkers. Of course, I aimed at the tine one amidst the sea of green before me, quipping that I rarely hit what I aim for so should be good on my second shot and, of course, ended up in it. Can’t win for losing some times. A bunker “column” separates the two sides of the fairway closer to the green, so those that stayed left off the tee need not worry about it while those off to the right will need to carry them to reach the green. With the bunkers well below the green, it’s well advised to avoid them.
The Sixteenth is a 469 yard par 4. We now come face to face with the water that was off to the side at the Thirteenth and it must be carried off the tee. On the other side, the fairway is mellow except for a retainer pond on the left while one little crook at the green, which is above, swerves around bunkers on either side while the bunkers are below the green. A longer approach means two well executed shots are necessary here for a look at par.
The Seventeenth is a 189 yard par 3. We’ve come full circle on this side of the property and all that’s left to do is knock it on the green that sits below the tees. Bunkers are on either side with the entry point off to the right, to a wide shallow green. The view is nice and there’s enough room short of the green to build another driving range, so have at it.
The Eighteenth is a 495 yard par 5. With the clubhouse in view, the tee shot must carry long grass while the first fairway ends at a creek, so plan accordingly. Likewise, the second fairway ends at a creek, so plan some more. Of course, the tee shot for the first fairway, second shot for second fairway and so on seems like a reasonable course of action. The real action is the green complex, which rises above the fairway and is beset on all sides by bunkers, placed and shaped by some of today’s most talented and promising designers. The barn beyond the green is a nice touch and adds to the closing frame of the bucolic setting, sending us all off at ease.
While the back nine is essentially a standard back and forth affair across the land, the genius of the design makes sure you would never know by how the holes are configured within the terrain. The hills, contours and hole shapes conspire to make each a new, refreshing set of shots despite the sameness of direction. The vastness and variety of the green complexes on this side stood out as well. My ranking of them would be 11, 12, 10, 14, 15, 18, 16, 17, 13.
Generally, Stonewall North uses a noteworthy piece of land remarkably well with an impressive routing and shaping at the greens and bunkers. All of this makes for a varied round, with the green complexes being the engine that puts everything else into place. The greens, how they’re shaped and oriented to the fairways as well as their respective entry points and collection areas conjures the creativity and and fun out of you, all while making sure you pay attention to strive for strategic advantage. Its elasticity of play is another extremely high note and like most other courses I think highly of, you won’t find a set of holes like this any where else. Giving free reign to such a talented design team is smart, and really should be mandated by law most of the time. This is a place where it’s easy to relate golf as an art, designer and golfer alike.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Separate from the Old course but just as fitting of the setting.
Practice area: Range, putting green and I’m sure there’s a short game area some where.