Stonewall Golf Club (Gainesville, VA on 10/02/14)

I’m hoping that this is going to be the first of many course reviews in October and November. The seasons are starting to change and you will actually notice a hint of color in Thursday’s pictures. The rates start to get cheaper this time of year too so I am looking forward to playing a bunch this fall.

I had a rare chance to play a weekday round of golf this week. I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning and used some vacation time to take off the rest of the day. I normally would try for 36 holes, but I wanted to play at a nice course when the rates are cheaper during the week and didn’t want to rush around. I also didn’t want to drive more than an hour and a half either so Stonewall seemed like it fit the bill. It is a on the outskirts of Northern Virginia so I wouldn’t have to deal with any traffic coming from Charlottesville. Stonewall can sneak into the top 15 or 20 courses in the state depending on the golf publication and it is pricey. It isn’t a course that I would normally play because of the $119 weekend green fee. I’ve never seen it on the golf discount websites and at $90 during the week, it still is way more than I like to spend. My golf card offers two plays Monday through Thrusday after 1pm from March to November for $59 so I took advantage of that deal!

Stonewall is located in an upscale housing community on Lake Manassas which is probably why it commands such a high green fee. The homes are monsters and it is a really nice piece of property for a golf course with some hills and the lake. For those that like a little bit of extra knowledge, the famed Robert Trent Jones Golf Club is located nearby and actually can be seen from a couple holes on the back nine at Stonewall. Robert Trent Jones Golf Club has hosted numerous President’s Cups and is supposed to be one the best private clubs in the area. Another bit of trivia is that Stonewall is named after the confederate general “Stonewall” Jackson. What’s odd is that the course designer, Tom Jackson, has the same last name as the old general. I don’t know if that is coincidence or if it they were related. Apparently Tom Jackson has designed plenty of courses on the East Coast, but I never would have guessed. My count shows that I’ve only played one other course of his and that was years ago when I wasn’t paying attention to the course designers.

I got to Stonewall about a half hour before my 2pm tee time and took my time warming up. Range balls are included in the green fee which I always think is a nice gesture at a premium course. There were a few folks at the range and the short game area, but it was a much more relaxed feel than I expected during the week in Northern Virginia. No one teed off while I was warming up so I headed out a little early and had the course to myself. I played in about 3 hours and 15 minutes and ran into a twosome on the 18th hole so the place was as quiet as it seemed. I don’t get into the amenities much in my reviews because they aren’t important to me, but the clubhouse is beautiful and there are many nice touches, such as GPS in the carts, which created a nice customer experience.

I have mixed feelings about layout of the course though. For reference I played the Black tees at 73.8/145/7002. There were some captivating holes but many of the holes felt the same to me. The front nine is not typical Virginia golf. The holes are pretty open because they all run through or around the cleared out home lots. Besides the views of Lake Manassas, the front nine could be found anywhere in the country with all the homes. The homes are stunning and a couple looked like castles, but they were a distraction. I almost ended up in someone’s backyard twice. If I am paying $100 to play golf I don’t want to see home after home.

The back nine has more target golf, more elevation change, and the better scenery because more holes play near the lake. As a whole, the course has large greens with very few flat spots, plenty of out of bounds, and an irritating number of tee shots that played ever so slightly uphill. As you will see from the pictures almost every tee shot landed into an upslope which lengthened the course considerably for me. It was a tough driving course because of this and all of the bunkers. I personally think that the course is over bunkered. Typically, there is some strategy off the tee with fairway bunkers. Some thought can be given to try to avoid them by laying up off the tee, but here it seemed that a bunker had to be avoided with every club so it didn’t matter what I hit off the tee. Finally, throw in plenty of semi-blind shots and the fact that all the par 4’s are mid-length, and it seemed that there were only a handful of standout holes. I like a course to have a short par 4 and a long par 4 but every one here played between 375 and 437 yards. The property is good enough to include a driveable par 4 somewhere and use the lake so it felt like an opportunity was missed.

The course was in very nice condition. The tees were phenomenal and I felt bad leaving footprints on them and putting a tee in them. Many were like carpet and in A+ shape. I always had a nice lie in the fairway, but you will see in the pictures that there are plenty of divots so they may have had some tournaments recently or it might get a lot member play. The greens rolled true and were much faster than they looked. There were a couple small patches on the greens that were dried from the summer, but they were aerated and should be healing up soon. I found the greens a pleasure to putt (besides some putts going sideways!) and they rewarded a good read and stroke. As could be guessed, I found a lot of bunkers. The bunkers weren’t very deep, but they did have some fescue grass growing around the edges which I like to see. I’m happy to report that I always had a nice lie and that they were some of the better bunkers that I’ve played out of during the last six months.

I don’t have much experience with the courses in Northern Virgina, but for $59 I think it is a good course. It probably isn’t one that I’d return to, but if I did I think I’d like to try the Blue tees and see where my tee shots would end up. Although the Blue tees, at 6,582 yards, might be a bit short for me. I drove it well and ended up with a great score, but the course stressed my game from the tee more than I like. It is a really tough course, even from the White tees which have a 137 slope, so that could keep the average golfer away. No matter what, I cannot shake the feeling that the designer missed a chance to create a great course given the impressive property.

#1 (383 yard par 4):

The opening hole plays slightly uphill and moves to the right around some fairway bunkers. An aggressive play down the right side will leave a shorter distance into the green. I hit a driver off the tee and actually ended up in the bunkers. Thankfully I had just a short iron into a large green so it wasn’t too difficult. To do over again, I would probably hit a 3 wood off the tee and aim down the center of the fairway. It is possible that a tee shot down the center could run through the fairway so the bigger hitters should keep that in mind.

1-1 1-2

#2 (406 yard par 4):

It is important to find the right side of the fairway on this hole because that opens up a look at the green. I hit it down the left side and had a blind shot for my second. There is some out of bounds down the left side which can come into play, especially up near the green. It is a good driving hole.

2-1

#3 (554 yard par 5):

This looks like a boring hole because it is so open, but I found it engaging to play. It is long enough that I most likely will not get up near the green in two shots. On par 5’s like this sometimes I’ll hit a 3 wood off the tee to control it better. However, I didn’t know if I could get the 3 wood to the top of the hill in the fairway so I ended up hitting a driver. From there I had to favor the left side of the fairway on my layup for a kick down to the right. The green slopes from back to front so a someone could spin it back a lot if that is their thing.

3-1 3-2

#4 (213 yard par 3):

I enjoy a long par 3 that is pretty open around the green. The hazard should only catch the worst shots and there is probably 25 yards short of the green to work with so a mishit can still result in a par chance.

4-1 4-2

#5 (395 yard par 4):

The fairway bunkers pinched the tee shot for me. The left fairway bunker is maybe 240 yards to carry so if someone can do that then it should be a decent birdie chance. I split the bunkers and had a mid iron into a green with some trouble to the left. I hit it pin high, right just off the green and had a tricky downhill putt to the back left flag location.

5-1 5-2

#6 (558 yard par 5):

I think that this would be a better par 5 if the fairway was wider. The fairway starts to get narrow about 225 to 240 yards where the hole doglegs to the right. It is most likely a three shot hole because the green is guarded by water short so I should have hit my 220 yard club off the tee. It is also better to plan on 125 or so yards into the green because anything closer has to challenge the water. There might be a small element of luck on the third because of the mounding in the fairway. My layup ended up on a downslope which made it tough to hit a high, solid shot into the green.

6-1 6-2

#7 (169 yard par 3):

This is a great par 3. It isn’t overly long so avoiding the water shouldn’t be a problem unless someone is trying to attack a flag on the right side. Distance control is important for a par chance, but there is some room long to miss. The green slopes from left to right so someone could utilize the slope to get it close to a flag guarded by the water with a left to right shot. I think it is a fair par 3 because there are spots to bailout.

7-1

#8 (411 yard par 4):

This is a straight away par 4. Out of bounds is down the left and bunkers are down the right to catch a wayward tee shot. The green is guarded by more bunkers and is much deeper than I thought. I had a long putt to the back right section of the green where the flag was located.

8-1

#9 (437 yard par 4):

This tee shot is similar to the 2nd. There are bunkers left which need to be avoided. The green is smaller and hitting it is important because it is going to be a tough short game shot around the green.

9-1

#10 (434 yard par 4):

The back nine starts out with the second toughest hole on the course and the most stressful tee shot of the round for me. Anything left of the fairway could kick out of play and anything to the right is going to end up in the bunkers on this long par 4. I hit a good drive and still had 200 yards into a narrow green guarded by bunkers. If that wasn’t enough, my second shot was semi-blind. It is a tough hole and I think it is one of those holes where a lot could go wrong so I wouldn’t mind a bogey.

10-1 10-2

#11 (375 yard par 4):

This is one of the few holes where there are options off the tee. It is short enough so that someone can lay back off the tee or challenge the dogleg and leave a short iron into the green. There is some trouble left and right off the tee so finding the fairway is the most important part of the hole. The approach is semi-blind and the front section of the green is just a small tongue. It is a good birdie hole for those who can hit a couple straight shots.

11-1 11-2

#12 (178 yard par 3):

This is another hole where accuracy is required. It is an uphill par 3 with a green that slopes from right to left with the hill. A shot hitting left of the green could get a big hop and end up in a bad spot. All of the green surface cannot be seen from the tee which adds some difficulty.

12-1 12-2

#13 (555 yard par 5):

I think this is a good par 5 besides the forced carry off the tee. Like most of the other tee shots, it plays uphill and is about 220 yards to get to the fairway. If it plays into any kind of wind then I might not be able to get to the fairway. A 7,000 yard course is more than I typically like to play, but a long forced carry under certain circumstances can make one hole unplayable when I could handle all of the others. The layup is blind so make sure to pay attention to the GPS as there is a large bunker in the middle of the fairway around 100 yards out. The green slopes from right to left so there isn’t any reason to challenge a pin on the left side of the green even with a wedge.

13-1 13-3

#14 (402 yard par 4):

This hole is pretty straight but it is another visually intimidating tee shot because of the rise in the fairway. However, a good tee shot can run out because it most likely is going to hit a downslope. There is out of bounds to the right and a large green that is divided into sections with multiple spines.

14-1 14-3

#15 (420 yard par 4):

Because of the angle of the sun I don’t have a great picture from the tee. This is a longer par 4 that doglegs to the left around some fairway bunkers. It plays shorter than the yardage on the card though. The bunkers aren’t very deep and that line leaves a short shot so I was able to knock it on the green from about 150 yards. It is a solid hole, but I wish that the fairway sloped from right to left more to feed a tee shot closer. That doesn’t appear to be what the designer had in mind with the course so that’s just my personal preference.

15-1 15-2

#16 (409 yard par 4):

This par 4 moves to the left. Someone has to be careful not to hit a tee shot through the fairway so I think planning to leave 150 or so yards into the green is best. It is a pretty simple second shot but the green has more slope than it looks from right to left.

16-1

#17 (186 yard par 3):

If someone plays a high draw and can hit a 6 iron 190 yards then that back left is going to be easy. There is a flat section in the back where the flag was located but most of the green slopes from left to right so I just played at the center of the green with a long iron and was able to get away with a two putt. A front right pin could be a birdie chance. It is a pretty par 3 over the water, but the homes take something away.

17-1 17-2

#18 (517 yard par 5):

The final hole is probably the best one and is a great risk/reward hole. The fairway is generous and I like the fairway bunkers on the right side which have a chance to catch a weak, right shot before it heads into the water. I hit a good drive and had about 250 yards into the green. There is a tongue of water that runs through the fairway short of the green so I had to decide to try to carry it at least 190 yards and leave myself a pitch onto the green or lay it up short of the water which would leave 130+ yards into the green. There is some slope up near the green which can be used to feed the ball into a spot for an easy eagle chip.

18-1 18-2

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