Olde Stonewall Golf Club (Ellwood City, PA on 05/23/15)

Before things changed the plan was to golf in the morning and then head into Pittsburgh to catch the Pirates game. I didn’t purchase my ticket for the game because I didn’t have much free time after my friend told me he couldn’t make it. By the time I looked into buying a ticket for Saturday they were more money than I wanted to pay so I opted for another round of golf. That is a huge surprise I’m sure!

Olde Stonewall is on the same side of town as Cranberry Highlands so it wasn’t very far out of my way to check it out. I eye balled the course’s online tee sheet the night before and it looked like they would be pretty wide open in the afternoon. I called over to the course just to confirm that I could get out and they gave me an afternoon tee time. When I got to the course the parking lot was empty and I got the feeling that I very well could be the last golfer to go play that day! The proshop told me that I could take my time and head out when I wanted. I rolled a few putts and headed out on my own. That worked out fine as I was able to get a bunch of pictures. Even if the course was busier they have 15 minute tee times which should create plenty of space.

I need to back up just a bit before I get deeper into the review. When I pulled into the parking lot it seemed like I went back hundreds of years in time. It felt like I should have left my car offsite, put on some armor, and ridden a horse up to the clubhouse. As you’ll see from the first picture, the clubhouse is a castle! I don’t know the history behind a castle clubhouse, but it should give you the idea that the place is impressive. The stonework even extended onto the course!

This isn’t a course that the average person is going to play a lot. I paid $100 for a weekend twilight round which is steep. The non-twilight rate is $150 and there isn’t a discount during the week. That puts it towards the top of my price range, but that is fine every now and then. Plus, the course is always rated as one of the top courses in the state so I was interested in playing it.

I got a turkey sandwich to go for lunch and was on my way. It was pretty good too! I decided to play the Medieval tees which play 72.2/144/6681. Generally I like to play courses between 6,600 and 6,900 yards, and while the slope here was higher than I like, these tees seemed like the best fit for my game. When you are deciding which tees play make sure to look at the total par for the course! I didn’t and realized that Olde Stonewall plays as a par 70 about halfway through my round!

The front nine plays as a par 36 with both of the par 5’s while the back nine plays as a par 34. The back nine actually has back to back par 3’s which isn’t my favorite design feature. Sometimes I see the point of back to back par 3’s, like at one of the Bandon courses to maximize the views of the ocean. In other instances though it has seemed that the designer just ran out of space to route the course.

About two-thirds of the holes at Olde Stonewall have a parkland feel to them. I heistate to say they are parkland style in the traditional sense though. There are some decent elevation changes which I typically don’t think is a feature of most parkland courses. The tees on these holes are close to the greens, one hole is close to another, and they are separated by a line of trees and some fescue grass. Most of these holes are found on the front nine which works its way down towards Connoquenessing Creek and around a couple hazards. I enjoyed myself and thought that the first ten holes were pleasant to play.

Having never played here before, I got to the 11th hole and I wondered where the course was going to go! There are hills all around and I took some switch backs up through the woods to get to the 12th tee. The 12th through the 16th play on top of and across the hills and are what I would consider target golf. These holes were tough for me to play and aren’t going to be much fun if someone hits some sideways shots. There are some nice views to be enjoyed while playing these holes, but to me the 12th through the 16th didn’t fit in with the rest of the course.

The maintenance, as expected for the high price tag, was flawless! Every putt rolled perfect and the greens were as fast as can be. I just tried to die every putt in the front of the cup and sometimes I was happy to two putt from 10 feet! The greens were receptive to a solidly struck shot which I like with ultra fast greens. I spent a lot of time in the sand and it was soft, but consistent. I never had to worry about the bunker being firm under the top layer of sand and could swing aggressively from it. The rest of the course was in great shape and I never had a bad lie.

Olde Stonewall is worth a couple hour trip for locals and if someone is in town and looking for a unique experience then I’d put it on the list. I had a great afternoon but keep wishing that the whole course was like the front nine.

The Clubhouse:

0-1

#1 (546 yard par 5):

The 1st hole is one of the two par 5’s on the course and it is the longer one. It plays uphill from tee to green and bunkers line each side of the fairway. I didn’t think the landing area for the tee shot was too narrow, but the fairway certainly gets skinny for the layup. There are some favorable slopes in the green, including a backstop, so hitting one close to begin the round is definitely possible!

1-1 1-2

#2: (392 yard par 4):

The 2nd hole is a downhill par 4 that plays to a stepped fairway. I hit 3 wood off the tee and still had a short iron into the green. The goal off the tee is to find a flat spot in the fairway and avoid a small pot bunker in the middle of the fairway. While standing on the tee I thought that the hole was straight because I saw a group putting off in the distance. I was actually looking at a group on the 16th. The 2nd moves a little right! The approach played about a club less and missing the green long isn’t any good.

2-1 2-2

#3 (365 yard par 4):

The 3rd is the shortest par 4 on the course, but it doesn’t play that way! It plays back up the same hill that the 2nd came down. There is big bunker (~210 to get over) to the left and the ideal tee shot will carry it. That would leave a better angle into the green and someone won’t have to mess with a large tree that guards the right side of the fairway. A longer club is probably better off the tee because the fairway is narrow where a layup will end up. The approach plays at least a club uphill to a large green that cannot be seen from the fairway.

3-1 3-2

#4 (414 yard par 4):

The 4th hole is ranked as one of the tougher ones on the course (#4 handicap). It plays from an elevated tee to a fairway that has water off to the right. There is a tiny looking tree down the left side of fairway which could be a bother on second shot. The green is surrounded by water on three sides which emphasizes distance control on the approach. If you don’t have the perfect distance into the green then I’d bail short and left. The ball needs to land on the front of the green because it slopes towards the back.

4-1 4-2 4-3

#5 (174 yard par 3):

The 5th starts a stretch of holes that play along Connoquenessing Creek to the left. The creek shouldn’t come into play, but the pond to the right sure can! I’d suggest playing to the left half of the green to allow some margin for error. Someone doesn’t have to go directly at a right pin to get it close because there is some left to right slope in the green.

5-1 5-2

#6 (436 yard par 4):

The 6th is the longest par 4 on the front nine and the #2 handicap overall. The distance plays a part in that, but there aren’t any spots for a wild miss. Anything to the left of the tree line is going to end up in the creek and anything to the right could find the pond. It is important to hit the fairway not only to find the ball, but also to have a chance to reach the green. The good news is that the fairway widens the farther that someone hits it. There is a little bit of fairway short of the green, but the approach needs to carry wetlands to get there.

6-1 6-2

#7 (162 yard par 3):

The 7th is a fairly simple hole (its also the easiest). It is relatively short and flat so it shouldn’t be too hard to pick the right club. The green has some humps and bumps, but nothing unexpected. This could be the least interesting hole at Olde Stonewall, but at the same time it could be a great chance for a birdie. Knock it close!

7-1 7-2

#8 (374 yard par 4):

The 8th is a potential birdie hole if someone can get the distance right on the second shot. The tee shot is probably just a layup club to a fairway that runs out. Aiming down the left side of the fairway is best because it shortens the hole and the ball could kick right. The approach might be a club uphill into a green that surrounded by bunkers. Make sure to avoid the right side around the green because it falls off into a deep bunker.

8-1 8-3

#9 (502 yard par 5):

The 9th is the last par 5 on the course and probably the last birdie chance for a few holes. The fairway is generous which is nice because the hole moves to the right while the fairway slopes left. After a good drive someone is going to have to make a decision about going for the green in two. I went for it and knocked it in a greenside bunker, but I’m not sure that was the best play. It didn’t look like there is much trouble near the green from where I was, but the fairway narrows and a good shot could get lost short of the green. If you aren’t sure you can fly it to the front of the green then I would lay up.

9-1 9-2 9-3

#10 (445 yard par 4):

The 10th is a long, uphill par 4 and the hardest hole on the course. There are bunkers on each side of the fairway that can catch a drive. The one on the left is about 250 yards and the one on the right is closer. It was playing into a breeze when I was there and I barely had the distance to get there in two. The green is small and it is narrow short of it. Ending up short of the green in two isn’t all that bad if more bunkers can be avoided.

10-1 10-3

#11 (412 yard par 4):

The 11th should be preparation for some upcoming target golf. The hole is heavily influenced by the hillside to the left which means everything feeds to the right. My tee shot landed in the left rough but rolled down to the middle of the fairway. The approach is slightly uphill into a slender green that was almost hidden in the hillside. I had one of my fastest putts of the day here so if you can be below the hole that would be ideal.

11-1 11-2

#12 (406 yard par 4):

The 12th is a quirky par 4 that I think could use a couple changes. It should only be a layup club off the tee because the fairway runs out about 275 yards. The ball should roll out and the tee shot is slightly downhill so less club is better. The second shot needs to carry a little trouble and plays into a narrow and severe green. You’ll see that the front half of the green rises up to the middle and then drops down to the back. Anything to the left of the green is going to kick out of play and anything to the right could hang in the hill leaving a crazy tough chip. I say flatten the green, put a wrap around bunker along the left and back side of the green, and/or shave the bank right to allow shots to feed onto the green.

12-1 12-2 12-3

#13 (374 yard par 4):

Make sure to enjoy the nice view from tee box! The 13th is a scenic par 4 that is one of the easier holes on the back nine. The tee shot plays from an elevated tee down to the fairway which is lined by church pew bunkers on the right. The approach then plays back up to the green. The right half of the green feeds the ball towards that pin location in my picture which can make it accessible. There are multiple options off the tee but I’d suggest playing to a flatter part of the fairway. I’d say around 150 yards and 110 yards into the green are good distances.

13-1 13-3

#14 (180 yard par 3):

The 14th is the first of back to back par 3’s. It plays about a club downhill into a green that trouble all around it. There is water right, left, and short. You should be able to find the ball missing over the green into those bunkers but it will leave a tough, downhill short game shot. If there is any wind swirling, a flatter ball flight is probably better.

14-1 14-3

#15 (217 yard par 3):

The 15th is the longest par 3 on the course and it was one of the toughest holes for me to play. It played about two clubs downhill into a tiny green. There isn’t much room out to the right to get creative and knock it close so I had to pretty much go right at it. I ended up in that bunker to the left which doesn’t look too bad from the tee. However, it sits well below green level and the green slopes away from it. I am a tall guy and couldn’t even see the top of the flag from it. This is another hole that I think could use some changes to be more playable.

15-1 15-2

#16 (447 yard par 4):

The 16th is a long par 4 but it doesn’t play that way. The tee shot drops down to a wide fairway with trouble to the left. The approach is played from a downhill lie in the fairway into a receptive green. If someone can find the fairway then I think it becomes a birdie hole. There is some trouble short of the green which could come into play if out of position. I hit 3 wood and 9 iron into the green (those normally go 360 yards for me) so that is an indication of how much it plays downhill.

16-1 16-2

#17 (371 yard par 4):

The 17th is a breather compared to the other holes on the back nine! It curls left and plays a bit uphill. I decided to challenge the left bunker and carried it which left me with just a pitching wedge into the green. Another option is playing out to the right off the tee. The approach is semi-blind into a long green with a mound in the middle.

17-1 17-2

#18 (464 yard par 4):

The course closes with the longest par 4! And, if you ask me, it is a pretty good one too. The fairway is wide, but you might want to favor the right side for some roll to the left. It is possible to unleash a big drive if it gets running with the slope so you might have less into the green than you think standing on the tee. There second shot is semi-blind but there isn’t any hidden trouble around the green (besides bunkers).

18-1 18-2 18-3

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