The Old Course at the Stonewall Golf Club was the first private course by enigmatic architect Tom Doak, who threw himself so fully into this project that he moved his young family to the area while he spent time on site supervising the layout’s construction. Located outside Philadelphia the club’s first track opened in 1993, Doak adding a second track (the North Course) ten years later. The North occupies a less spacious piece of ground, its greens more severe than the Old Course and the site featuring a steep hill that dominates golf through the early holes. Standouts include the beautiful par three 6th hole, falling to a well proportioned ledge green with a spine splitting the target area. The par five 8th, is another solid hole, crossing a stone wall it features another fine green site this time with a big back-to-front step.
Despite the quality of the North Course, the Old Course at Stonewall is a more compelling piece of work. Unusually for Doak it features small targets with reasonably tame green contours, though some greens do have wicked tilts and clever chipping zones and run-off areas to complicate play. Perhaps the best example comes at the close, the 18th is a mighty finishing four that drops beyond a bunkered crest down toward a subtle left-to-right green with bunkers on the right and a seemingly simple chipping area on the left that actually leaves a treacherous downhill recovery for those bailing too safely away from sand. A number of other greens appear to lean one way but actually slope the other making these subtle targets much more difficult to read and fully master than is first apparent.
While the front nine here incorporates ponds and a nasty ravine area, the back standouts for its use of the natural rise and fall of the property, Doak routing his holes beautifully across the sloping ground to create some dramatic driving visuals along with a number of tricky side-hill approach shots.
Interestingly Tom Fazio was originally chosen to design Stonewall, but following the success of Shadow Creek he was unable to dedicate the time required to build the sort of the course the owners wanted, so the untried Doak was selected instead. Doak hasn’t looked back since, and while this is no longer his greatest creation, it’s a wonderful place to play golf and a fascinating look at how he first learned to put his well-formed opinions and design principals into practice on the ground.