Stonewall Golf Club: Standing Firm Against an Onslaught of Expectations
GAINESVILLE, VA – I’ll admit, I’ve always found it curious when folks name someone or something after a famous individual. It’s odd, in that it heaps instant expectations upon that person or ‘thing’ to achieve or replicate the notoriety of the person who went before—which is very difficult to do, to say the least.
This isn’t a criticism—I myself borrowed my daughters’ middle names from famous individuals of the past—both as a tribute to those historic figures, but also to remind my girls that they’ve got to work hard in life to reach lofty goals.
So you could say I was especially curious to check out the brand new Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville—a golf facility named after the legendary Virginia Civil War General, Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. Adding to Stonewall GC’s expectations burden is its location—right next door to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club on Lake Manassas, an incredibly beautiful and exclusively private golf course, one that’s played host to the world’s greatest professionals at three President’s Cup competitions.
I guess you could say Stonewall GC has a lot to live up to.
It takes guts to stick your neck out right off the bat—facing the unknown with little to go on but a pedigree, pride and a name. But if you want to get noticed, it’s good to be the first volunteer to meet the danger. And just as Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson was often first to offer an offensive strike against the invading northern army, Stonewall Golf Club is jumping forward to meet the expectations of a demanding golfing public.
But then again, maybe it wasn’t such a stretch to ask for all the scrutiny—since the folks who built the club must have realized what they had from the beginning. Simply put, Stonewall is sited on a near perfect plot of ground, complete with the tremendous rolling topographical variety of Northern Virginia, and adding the stunning scenic watery vistas gained from eight holes alongside Lake Manassas.
The non-lakeside holes are hardly the unwanted conscripts from the geriatric pool, however. They compliment the scenic holes with different types of challenges—mostly involving strategy and club selection. There’s a surprising amount of variety at Stonewall Golf Club—it didn’t just settle for throwing down some grass seed and sand, all the while billing itself as RTJ’s close cousin by marriage.
Having seen all of RTJ’s layout during last year’s President’s Cup, I’d say several holes at Stonewall wouldn’t blush at being located a little farther north—after all, the two courses share a common coastline on the same lake, a few hundred yards apart. The main difference between them is houses—Stonewall will have ‘em—but they’ll be set back from the course at a distance and cleverly hidden in some spots. Very little prevents you from gathering all the memories you’d care to collect from a day at Stonewall.
Stonewall’s Director of Golf, Rob Ford, says the club won’t shy away from people’s expectations, either: “Working for Western Golf Properties (which manages the course and golf facilities), we’re familiar with what it takes to run successful high-end properties. Being next to RTJ and bordering Lake Manassas, we’re certainly going to get a fair amount of critical attention—so there’s some pressure to produce.”
Ford continues, “But I look upon comparisons and expectations as positive motivating factors, because we’re going to live up to the billing—and that’ll lead to a satisfied and loyal clientele.”
Aiding in this effort are Stonewall’s facilities—a 13,000 foot clubhouse with casual and gourmet dining restaurants; a large practice range with two grass tees and five target greens; a short-game practice area with practice bunkers; complimentary valet parking for guests, and unmatched on-course accommodations, including ‘delivery service’ if you suddenly get the urge for a grilled cheeseburger on the sixth hole (this is in the works—may be ordered from the cart’s GPS system).
Ford says, “I want people to know that coming to Stonewall Golf Club is more than just playing an outstanding golf course. The picture-postcard views will take care of everyone’s aesthetic demands, and the layout will certainly provide all the challenge even the best players would ask for. But in an era when a lot of public courses bill themselves as ‘private clubs for a day,’ we’re going to take it a notch higher.”
Stonewall was designed by none other than course architect Tom Jackson (known for his work in the Carolinas and Myrtle Beach), though Ford says the club’s name is derived solely from the famous military commander, not its architect. It would’ve been kind of interesting, though, to have a ‘Robert Trent Jones’ Golf Club, then a ‘Tom ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’ Golf Club, all in the same housing community… it would be a golfer’s ‘monument row,’ like they have for Confederate military leaders in Richmond.
But all in all, the Stonewall moniker works well.
The course’s conditioning definitely shows signs of being brand new, but time and a good spring growing season will take care of a lot of the infancy pains. Superintendent Ed Long, who’s worked over at RTJ since its inception, will make sure of it. L93 Bentgrass tees, fairways and greens will provide superior playing surfaces—the same kind you have at RTJ. It’s only a matter of maturity before the course is an emerald colored carpet in organic form (and in the meantime, you’ll pay an ‘introductory’ rate).
The layout itself is as difficult as its 142 slope would indicate—playing to 7,002 yards from the tips and a par of 72. Ford says it’s a target course, and that is a fairly accurate description, although it doesn’t really look like one. Most of the potential trouble lurks from wildness off the tee, but even the approach shots include several forced carries. The bentgrass fairways will yield a fair amount of roll and the rough will never match the height of the US Open venue, but if your ball is not in play, you’re dropping a new one to try and do better on the next shot.
Looking at history, Stonewall Jackson wasn’t exactly the most forgiving military leader, and likewise, Stonewall Golf Club is sternly cruel with misses (at times). There’s a real risk-reward theme present throughout the layout—and cowardice won’t get you far on this course (perhaps another allusion to General Jackson). But play within yourself and follow what the hole dictates, and you’ll be okay.
Lastly, if you play from an appropriate set of tees, you won’t get the lash either. It’s based on how much you want to subject yourself to—the back tees include several 200 yard range carries, but the forward sets are much gentler.
Stonewall begins with what Ford calls three good ‘warm-up’ holes, though they’ll introduce you to the need to produce accurate golf shots to score well. The first is a 383 yard dogleg right, with OB right and the driving range to the left. Hit a club you can put in the fairway, and start the round off right.
Jumping ahead to four, you’ll get your first glimpses of Lake Manassas and all its glory—but don’t lose sight of the 213 yards of lake and wetlands to carry in order to reach this par three’s green. Very little room to miss left, but a bailout short and right is possible.
Five is the only hole on the front that would easily fit on the more tree-lined back nine. A tough visual test from the tee, you’re firing through a ‘chute’ of trees to a generous but sloping fairway, and you’ll be lucky to get a level lie for the approach. This hole also features beautiful lake views—a great hole. Very ‘RTJ’ like.
Six through nine make the turn back towards the clubhouse, and play with a very wide-open feel (with plenty of trouble, however). Six is named ‘Rogues Road’ because it runs alongside a colonial era road used by settlers to move west (also used by Confederate troops in the Civil War, including Stonewall Jackson himself). Six and seven feature greens perched on top of stone walls, fits in nicely with the ‘Stonewall’ theme.
Ten begins a stretch of holes that moves towards or hugs an inlet of the lake, and constitutes what I think is the strongest series of holes on the course. Ten is an extremely challenging 434 yard par four with another ‘chute’ tee shot, calling for you to split dueling tree-lines to reach the fairway. Get enough distance on the tee shot or you won’t have a clear view of the green for your second.
Eleven is a great, short par four, extremely narrow in the tee landing area--and a challenging second shot to a sand guarded green awaits you.
Twelve through fifteen brings the lake back into play, and you’ll even have to shoot over it a couple times on twelve and thirteen. Thirteen’s one of the best par fives around—calling for a right to left tee shot to a wide fairway--that’ll put you in position to either go at the green in two, or strategically lay-up for a shorter third.
Fourteen brings you within easy sight range of RTJ’s eighteenth—and here you’ll realize that Stonewall holds its own against its famous neighbor. That’s a compliment to both clubs—two beautiful golf courses.
Fifteen plays along the ‘big’ part of the lake again, and offers views very similar to those found on holes four and five. It’s a challenging link, too. A dogleg left with a slightly uphill tee shot and a slightly downhill approach—you’ll need two precise shots to have a try at birdie.
Seventeen’s a challenging 186 yard par three over water to a very tricky, undulating green, well guarded by sand on all sides.
Eighteen’s a fitting closing hole for Stonewall Golf Club, because it’s an excellent risk-reward par five with a tee shot over water, the lake running all down the right side, and a chance to go at the green in two if you’ve got the nerve (you’ll have to shoot over more water to reach it). There is a landing area short and left, so a potential miss there won’t hurt too much should you decide to give it a go.
After you hole out, take a moment to glance at one of the best amphitheatres of golf anywhere. The clubhouse is above you, the lake and tall trees are all around, and you’ll see parts of three other holes from where you stand. It’s an inspiring view, the conclusion to a great golf experience.
Stonewall Golf Club certainly proves a golf course can live up to its lofty name while standing firm against an onslaught of expectations.
General Manager/Director of Golf: Robert M. Ford
Course Architect: Tom Jackson
Note: Scorecard Grades subject to change. Not all the facilities were open at time of review—but may be currently operating.