By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeff Rendall & Jeff Smith
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.
|The par three fourth hole displays all sorts of colors when late afternoon shadows enter the mix.|
Perhaps because of the famous name, we were especially curious to check out the Tradition Golf Club at Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville, which not only must honor the memory of the Virginia Civil War legend it takes its name from, but also must meet the hearty expectations people will pile on it from its proximity to a weighty neighbor, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club (exclusively private, incredibly beautiful, and host to the world's greatest professionals at three President's Cup competitions in the early 2000's).
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 always 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, with the tremendous rolling topographical variety of Northern Virginia, and adding the stunning scenic watery vistas gained from eight holes bordering 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.
|You've just survived a difficult test at the 4th hole, and the tee shot on number five doesn't get any easier.|
Having walked all of RTJ during the 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 has lots of 'em -- but they're 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 General Manager, Mark Jansen, says the club doesn't shy away from people's expectations, either: "Working for Traditional 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."
Jansen continues, "But I look upon comparisons and expectations as positive motivating factors, because we'll 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 (including the acclaimed Brass Cannon restaurant); 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 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).
|Looking at the green of the par five 6th hole. The stonewalls complement the theme nicely.|
Jansen 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 take that 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 Jansen says the club's name is derived from the man who made history about five miles up the road along Rt. 29 during the two battles of Manassas (Bull Run for Yankees) -- not as a commemoration of 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'd almost seem like monument row in Richmond.
But all in all, the Stonewall moniker works well.
|Just behind the par three 12th hole's green. Stonewall's neighbor hasn't taken all of the incredible scenery, has it?|
The conditioning of the course is what you'd expect from a high-end semi-private course. Superintendent Ed Long, who's worked over at RTJ since its inception, makes sure of it. L93 Bentgrass tees, fairways and greens will make for superior playing surfaces -- the same as you'd get at RTJ. The course boasts an emerald colored carpet in organic form.
The layout itself is as difficult as its 142 slope would indicate -- playing to 7002 yards from the tips and a par of 72. Jansen says it's a target course, and that's a fairly accurate description, though it doesn't really look like one. Most 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 US Open venue, but if your ball's 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 can be sternly cruel at times with misses. 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.
|Another carry awaits from the tee of the par five 13th, though it's not as bad as it looks.|
Stonewall begins with what Jansen 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 himself). Six and seven feature greens perched on top of stone walls, which fits in nicely with the 'Stonewall' theme.
|The short par five 18th is ripe for dramatic finishes. A fun risk-reward hole.|
Ten begins a stretch of holes that moves towards or hugs an inlet of the lake, and constitutes what I think is the strongest group 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 try 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's holding its own against its famous neighbor. That's a compliment to both clubs -- two beautiful golf courses.
|The par three 17th shows the upscale development at Stonewall GC. Who can blame the folks who'd want to live here?|
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). 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 around at one of the best amphitheatres of golf anywhere. The clubhouse is above you, the lake's 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 certainly proves a golf course can live up to its lofty name while standing firm against an onslaught of expectations.
The Tradition Golf Club at Stonewall Golf Club
15601 Turtle Point Drive
Gainesville, VA 20155
Phone: (703) 753-5101
FAX: (703) 754-7089
General Manager: Mark Jansen
Course Architect: Tom Jackson
Check the website for current rates.
Junior, Senior and Twilight rates available.
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