There is no middle ground when discussing the Stoneleigh Golf Club. Over the last 14 years golfers have learned to hate, or love, the course located just outside Round Hill, Virginia, near the northern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Lisa Maki designed Stoneleigh has dazzled and bedazzled players of all abilities.
Its undulating fairways can lead to treacherous lies, well-placed hazards seem to grab errant golf balls, its ample greens are challenging even when they arent 11 on the stimpmeter. Oh, and there are the stone walls that come into play.
Thats Stoneleigh, a lot of challenge for any level of player, said former Director of Golf Bob Benning, a man who guided Stoneleigh in its early years before retiring. Benning still gives lessons at the Bob Benning School of Golf, so hes an expert on the course one loves to love or hate.
Years ago we had several golf writers play the course before the Kemper Open and some felt it was a great test, while others complained about its difficulty, said Benning, who played in several United States Open Golf Championships while the head professional at the prestigious Congressional Country Club. Its a course that has a lot of teeth, and those teeth can jump out and bite you at any point in your round.
Stoneleigh is definately a course with teeth. It measures just over 6,700 yards from the tips but plays much longer due to the hilly layout. Its back tees have a course rating of 73.1 with a 141 slope. It uses the land as a barrier to low scores, as its undulations results in many off balance swings. Tall fescue grass is well placed to collect errant drives, and the course is well-bunkered. Several streams meander through the course, leading to three large ponds.
And then you get to the Civil War era stone walls which traverse the golf course. It has been estimated that there are nearly two miles of these dastardly walls, many of which Maki, who studied in Scotland and worked with Ron Garl for a while, integrated into her design. The 1st green (below) is fronted by a stone wall.
The clubs signature hole is the downhill par-4, 342-yard 7th hole. Not much yardage, but its a target golf hole which requires a straight tee shot to an ample fairway, then a short pitch shot over a well protected green which features three significantly different hole location possibilities. Those locations can cause a two-club different in ones approach, and while its modest length brings forth thoughts of a birdie many players walk away with a bogey.
While the 7th hole is its signature hole, its 2nd hole is most talked about. The par-4, 336-yard test has been called the longest par-4 on the east coast. Dont believe it? Well, dont let the actual length of the hole get you thinking about driving the green forgetabout it.
Number 2 is straight uphill, with out of bounds on the left, a watery hazard on the right, and three-tiered set of fairways as ones target. Its possible to hit a perfect drive but become caught between tiers, giving one a second shot that course regulars understand to pitch to the next tier rather than go for the green. The green is guarded by one of those aforementioede stone walls, so approach shots short of the mark may sometimes repel back toward the golfer hitting the shot.
Then there is the second green itself. Successfully navigate the hill, the hazards and the stone wall and what do you have? An unbelievably difficult green. While many think an elephant is buried there, suffice it to say the multiple tier green has brought forth many three-putts or even more-putts. Local lore has a hot-shot college golfer putting off the green, turning a potential birdie into a double bogey.
While the 2nd hole is treacherous, its 8th hole is one of the most difficult in the state of Virginia and its 12th rivals it. These are bears, holes that one feels good after a bogey and euphoric after a par.
Number 8, a 456-yard par-4 (photo below), features a three-tiered fairway with another stone wall bisecting the second and third tier. A stream meanders from left to right, beckoning the long ball hitter, and the approach shot to a well-bunkered, elevated green offers another strong test. Par is a great score on this hole for any level of golfer.
Number 12, an uphill 422-yard, dogleg par-4, is a bear of a hole requiring a lengthy drive then an uphill shot to an elevated green. Complicating things are more stone walls, a century old hut, bushy trees and a green with subtle undulations.
Thats Stoneleigh, packed with challenges. There arent a lot of gimme holes on the course. But there are a couple short par-4s which offer a real chance at birdie, such as the 11th and 17th holes. Its par-3 holes each provide a degree of difficulty and no two are alike.
For the big hitters the par-5 finishing hole offers a true risk reward, as it plays only 478-yards from the back tees. Still, an environmental hazard to the left of the fairway, out of bounds to the right, and a stream which comes into play on ones drive, second (and third, for those who lay up short of the green) make scoring low difficult. In recent years the club has toned down a few of the stone walls and fescue, reworked its drainage system and cleaned up some of its rough areas. But make no mistake about it, this course has more than enough teeth to it.
Love it or hate it, nobody can argue that Stoneleigh Golf Club is not a true test of golf.