WINTERGREEN, VA - "If you're standing on the tee, and can't see precisely what's called for on the shot, then you're not on a Rees Jones designed course" says Wintergreen Resort's Stoney Creek Golf Club's Director of Golf, Mike Mayer. "Visibility is a defining characteristic here, along with the natural setting." With this in mind, combined with having played some of Mr. R Jones's work in the past, I'd say Stoney Creek embodies the architect's philosophy perfectly. Jones leaves it to the incredible natural setting and scenery on the course to provide the show biz splendor-and gives the player nothing but a straightforward and challenging golf course to test your skills. No tricks here, but plenty of natural treats (the kind that Moms like at Halloween-no added sugar!).
Rees Jones himself described his thinking on creating Stoney Creek: "It is such a beautiful natural valley setting. I wanted to design something that would compliment the beauty of the surroundings-but would also contrast the original mountain course. I think the final result accomplished this goal."
Stoney Creek is located 11 miles from the main lodge at Wintergreen Resort and lies in a Valley thousands of feet below its sister course, Devil's Knob. The Resort itself encompasses over 11,000 acres, so the vast distance between the two courses only serves to demonstrate just how large-and how varied-the experiences at Wintergreen can be.
The differences in the two golf courses also highlight the variety. Stoney Creek contains 27 holes-all Rees Jones' creations-and provides a different, though equally excellent golf outing as the high course does. Stoney Creek is quite a bit longer, plays to a 'traditional' par 72 card, grants much more leeway off the tee, and is more level than Devil's Knob (even though it's hardly flat). We played the Monocan and Shamokin nines, leaving the newest Tuckahoe nine for a future return.
Mayer touches on some of the differences between the two courses: "Devil's Knob is a position golf course where you basically won't need your driver-the course dictates club selection and the type of shot; Stoney Creek, on the other hand, calls for you to use every club you have to hit lots of different kinds of shots."
The layout also features the signature Rees Jones mounding which helps to frame the holes and provide some protection to the average player who might hit through the fairway otherwise. In addition to being player friendly, the mounding looks like it's part of the terrain. Mayer adds "Rees Jones' mounding looks very natural in the Blue Ridge mountain setting that Stoney Creek is part of."
Jones says that playability for the average player was an important consideration when designing the holes. "I wanted it to be a test of golf for the good player as well as enjoyable for the average player." He says the purpose of the mounding and fairway grading is to help 'contain' shots that might otherwise find trouble-granting a safety net for those who have a hard time finding the center of the fairway.
He continued by saying that a lot of the courses built these days are too difficult for the average player-and it takes away some of the enjoyment of the experience. Stoney Creek demonstrates that Mr. Jones did an excellent job of molding his philosophy along with the natural elements existing on the property into a very playable golf course.
Jones cited as examples of his desire to include the natural features into the design-his placement of holes four and five on the Monocan nine, both of which bring Lake Monocan into play. Four is a straightaway par four that plays to 420 yards from the back. Tee shots must avoid bunkers on the left, but mounds on the right should help with stray shots in that direction. A creek runs along the right side, but shouldn't come into play unless you hit one bad enough to require a second try at it in normal situations. Nearer the green is where you get the views of the lake-to the right side of the putting surface-and the steep slope down from the green definitely brings it into play for anything slightly right. Bail out left if necessary.
The fifth is a 175 yard par three that is all carry over the lake. To guard against going long, there are four bunkers strategically placed-but the green is large enough to allow for a couple club margin of error. There're also large bail out areas to the left and right of the green. Summons enough strength to get over the lake, and you'll avoid the drop area. Another example of a natural, but very playable hole.
Jones says that the main challenge for the better players at Stoney Creek comes in the severity of the greens. The size of the putting surfaces and the undulation allows for several different pin placements-all of which will require good shots to provide a solid chance for birdie. He wants the green contours to reward good shots, and to provide a short game challenge for better players.
Stoney Creek's splendid nature tour continues on the Shamokin nine. Much less open than the Monocan set, it's a beautiful trip through a mountain parkland setting that incorporates meandering streams and subtle undulation to provide its character. I'd also say it was slightly more challenging due to the amount of trouble that lurks-in the form of more trees.
A good example of this added challenge is the par 3 third hole (#12 for us). It's only 179 yards from the back tees, but players must still go through their checklist of 'don't gos' before lining up for their shots. There's a stream that protects the left side-and the green slopes down towards it. Short is protected by a bunker, as is long (two bunkers over the green). The right side has a landing area short, but there isn't a lot of margin between the woods and the green. The putting surface slopes from front to back-any shot too wide of the mark but still on the green will leave a very tricky sidehill putt. In other words, 'don't go' just about anywhere that's not close to the flag. Good luck.
Practice Fac.: B
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: B
Pace of Play: B+
Resort Hotel: A-
Overall Rating: B+