Af­ter rave re­views, Stonewall eyes fu­ture

Af­ter rave re­views for host­ing Mid­dle Am­a­teur, Stonewall look­ing for­ward to what’s next

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Neil Geoghe­gan ngeoghe­gan@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @NeilMGeoghe­gan on Twit­ter — Frank Fos­ter, for­mer Stonewall pres­i­dent and chair­man of the U.S. Mid­dle Am­a­teur

Mem­bers must give go-ahead if club wants to pur­sue fu­ture events, such as U.S. Am­a­teur

EAST NANTMEAL >> Penn­syl­va­nia has played host to 87 United States Golf As­so­ci­a­tion tour­na­ments dat­ing back to the late 1800s, the most of any state. But ear­lier this month at Stonewall near Elver­son, the 2016 U.S. Mid­dle-Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship be­came the first ever USGA event to be staged in Ch­ester County.

It was also the first na­tional golf event held at a lo­cal course since the PGA Se­nior Tour’s Bell At­lantic Clas­sic ended its 14-year run in Ch­ester County in 1999 at Harte­feld Na­tional. Ch­ester Val­ley Golf Club (1985-90, 1992-97) and White Manor Coun­try Club (1991) also hosted the event.

It was a big deal, es­pe­cially for a place that dates back just 23 years. The Old Course de­buted in 1993, and the New Course came a decade later. And judg­ing from com­ments from the com­peti­tors, Stonewall’s two cour­ses were wor­thy venues for the age 25 and older na­tional cham­pi­onship for ama­teurs.

“It’s very fair. It’s firm (and) it was fast,” said Bryn Mawr’s Michael McDer­mott, who ad­vanced to the quar­ter­fi­nals of match play and emerged as the lo­cal fa­vorite. “So as a venue, I think it was a lot of fun — but it was hard.”

That is the kind of praise that is mu­sic to the ears of the USGA, which ul­ti­mately de­cides where all of its 13 yearly cham­pi­onships are held.

The driv­ing force be­hind Stonewall’s can­di­dacy for the U.S. Mid-Am was Frank Fos­ter, 82, a Birchrunville res­i­dent. A for­mer club pres­i­dent, Fos­ter served as the tour­na­ment’s chair­man, and he was very upfront, be­fore the 2016 event took place, that the Mid-Am could be just the first of highly pres­ti­gious tourn­na­ments com­ing Stonewall’s way.

“It’s been a won­der­ful thing for the club,” Fos­ter said.

“My se­cret wish — and I don’t know if this will ever hap­pen — is to get the U.S. Am­a­teur. That would be the next thing af­ter this. We are look­ing at this as a step­ping stone to do­ing that.”

“My se­cret wish — and I don’t know if this will ever hap­pen — is to get the U.S. Am­a­teur. That would be the next thing af­ter this. We are look­ing at this as a step­ping stone to do­ing that.”

Whether that ever hap­pens is first up to the mem­bers at Stonewall, who had to give up both of their cour­ses for a good chunk of the sum­mer. And if there is mo­men­tum mov­ing for­ward, the rest would be up to the USGA. But the re­views were very pos­i­tive.

“There is no doubt that the Old Course is a cham­pi­onship golf course,” said par­tic­i­pant John Bren­nan, who lives in Collegeville and is the ten­nis coach at SpringFord High School. “It de­ter­mined who the best golfer was out here. The greens were su­per tough and as the week went on, it only got firmer and firmer.”

The cham­pion, Ste­wart Hages­tad, cer­tainly had to earn his ti­tle over the course of five days and nine rounds of golf at Stonewall. Just on Sept. 15 alone, Hages­tad had

to en­dure a gru­el­ing 37-hole fi­nal to pre­vail against Scott Har­vey.

“I thought it was a great match play course the way USGA set up with some of the tees and some of the pins,” said Hages­tad, who hails from Cal­i­for­nia but lives in New York City. “It was a great mix of be­ing just chal­leng­ing enough where the weather could kind of dic­tate how we had to play out there.

“So I thought it was a tremen­dous setup. I thought it was a tremen­dous course.”

It also didn’t hurt Stonewall’s re­views when the fi­nal match turned from what looked like a clunker into one of the great come­backs in tour­na­ment his­tory. Hages­tad was 5 down to Har­vey at one point, and later came back from 4 down with five holes to go in reg­u­la­tion.

Hages­tad then won it with a dra­matic 14-foot putt on the first ex­tra hole, cap­ping the big­gest come­back Ste­wart Hages­tad sits on the stone wall at Stonewall with his tro­phy af­ter win­ning the 2016 U.S. Mid-Am­a­teur on Thurs­day, Sept. 15. since the U.S. Mid-Am fi­nal was ex­panded from 18 to 36 holes in 2001.

One of the big draws in Stonewall’s fa­vor, ac­cord­ing to Tour­na­ment Direc­tor Bill McCarthy, was that there are two dif­fer­ent cour­ses — the Old and North — in close prox­im­ity to each other. McCarthy said he had wanted to use two cour­ses for the 36-hole fi­nal for the first time in his­tory, and Stonewall proved to be the per­fect place to do it.

“We had two very dis­tinct golf cour­ses that com­ple­mented each other in­cred­i­bly well,” McCarthy said.

The two-course on site setup at Stonewall was also

a big hit with the com­peti­tors due to the ease with which they were able to get from one to the other. In pre­vi­ous U.S. Mid-Ams, the dis­tance be­tween the pri­mary and sec­ondary venue was as much as 35 miles.

Fi­nal­ist Scott Har­vey was re­ported as ini­tially say­ing that Stonewall had too many blind shots for his lik­ing, but later ac­knowl­edged that Stonewall’s un­der­stated charm had grown on him. McDer­mott said that his pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ences play­ing Stonewall in nu­mer­ous Golf As­so­ci­a­tion of Philadel­phia events helped him make the deep­est run at a U.S. Mid-Am in nine tries.

“There was a bit of lo­cal knowl­edge for sure,” he said. “I had an ad­van­tage from that. I think it helped me through some of my way­ward ball strik­ing the first cou­ple rounds, just sort of know­ing where to go and where to miss it.”

Fol­low­ing his cham­pi­onship, Hages­tad said that Stonewall may not be as long as many U.S. Am­a­teur venues, but that it was cer­tainly chal­leng­ing enough. The par-70 Old Course played about 6,870 yards, and the par-70 New Course was about 6,711.

“Even though com­pared to a U.S. Am­a­teur (course) it doesn’t quite have the same yardage, but around the greens, it re­ally shows its teeth,” Hages­tad said. “And I thought it was a re­ally great test as it re­lates to match play and over­all re­ally.”

McDer­mott pointed out that Stonewall has ac­tu­ally played much more dif­fi­cult in pre­vi­ous years be­cause the fes­cue ar­eas were much more pe­nal.

“Com­pared to how I’ve played it in the past, it was ac­tu­ally sort of tame be­cause the hay was down,” he ex­plained. “In our GAP events at times, we’ve had it where the hay was knee high. You can pic­ture what it’s like play­ing that.”

COPY­RIGHT USGA — CHRIS KEANE

Work­ers at Stonewall clear the dew from the fair­way on the eighth hole be­fore the sec­ond round of stroke play Sun­day, Sept. 11.

COPY­RIGHT USGA — CHRIS KEANE

Ste­wart Hages­tad hits his tee shot at the 27th hole dur­ing the fi­nal round of match play at the U.S. Mid-Am­a­teur at Stonewall Thurs­day, Sept. 15.

COPY­RIGHT USGA — CHRIS KEANE

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