By Tom Lang
AUGUSTA – Gull Lake View Resort president and third-generation owner Jon Scott in 2015 called his family’s newest project – Stoatin Brae Golf Course – “wide open, windswept, broad shouldered, open skies.”
It’s all that and more.
Stoatin Brae opened to public consumption in the fall of 2016 with limited rounds on 12 of its 18 holes as golfers clamored to try getting a glimpse of the newest course in the Great Lakes State. All 18 holes were open in 2017 and got a ton of attention.
Stoatin Brae – translated from Gaelic meaning Grand Hill – is exactly that, very grand. The former apple orchard that was stripped for a housing development that never came into existence before the Scott family purchased it, is now a classically-entertaining links-style golf course.
Wide open: Every fairway is wide and inviting, firm and fast. Even below-average tee shots should still find the short grass and give golfers a nice next attempt as they plot a path around the Scottish-like links. That said, the next set of shots going into the challenging greens need to be smartly played or you’ll be smarting on the scorecard. As comparatively-wide as the fairways are, poorly hit balls will sail off track and into tall grasses and wild flower areas almost certainly resulting in a lost ball.
Windswept: Due to the high elevation and lack of trees on the course (thousands of trees do surround the overall property), the wind was taken into consideration in the design which was completed by the 4-man crew of Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design in Traverse City – Eric Iverson, Brian Schneider, Brian Slawnik and Don Placek. The wind direction and varying wind speeds from day-to-day actually help protect par on the course that has no water hazards and an average number of sand bunkers.
Open skies: the overriding sensation at Stoatin Brae is that golfers can literally see for miles because the property is at one of the highest elevations in the region. From some vantage points on the layout, every hole can be seen as the property’s naturally-peaceful environment seems to go on forever.
Broad shouldered: Stoatin Brae sits atop a long ridge above the north branch of the Kalamazoo River and surrounding valleys. At any point on the property, if you walk off it you’ll be going downhill, especially to the south where the owners have perched a sparkling new restaurant called Blue Stem. There is about a 150-to-200 foot drop off from the porch, which features two fire pits and waterfalls to set a relaxing mood.
The course itself is loaded with challenges, but is balanced by a sense of serenity. Whether having a good day or bad day at striking the ball, every golfer should be able to walk off the course and say that was a great way to spend their time.
Right off the bat, Hole 1 is the first of several with the green complex lower than the end of the fairway, causing a blind tee shot in some cases. Hole 7 is a long par 3 that is uphill but with bunkers and a ridge still hiding (from the back tees) most of the huge green. The flag is visible but it plays much farther away than it looks to the naked eye, so trust the published yardage and then hit up one club at least.
Holes 10 and 11 are possibly the most attractive back-to-back holes in that region of Michigan. No. 10 is a shorter par 4 that with a big drive and a helping wind, golfers can flirt with the green. The fairway also highlights part of a gorge that comes into play on holes 10, 11, 14 and 15.
No. 11 is a medium-length par 3 with a perched green that plays father way than it looks (but note, all references to playing distance is predicated on that day’s wind direction, a main feature of Stoatin Brae).
Holes 16-18 are wonderful closing holes (par 5, par 3, par 5) that will test but delight most golfers with their challenges and looks.
“The greens are pretty interesting,” Iverson said when the course was still in its growing-in stages. “There’s a lot of strategic bunkering and you’re going to be encouraged to tack your way around the hazards to get the best angles, and there’s enough width to do that. There will be very little ‘going down the middle.’ We’ve made room to hedge to one side or the other (of fairways) to get the better angle.”
From any angle, the course is a huge hit.