Return To Stoatin Brae

Return To Stoatin Brae photo of Stoatin Brae

I recently took a road trip from Ann Arbor to Battle Creek for a return visit to Stoatin Brae, Gull Lake View‘s highly acclaimed links-style, hilltop course.

I first played Stoatin Brae shortly after it opened, and gave it an “A.” At that point, the fairways had yet to completely grow in, but I could see immediately that the course was going to be special (read GolfBlogger’s Stoatin Brae Review).

A product of Tom Doak’s Renaissance Design group, Stoatin Brae is different from the typical Michigan course. Routed across an open, treeless hilltop, Stoatin Brae channels some of Doak’s linksy designs such as The Loop and Old MacDonald. It’s got prairie grasses instead of gorse, but the wind is real on one of highest spots in the area. It also reminds me quite a bit of Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

I returned to Stoatin Brae in 2018 to see how it looked after a year’s growth. That round cemented my opinion of the course.

Since then, the accolades for Stoatin Brae have grown. It was named the 2021 National Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association. The Michigan Golf Course Association named it their 2020 course of the year. In 2019, it was named to Golfweek’s Top 100 List.

Golf Magazine has Stoatin Brae as number 18 on their list of best in Michigan — public or private. That puts it on a list with Crystal Downs, Oakland Hills, Kingsley Club, Franklin Hills and more. High praise indeed.

Return To Stoatin Brae photo of stoatin brae's fourteenth
The par 3 fourteenth at Stoatin Brae

Most importantly, Stoatin Brae is on The GolfBlogger’s Top Ten list. I’ve played some 250 courses in Michigan, and think I have a good handle on the best of what the Mitten State has to offer.

What makes Stoatin Brae stand out to me is the fun factor. With wide fairways — and sans trees and water — a golfer can swing freely, knowing that all but the worst of shots will be playable. It lets you play (and in some sense demands) a wide variety of shots. You won’t get beat up, but you will think “I should have played that shot differently” (Not necessarily better, but differently, as in “to a different angle” or “with a different club” or “a low runner instead of a lob” and so on.)

It is also quite walkable — a major plus in my book.

The open design and a slope of 122 suggests that Stoatin Brae lacks challenge, but I have heard more than one golfer complain that it is much more difficult than its numbers and look suggest.

Return To Stoatin Brae photo of Stoatin Brae's sixth
The par 5 sixth at Stoatin Brae

The difficulty of the course shows up from 100 yards in. The complexes are tricky and require imagination to navigate. Elevated greens reject shots. Bunkers are steep sided. The putting surfaces are smooth, fast, and hard to read.

A view from behind the eighteenth of the savage pin position.

Still, I had a good round through seventeen holes. I wasn’t striking the ball well, but always seemed to end up in a place where I had a shot at getting up and down. A couple of worm burners with my three wood turned out way better than I had any right to expect (I have only recently returned a three to my bag after a decade’s absence). I didn’t have a single drive worthy of mention, but I didn’t have any that really cost me.

My round was wrecked on the eighteenth though, when my approach shot bounced off the back side. From that spot, the steep slope to the back right pin position defied all my efforts to get the ball up to the pin. A putt with a hybrid that was speedy enough to get up just rolled to a similar position on the other side. A little more gentle touch just returned the ball to me. A fourth attempt holed out — otherwise, I think I would still be there a week later.

In retrospect, my mistake was in trying to get close to the hole. I should have just chipped to the low side of the green far from the flag and putted back up. I would have saved three shots by playing one sideways.

My 2021 trip to Stoatin Brae confirmed my opinion of the course: it’s one of the best in Michigan and well worth a couple hours’ drive. Even better: stay in one of Gull Lake View’s housing options and take in a couple of the resort’s other courses as well. Gull Lake View East and West, Stonehedge North and South and Bedford Valley all are very good.

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