Stoatin Brae Golf Course Review
Stoatin Brae Golf Course
Teachers’ Comments: I liked it even more the second time around. Stoatin Brae is in the conversation for Top Ten Golf Courses In Michigan. (Read the full 2017 Stoatin Brae Golf Course Review)
Stoatin Brae, one of six courses that make up the Gull Lake View golf resort, opened in 2017 to much acclaim — mine included. Routed along a high, windy, largely treeless plateau, Stoatin Brae has many of the trappings of of a links-style course and on my second playing, reminded me very much of Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes, which I had played earlier in the summer (read my Old MacDonald Golf Course Review). The resemblance is no coincidence. Bandon’s Old MacDonald was designed by Tom Doak, and Stoatin Brae is a product of Doak’s Renaissance Design group.
Gull Lake View Vice President Bill Johnson said that a trip to Bandon Dunes inspired Stoatin Brae. “We were at Bandon and we were impressed. Tom Doak looked at the land (in Augusta, Michigan), but he had a conflict because he was working on Forest Dunes (The Loop), so he gave the work to his Renaissance Design associates.”
The plan of Stoatin Brae reveals some of its snippets of links golf DNA. Note the dual (and even triple), amoeba-like fairways. Picture an ocean on the left, and substitute dunes for the Michigan hills. Replace prairie grasses with gorse. Listen to the wind. It feels an awful lot like Doak’s Old MacDonald on the Oregon coast.
As with Old MacDonald and The Loop, wide fairways and large greens offer multiple paths from the tee to the hole. The key is playing within oneself and taking the route that makes the most sense for your own game. This sort of golf offers the possibility for a great deal of creativity.
When I first played, I noted that Stoatin Brae was still too new to pass judgment on course conditions. In 2017, the course was still growing in. Some fairways were lush with grass. Others were somewhat sparse. Upon my return in 2018, I found a course that was as nice as any I have played in Michigan this season. Fairway grass has completely grown in; greens are smooth; tee boxes are well tended.
Continuing the comparison to two other Doak projects (Old MacDonald and The Loop), the fairways at Stoatin Brae are fast — I got a lot of unexpected roll — but in no way compare to those at Bandon Dunes — or even The Loop at Forest dunes. That is an unfair comparison, though. I am no agronomist, but I am certain that soil conditions and weather in large part dictate what kind of fairways and greens a course presents. I am also not at all sure that Gull Lake View’s management actually wants to replicate links conditions. They know their clientele. I can easily imagine that links conditions would discourage Michigan golfers used to a certain kind of golf.
In any case, my second round at Stoatin Brae was thoroughly enjoyable, and I am very much looking forward to the next. Stoatin Brae presents a lot of problems to be solved: which angles to take off the tees; how to approach green; how to handle those recovery shots back to elevated greens. It is puzzles like these that will put Stoatin Brae in the conversation of best courses in Michigan.
A photo tour of Stoatin Brae follows: