Stoatin Brae Golf Course Review
Stoatin Brae Golf Course
Augusta (Battle Creek), Michigan
Teacher’s Comments: A different look for a Michigan golf course. Great play.
Stoatin Brae is the newest addition to the Gull Lake View family of golf courses, which includes Bedford Valley, Gull Lake View East and West and Stonehedge North and South. The Gull Lake view courses are fun, challenging, well-kept and reasonably priced. The six courses, all located within a few minutes drive of each other, constitute a south-central Michigan golf mecca, complete with lodging.
Opening in 2017, Stoatin Brae is quite different from your typical Michigan resort golf. Whereas protypical Michigan resort courses meander through vast acres of woodland and marsh, Stoatin Brae’s treeless look is more akin to a seaside links. While the classic Michigan golf resort features a string of visually isolated holes, Stoatin Brae featuers a compact, back-and-forth routing, with most holes in full view of the others.
In Gaelic, Stoatin Brae means “Grand Hill.” It is an appropriate name for the course. Stoatin Brae sits on the land of a former orchard on a plateau which is the highest point in Kalamazoo County. The views are spectacular.
The closest to Stoatin Brae that I’ve played in Michigan is the nationally-acclaimed Tom Doak-designed The Loop at Forest Dunes. It is no coincidence: Stoatin Brae is a product of Tom Doak’s Renaissance Design, but Doak himself was not involved. Instead, the course was routed, and green complexes designed by Doak’s associates, Eric Iverson, Brian Schneider, Don Placek and Brian Slawnik. Fairway shaping, bunkers and other design work was handled by the Gull Lake View crew, led by Charles Scott — one of the Scott family that owns the Gull Lake View complex — who is an accomplished golf architect in his own right. In his career, Scott also has designed Stonehedge North and South, Gull Lake View East, Lake Doster, and the Marsh/Preserve at Binder Park among others.
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, but he had a conflict because he was working on Forest Dunes, so he gave the work to his Renaissance Design associates.”
Stoatin Brae’s open course design, along with the intended firm-and-fast fairways, creates an opportunity for a variety of shots and styles. The design doesn’t really force any particular type of play. A golfer who has the discipline and imagination to play their own game from the first hole to the last should score well. I worked my way around Stoatin Brae with my usual ground game, but a bomb-and-gouger would also enjoy the course.
Fairways are wide enough that golfers of any reasonable skill should be able to find the short grass (But if you miss, the tall native grasses in the rough ensure that the ball will never be seen again. ) Positioning for the second shots will be the key to success. All of the greens have open angles in the front; taking advantage of them is just a matter of getting the ball onto the correct side of the fairways.
Wind almost certainly will be a factor in any round. Atop the Stoatin Brae, breezes flow practically unimpeded.
My usual dictum applies: a golfer will have a good time by playing from the correct tees.
My favorite hole on the course was the par four twelfth. It is one of the series of five holes (10 – 15) that are routed along the slopes of the back side of Stoatin Brae, and thus enjoy some significant elevation changes. The hole starts from an elevated tee, crosses a ravine and then heads uphill to a crest. From there, it turns left back down to a green at the bottom of the hill. A more powerful players could challenge the bunkers on the left, hopefully catch the downward slope and give himself a short shot into the green. Shorter, or more cautions players can go further right, leaving a longer, but downhill shot to the green.
The third and sixteenth are an interesting combination, as they share a portion of their fairways. Slicers may very well find themselves on the other hole’s fairway.
Another hole I really liked was the par 4 fifth. The hole is a dogleg left, with a slightly elevated tee and green. As with all of the holes on the course, wild and natural looking bunkers give the hole a lot of character. A longer player can drive over fairway bunkers left, getting a nice short shot into the green. The alternative is to go right of the bunkers. This leaves a bit of an awkward shot heading into the green. However, playing safely in front of the green and left of the greenside bunkers offers a nice chance to pitch and putt for a par.
A notable feature of the course is the snack bar at the turn. Called “The Bunker,” the facility is dug into the side of a small knoll, looking very much like its namesake. The beauty of The Bunker is that it leaves the sight lines across the course unimpeded. Sadly, it was closed when I played my evening round. When the course gets into full swing, I have no doubt that it will be a great place to take a breather.
It is perhaps unfair to make too much of the conditions on the day I played. Stoatin Brae is so new that it is still growing in. While some of the holes had nice lush fairways, others were still filling in. Gull Lake View Vice President Bill Johnson noted that weather has created some setbacks on the growing schedule and that they have cut back on play to give the grass a chance.
Fairways are a bluegrass variety; greens are bentgrass.
Stoatin Brae is a par 71, with four sets of tees measuring 6, 667; 6, 192; 5, 711 and 2, 416. No slope or rating has been published yet, but I believe that it ultimately will be scored as a moderately easy course. After talking with Bill Johnson, Vice President of Gull Lake View, I came away with the notion that an accessible course is the intent.
“We need to be able to offer golf as a pastime to everyone, not just the guy who can hit the ball 275 yards,”Johnson said. “We want everyone to come out and enjoy the experience that this ground has to offer.”
After (or before) a round, golfers should be sure to visit the superb on-site restaurant, the Blue Stem. Hanging over the edge of the Stoatin Brae, with a spectacular view of the surround country side, the Blue Stem has an outdoor patio with a running waterfall and fire pits. While there I had a smoked pork chop that was cooked to perfection, and later, an upside down apple pie, full of sweetness and cinnamon. I topped it all off with a perfectly balanced Brooklyn cocktail.
The top-notch restaurant speaks to how Gull Lake View is positioning itself as golf destination. The operation now has six excellent courses (Stoatin Brae, Bedford Valley, Gull Lake View East and West and Stonehedge North and South) lodging and restaurants (the can even arrange a cookout). For evening activities, the resort will even arrange a shuttle to downtown Kalamazoo, or to the nearby Firekeepers or Gun Lake casinos.
I feel fortunate to live close enough to the Gull Lake courses to make the occasional day trips. At some point, though I think I’d like to try the full experience. Mrs. GolfBlogger doesn’t play golf, but I think she’d like the Blue Stem, and a show at one of the local casinos.
“Our plan is to grow,” Gull Lake View Vice President Bill Johnson said. “If we sit things get old and we can’t keep up. We put every dime we have into capital and hope to have something new every year. It won’t always be a course, but it should be significant, like the large smoker we added to the Charles and Darls smokehouse restaurant.”
Johnson said that the resort is attracting players from Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Columbus and Pittsburgh. Canadians also have been taking advantage of the facilities. The resort hopes to extend that even further, taking advantage of the nearby Battle Creek airport.
Gull Lake View also is offering some forward-looking golf options. Every Wednesday, for example, Gull Lake view offers an outing for developing golfers. The players can play three, five or nine holes (five is the intended number, though), and get on-course instruction from PGA professionals. The instructors will help players improve their swings, but perhaps more importantly, they are there to help novices navigate the often confusing and intimidating big picture stuff.
The Gull Lake View Stoatin Brae Golf Course Review was first published July 17, 2017. More photos of Stoatin Brae follow: