50 Words or Less
Stoatin Brae Golf Course, part of Gull Lake Resorts in Michigan, offers a fun, links-style experience. Ample width off the tee sets up challenging, enjoyable approach shots. The par 3s are excellent.
Named the 2021 “National Golf Course of the Year,” Stoatin Brae brings links-style golf to Michigan. Sitting at one of the highest points in Kalamazoo County, this course pairs a strong design with beautiful panoramic views.
The driving range at Stoatin Brae is a literal stone’s throw from the clubhouse. It plays substantially downhill, so it’s best used for warming up your body, not dialing in your distances.
As you make your way to the first tee, you’ll find two putting greens. Both are fairly compact, not built for more than a friendly foursome, but having two is a good way to spread golfers out. Both practice greens mirrored the greens on the course very well.
Customer Service & Amenities
Stoatin Brae features an average-sized clubhouse which contains a pro shop and a restaurant. At the time of our visit, the restaurant had not re-opened after being closed for COVID. The pro shop has a modest assortment of apparel, soft goods, balls, and shoes. Everyone we encountered from arrival to first tee was very helpful to our band of first timers.
On the course, you can take a break from the action in “The Bunker.” This aptly-named building is built into the side of a hill and looks like a bomb shelter. Inside, you’ll find restrooms, snacks, and drinks. The routing of the course brings you past The Bunker several times during your round.
Beauty & Scenery
Stoatin Brae is a links-style course that floods your eyes with miles-long views. Trees exist almost exclusively on the periphery of the course allowing you a view of nearly the entire property. The front nine features limited elevation changes, so you can see almost every other hole from nearly any point.
As you make the turn, you start to encounter more, and more dramatic, elevation changes. To me, the second nine is the entree, visually, with the front nine being more of an appetizer.
Also worth noting is the absence of houses on the course. When you’re playing Stoatin Brae, you feel removed from everything except other golfers and the game itself.
On the front nine, the tee shots at Stoatin Brae are all fairly similar. They’re largely flat, mostly straight, and typically have one fairway bunker to navigate. However, the placement of those bunkers is excellent, and that provides a sense of challenge and variety.
When you move to the back nine, the elevation changes are frequent and dramatic. On the first four drives, you won’t be able to clearly see your landing area. This, plus the devious bunkers, create a lot of uncertainty as you stand on the tee.
The fairways at Stoatin Brae are wide, and recent changes have opened up the rough significantly, too. When the course first opened, the heather grew all the way to the edges of the fairway, but good sense has prevailed and that has been cut back substantially. If you hit your tee shot into the heather, finding the ball is a 50/50 proposition.
With a par of 71, Stoatin Brae tips out at 6,722 yards. Three other sets of tees measure 6,227, 5,707, and 4,836 yards. While some golfers will bristle at playing “only” 6,200 yards, those tees (Black) are the best choice for most players. If the course played substantially firmer, adding distance to your drives, the Gold tees (tips) might be more playable. As it is, they’re best reserved for the truly long hitters.
Just as the tee shots change character at the turn, so do the approach shots. That starts with your lies. On the front, with the course being largely flat, you have driving range lies everywhere. The ball sits up nicely in the fairway at the same level as your feet. On the back, however, the undulations in the fairway will present you with more challenging stances.
The greens at Stoatin Brae are about average in size, and most allow you to run the ball up. This play is easier on the front nine, where you don’t have much concern with the green being elevated. Throughout the course, you do need to be aware of how firm the greens are. Unless you play a very high ball flight, you need to allow for a bounce or two short of the flag. If you land the ball on the pin without height or spin, you can find trouble.
Stoatin Brae’s greatest strength is its collection of par 3s. On the front side, you’ll encounter two long ones, both at or over 200 yards from the Black tees. These are very well designed holes that are playable even by those without elite distance. On the back, you’ll play three mid-to-short par 3s that feature more bunkers, challenging greens, and beautiful elevation changes.
Greens & Surrounds
Stoatin Brae’s greens may be average in size, but they are substantially above average when it comes to undulations. These are heavily featured greens with every kind of hump, ridge, tier, and thumbprint you can imagine. However, these features are not extreme in size, which allows the greens to be kept at a quick pace. If the undulations were more extreme at this speed, they would be unplayable.
Around the greens, you’ll find gentle, sweeping undulations. Some of the greens are elevated steeply above the surrounds, but generally the movements are natural and flowing. As you can see above, there’s a mix of rough and fairway cut in the surrounds. The fairway cut isn’t as tight as it could be, which can be seen as good or bad, depending on your taste.
Finally, as in the fairways, there are a tasteful number of bunkers around the greens. They tend to be small and deep with tall faces. Because of their size, they’re easy to avoid, and doing so is strongly recommended.
Stoatin Brae is a strong golf course that would flirt with greatness with a couple changes. First, I would love to see it play firmer and faster. There are many spots, particularly around the green, where the shaping exists for a thrilling ground game, but the conditions don’t allow it. That said, I’m aware that golf courses are businesses and the more moderate conditioning may reflect the desires of the majority of golfers.
Second – and I say this knowing full well that I’m merely an armchair architect – I would have loved for the front and back nines to be mixed. As it stands, the holes on the front are all similar and the holes on the back are largely similar. If the elevation of the back nine were sprinkled throughout the course more evenly, I think the round would have a better rhythm.
I want to close this section by repeating that Stoatin Brae is a strong golf course that is very much worth playing. Among our traveling group, everyone expressed a desire to play the course again. My criticisms are offered from the perspective of an admirer who wants the course to reach its full potential.
#2 – Par 3 – 225 Yards
A par 3 this long, this early in the round feels a bit like a punch in the gut, but the design is so good that I didn’t mind. The green looks accommodating – a long oval angled back and to the right – and shots that are well short benefit from a slope that kicks them forward.
#13 – Par 4 – 459 Yards
The number two handicap hole plays uphill with a sweeping dogleg left. A massive backboard long and right of the green should funnel most approach shots back to the putting surface.
#14 – Par 3 – 144 Yards
After the tough thirteenth, you get the prettiest, shortest hole on the course. The downhill approach plays even shorter than the number, but you need to thread you ball between three bunkers to a green with very testing undulations.
Stoatin Brae delivers a thoroughly enjoyable golf experience that’s miles from typical Midwest golf. As part of Gull Lake View Golf Resort’s collection of six courses, it makes a strong case to be your next stay-and-play destination.