This week, I discovered a stunning golf oasis in the city of Augusta. No, not the one in Georgia. This is Augusta, Michigan. And it’s a find – in both senses of the word. You’ll typically see roadside signs for most popular golf courses, as you get closer. But in the case of Stoatin Brae, awarded the 2021 National Golf Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association, you’d better use GPS. Located about 10 miles from I-94, the closest interstate in Southwestern Michigan, this gem has no signs leading you to it. But boy, is it worth the effort.
Part of the six-course, family-owned Gull Lake View Resort, the nearly six-year-old layout challenges golfers at 6,742 yards from the tips. It’s wide open, exposed to all weather elements, and extremely lush. I got to play it just two weeks after wintry weather, and it was deep green, rolling smooth, and looking like it was in mid-summer condition. The best way to describe it: It melds the best of Scottish links courses and upscale American country clubs. There are no water hazards. And many greens are crowned or at least have amazing undulation, and run true. If you read a putt and think it will break five feet, it does. Can’t decide which way it deviates? Just roll your ball at the cup. You won’t be too far off. The day I played, the rough – which includes a lot of green-side heather – was cut short. But locals tell me that heather can grow long in the summer. Perhaps the best thing of all: The course is fair and playable for all skill levels.
“Just look around at the runoffs around the greens, and you can play virtually any kind of shot into every green – high or low,” says Dean Kolstad, the resort’s PGA director of golf and former National Hockey League player. “We hosted a PGA tournament last year, and many of the players said it’s fair for everyone because there’s so much room to play from if you don’t hit the green. And there are no forced carries. Everything is right in front of you. You can run the ball up if you don’t want to hit it high or can’t hit it far. And you’ll still have a lot of fun.”
The course also sits at the highest point in Kalamazoo County, so you will see some incredible panoramic views. No wonder the course name is Gaelic for “Grand Hill”. Lying between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, it’s also about 2.5 hours from both Chicago and Detroit. Golfers drive in from both locations, as well as from Columbus, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Toronto. It visually resembles a somewhat flatter version of Northern Michigan – surrounded by plenty of farmland and Midwest hospitality. Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design team members loved sculpting this gem on the property, gushing over its location, gently rolling land, and native grasses. The par-3 holes are framed by distinctively rugged bunkers; the par-4s offer fun, challenging putting surfaces; and the par-5s toy with you by offering strategic risk/reward situations, using the ground and angles to create fun approaches.
Put it this way: It takes a lot for a course to impress me the first time I play it. And Stoatin Brae easily crossed that line. I instantly wanted to play it again, imagining alternative ways I would play many of the holes. Playing with a bad back and limited mobility, I still scored decently, hitting shots shorter distances than usual. It truly is welcoming for every skill level.
Afterwards, I stayed on property back at the main resort in a brand-new yet modest cottage. It had four queen-sized beds, two bedrooms, kitchen, living room, fireplaces and three big-screen TV’s. I imagine it would be a perfect place to bring my buddies back for a golf trip. But I’d want to stay a few nights and play all six courses on the property. I glimpsed four of the other five layouts, and they all looked equally inviting and in immaculate condition. Gull Lake View is billed as a blue collar golf resort for average golfers, mainly because of its moderate pricing — green fees are always less than $100. America needs more of this incredible golf value and quality at a very reasonable price.
On my way out early the next morning, I was reminded of the rural Midwest location: Had to wait for a family of three turkeys to cross the street in front of me. I’ll take that over a traffic jam anyday. As long as I have the directions back to the freeway.