Day Three – Stoatin Brae

Day Three of my Southwest Michigan Golf Trip took me to Augusta. No, not THAT Augusta! Augusta, Michigan. There you will find Stoatin Brae (stow-tin bray) – part of the Gull Lake View Golf Resort. The resort is home to 6 golf courses within a short drive, but Stoatin Brae is the highlight according to most.

Perched on top of a hill(Stoatin Brae translated from Gaelic means Grand Hill), the highest point of Kalamazoo County, the course has very few trees or water hazards and plays very linksy. When you drive up the hill you find the clubhouse and smallish parking lot. The inside of the clubhouse is beautifully appointed, with a nice sized restaurant with a great view! There wasn’t much going on in the restaurant, and throughout the day the only thing we saw served was alcohol, so I’m not really sure if it was as nice as it looked.

The Pro Shop was small, and almost empty. This is either due to the struggles of the manufacturers to get product shipped out to the golf world or a decision not to stock much. The lack of golf balls I totally understand – the manufacturers can’t catch up, let alone keep up. But the sparse selection of apparel and accessories tell me they aren’t interested in that revenue stream, or perhaps they’ve just sold through much of it. Regardless, I didn’t find anything with just the Stoatin Brae logo, only the Gull Lake View Resort logo.

We paid our fees, stocked up on beer, and made our way to the “driving range”. Set at the top of the hill, aiming down toward the road you came in on, this was nothing more than a nice spot to catch the vast view of Kalamazoo County and get a small warm up. The balls were free, and set in buckets. Bt you hit from mats, and most of the balls were reclamations – I found an old, no…OLD Callaway ball, I think it was the Rule 35 ball, which was introduced to the golf world in 2000. Unimpressed with the range, I hit about 15 wedges to loosen up the shoulders and back, and moved on to the putting green.

They have 2 putting greens, one near the first tee and one right next to it. We stayed on the one further away from the tee, which offered only 3 cups to putt to. The greens rolled fine, and as the preparation neared its end we sat and awaited our call to the first tee.

Once there we got a very nice preview of the course from the starter, he informed us how to play the course (Hit all approach shots to the front of the green and expect roll out), where to fine The Bunker (food, drink, bathrooms), and told us to enjoy the day.

I decided to play the tips, as they only stretch out 6700 yards. My friends wussed out to play one up. No worries, I’m used to being alone. I pushed my first drive into some thicker rough, found the ball after a couple minute search, then hit it to the front edge of the green and watched it release to pin high. 6 foot birdie putt made, I moved on to the second.

I bogeyed the next 2 holes with 3-putts, and hoped my first hole birdie wasn’t a curse. However I settled in the rest of the day and played quite well. I shot a 79 that c(SH)ould have been much better had the putter not hurt me. Seriously, through 4 holes I had 17 strokes with 9 putts. Not my best putting day.

We also found the pin placements to be very challenging on this day. One of my guys even threw out he oft-used greenskeeper punchline (if you haven’t heard it, just ask). The pin on the third hole was set on the crest of a mound on the front of the green. There was no way to play it where you didn’t have an uphill putt, immediately followed with it running away from you. I believe there were more than 12 putts for my foursome. This was the most extreme example, but it was a pattern. Many of the greens have large undulations and mounds, which presented some difficult pins that day.

Stoatin Brae did not disappoint. We had a great day with friends and enjoyed a challenging but fair round of golf.At least 2 of our guys enjoyed Stoatin more than American Dunes, which they found unfair and difficult (I didn’t). While I would say that Stoatin is much more playable and certainly less intimidating, I found AD to be very visually appealing and much more picturesque.

One curiosity that we never settled was the course’s claim that they are the “2021 National Course of the Year”. This is posted in many places for all to see. Certainly a claim to be very proud of. Also one that should be posted everywhere. They just never tell you who ranked them as such. This became the joke of the day for my group.

The less than majestic beginning of the day does not take away from the golf course in any way. After all, you are there to play golf. But I found myself thinking that if they wanted to back up their “National Course of the Year” status they should shore up the stock issues in the pro shop, set that kitchen up, and actually DO something on the range. While you are there for the golf, the rest of it does make an impression, and for me, it fell short.

All told, however, Day Three was a great day – it would end up being my best round by far on this trip. The elevation changes allowed for great views, a pleasant breeze, and a great course design. Another treat in SW Michigan! My home state rarely disappoints!

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