Gull Lake View will open 6th course By Detroit Free Press

High atop the Kalamazoo River Valley is a special piece of ground being designed to draw in golfers of all skill levels seeking a fun but challenging day on the links.

In an era where many golf courses are surrendering and shutting down, or going into bankruptcy to try living another day, Gull Lake View Resort is building its sixth golf course to add to its already popular inventory. The planned opening is mid-summer 2016.

Stoatin Brae — translated from Gaelic meaning Grand Hill — has the elements to become a destination course, which is what the Scott family hopes for as they continue to attract golfers from across the upper Midwest to the scenic, rolling countryside between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.

“We’re always trying to increase our scope,” said third-generation family owner and president Jon Scott, regarding reasons to build a new course during Michigan’s still-recovering economy. “We do a lot of business out of Chicago and Detroit, but we’ve been successful looking at markets like Columbus, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Toronto. So we’re trying to give them another reason to drive a little bit farther; raise our flag saying why they should come here. To some, this is their Up North.”

The geographic area does have a northern Michigan feel, but the goal with Stoatin Brae is the opposite — think Scotland but surrounded by forest-covered hills Scott says.

The main entrance will give a heads up to any first-time visitor. The driveway off East Augusta Drive has about a 200 foot climb to the future clubhouse and first tee, overlooking the Kalamazoo River Valley with a south-facing lookout with downtown Battle Creek in the distance to the east. The property runs along one the highest elevated ridges in the region.

“It’s a tremendous piece of land, and that was one of the attractions, just seeing what the possibilities were — and we look for projects where there’s a lot of really good golf just lying on the ground, and this certainly had it,” said Eric Iverson, one of a four-man team from Renaissance Golf Design who are senior associates for the firm’s founder and world-renowned designer, Tom Doak. While the latter may offer suggestions, this design and joint building crew with Gull Lake View staff, is in the very capable hands of Iverson, Brian Schneider, Brian Slawnik and Don Placek.

“I think the golf course is going to be — elegant comes to mind sometimes,” Iverson added. “It’s just a gently rolling, nice piece of ground with fantastic native grasses to work with. We really just tried to not do too much, and I think we’re accomplishing that.”

Iverson was transfixed by the plateau location along the river valley. Previous land owners tended to an apple orchard, then sold it to home developers who stripped it clear of all those trees, before eventually selling it to the Scott family when the residential development didn’t transpire.

“You can see a lot of holes in a lot of directions and there’s just beautiful views everywhere,” he said.

The challenge

The basic elements golfers will want to know is the fact there are no water hazards, understandable for being on such highly-elevated ground. Protecting par will be its challenging green complexes, smartly-placed bunkers requiring golfers to not always take a straight line, and the wind — oh boy the wind.

“It’s a strategic golf course and it’s going to hold its own, but the wind is a big part of it (protecting par),” Iverson said. “Even on a relatively calm day in the region, there is always a little bit of a breeze up here. A great golf breeze, 10 miles an hour or so, a half club here and half club there. You just have to pay attention to it; it’s a great asset for the course.”

Many times, however, the wind will be much more brisk than a club or two.

“The greens are pretty interesting,” Iverson said. “There’s a lot of strategic bunkering, and you’re going to be encouraged to tack your way around the hazards to get the best angles, and there’s enough width to do that. There will be very little ‘going down the middle.’ We’ve made room to hedge to one side or the other (of fairways) to get the better angle.”

It’s not Augusta, but it is

Scott has made it clear from inception he wants Stoatin Brae to be fun — not necessarily meaning easy — but fun. He relates that to how golf courses used to be built, in the 1930s and prior.

“Look at Augusta National (Golf Club) for instance,” Scott said, as a 25-m.p.h. wind swirled up some light dust around us in late September on the property located in Augusta, Mich. “That course was designed where there weren’t any roughs, it’s basically fairway to fairway (think Amen Corner). It’s meant to be wide open, so if you were a good player it was a challenge, but if you were a bad player you could still find your ball and hit it again.

“That course is still like that today. So in many ways, Stoatin Brae is a return to some of the basic philosophies of the ‘30s and earlier that were more focused on the average golfer instead of on the pro golfer. Pro golf has sort of led the charge in course design since the 1960s.”

Scott continued his soliloquy as to why golfers should love his latest effort of the heart.

“We always want people to have a fun and enjoyable experience,” he said. “This new course is not meant to kill people. We’re not trying to put a stake in the ground and say this is where the pros will come. We’re a resort and we want people to be able to enjoy themselves here.

“We do want it to be challenging. We want good golfers to play it and say we had to play a good game to make it work. But if you’re not a good golfer and you’re just hitting the ball around, we still want it to be fun for everybody. That fun factor is way too underplayed in the golf business today, and it’s a big issue.

“The fairways are wide,” Scott continued. “It’s different from our other courses in the stylistic and the visual – wide open, grassy top of the hill, windswept, broad shouldered, open skies.

Another visual that excites Scott is the fact after the apple trees were removed by the prior owners they planted a wide variety of native grasses and wild flowers. Scott claims that a golfer could play once a month and each time see a different course per color changes throughout the grass and flower growing seasons.

“So much of golf in the United States is fields that have grown up into forests (providing tree-lined fairways), which is great too,” he said. “But this course is meant to be an open field – forever. And it works because the topography is outstanding.”

Bedford Valley lands a spot in the top ten best golf courses to play by Golf Advisor

Top 10 courses of Q3 2015

1. Scotch Hall Preserve, Merry Hill, N.C.

2. Sun Mountain Course at Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort, Las Vegas

3. Yocha Dehe at Cache Creek, Brooks, Calif.

4. Pole Creek Golf Club, Tabernash, Colo.

5. Niagara Frontier Country Club, Youngstown, Ontario

6. Wolfdancer Golf Club, Lost Pines, Texas

7. Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, Ojai, Calif.

8. Little Traverse Bay Golf Club, Harbor Springs, Mich.

9. Bedford Valley Country Club, Battle Creek, Mich.

10. Whitetail Golf Club, Eganville, Ontario

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Gull Lake View & Renaissance Golf Design bring a new golf experience to Southwest Michigan

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Renaissance Golf Design has been chosen to complete the design and shaping work on the newest course at Gull Lake View Golf Club in Augusta, Michigan. Eric Iverson, Don Placek, Brian Schneider, and Brian Slawnik, the Senior Associates for Renaissance, are collaborating with the Scott Family to bring this new course into play in 2016. The course, tentatively named Stoatin Brae (which means Grand Hill in Scotish Gaelic) will be number six in the Scott Family’s collection of golf courses and a very different addition in terms of its design. This is only the second course that the Scott’s haven’t designed and built themselves and is a dramatic departure from their existing courses. “The open, rolling terrain really lends itself to a course with very strong, links type characteristics” says Jon Scott, a third generation of the Scott Family to own and operate Gull Lake View Golf Club and Resort. “We see this as an opportunity to grow our business and offer our customers more opportunity to play fun, interesting, and challenging golf courses.”

The Renaissance team has played a significant role in the design and shaping of many celebrated golf courses around the world. Renaissance is known for its minimalist approach to golf and a big part of the design process was finding the right places for the holes without moving any more dirt than was necessary. “This is a really dynamic piece of property”, says Iverson. “We knew right away we could help the Scotts build the kind of course that we love – roomy, engaging holes laid over great golfing ground, with beautiful views in every direction.” The design philosophy places a premium on working with the existing topography to disturb as little as possible while producing a fun golfing experience. “Finally, the focus on golf being fun has become more mainstream in golf design, but it has been our focus all along.

While part of the approach is to avoid having to manufacture any holes, it also means that we avoid undoing cool, unique features that nature provides, and navigating those holes is where the fun lies.” More than anything, the course is designed to be both visually memorable and something that a golfer can enjoy playing every time they return.

And return they have. For over fifty years, the Scotts have grown from a single eighteen hole course designed an built by patriarch Darl Scott to ninety holes of golf with overnight lodging, practice facilities, and restaurants. “We prefer to make our profits over the long term with return business. We try to keep our greens fees competitive and our courses in immaculate shape. It has kept people coming back. We have some groups that have been coming back for forty years or more.” Says CEO Charlie Scott.

This new course is slated to be a par 71 playing over 6800 yards from the tips. As one of the highest spots in Kalamazoo County, it has amazing views all around the course and vistas that rival those in northern Michigan or the mountains of Carolina. The site is a dramatic piece of land that makes for a dramatic piece of golf. The designers envision a championship caliber course with something for everyone. A variety of tees for all ages and skill levels will make the course playable for female and youth golfers. “We need to be able to offer golf as a pastime to everyone, not just the guy who can hit the ball 275 yards,” says Bill Johnson, Vice President of Gull Lake View. “This is too good of a site to keep for just a select group. We want everyone to come out and enjoy the experience that this ground has to offer.”

Even more than this, the new course will add to what is already a major golf economy in Southwest Michigan. Southwest Michigan is the unheralded gem of golf in the midwest and with six courses, Gull Lake View becomes one of a select few of golf resorts with this much to offer the traveling golfer. With nearby drive markets in Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Canada, the location is ideally located to draw from a huge population of golfers. The Scotts expect that this new golf course will provide a great opportunity to attract new customers and spread their golf message to a wider audience.“We want to make this area a choice destination for all types of visitors and vacationers. We feel like golf, especially new golf, can do that,” says Jon Scott.

The Scotts have always had a huge commitment to community (this year they will offer two new college scholarships to local high school graduates). “This course allows us to pursue our passion and grow the community at the same time, a win-win situation.” Offers Charlie Scott. There are some who may question the wisdom of building a golf course in such a tough golf market. “We may seem a little crazy to do this, but we are contrarians at heart. We quit building golf courses in the mid nineties when there was a boom and are starting to build now when others are closing.

It may seem nuts, but we love golf and this site is one of those that begs to have a golf course on it.”

The course is planned to begin construction this spring and the Scotts hope to have it in playing condition by mid 2016. Gull Lake View will be hosting a ground breaking event June 2015, for more information on our ground breaking event and course updates, visit gulllakeview.com.