At a time when the game of golf is still trying to stabilize its economic footing, why is Gull Lake View, near Battle Creek, opening a new resort-style course?
Gull Lake View East
photograph courtesy of gUll lake view golf club and resort
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In the 1980s, during the glory days of Michigan golf — when more courses were built and opened here than anywhere in the country — layouts designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones, Tom Weiskopf, and Tom Fazio transformed northern Michigan into a golfing mecca.
That was then. Today’s reality, statewide and around the country, is much different. Waning interest in the game, longer workdays, and poor business practices by some golf club operators have curtailed memberships and green fees, along with food and beverage receipts.
One such postscript is the High Pointe Golf Club on the outskirts of Traverse City, once ranked among the best in the country. The 225-acre facility is now a hops farm, supporting the state’s burgeoning craft beer industry. Never mind that High Pointe was the first course designed by architect Tom Doak at the start of a notable career that has seen him produce some of the most significant courses built in America and around the globe over the past two decades.
In post-recession Michigan, as the golf industry continues to recalibrate and regain its economic footing, one of the state’s best resort success stories has been unfolding with little fanfare in the tiny village of Augusta, halfway between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo on the state’s west side.
At the Gull Lake View Golf Club and Resort, three generations — grandfather, Darl Scott; his son, Charles; and Charles’ son, Jon — have quietly been developing their own field of dreams. With four courses they designed and built themselves, starting with the first course in 1963, and a highly regarded nearby fifth one they acquired in 1988, the Scotts this season are taking the wraps off the resort’s sixth course, Stoatin Brae (Gaelic for Grand Hill), one of only two new golf courses to open in Michigan this year.
In both instances, Doak and his team are playing a major role. In a departure from their previous history, the family decided not to build the new course themselves. Instead, they entrusted a team from Renaissance Golf Design in Traverse City to produce the 18-hole, 6,800-yard course atop a 200-foot-high plateau, on the highest elevation of their property. The site commands a spectacular 10-mile view over the Kalamazoo River Valley, with downtown Battle Creek visible in the distance.
Renaissance Golf Design is the company Doak founded more than 25 years ago and built into one of the most sought-after golf design firms in the world. But Doak wasn’t personally involved in the Gull Lake project. Instead, he suggested to the family that they hire his longtime associates Brian Schneider, Eric Iverson, Don Placek, and Brian Slawik to oversee the development.
Ironically, the group is also involved with the other new course opening in Michigan this year. That project, The Loop, at the Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon, near Gaylord, is one of the most anticipated courses in modern times — a unique reversible layout that plays in a circular pattern using the same 18 greens. A foursome can head out in one direction and play 18 holes, and on the following day they play a completely different layout by reversing their direction.
While The Loop and Stoatin Brae will get their fair share of play from golfers eager to try a new layout, the latter course adds to the lore of Gull Lake View. With the addition of a sixth course, the resort now ranks second to northern Michigan’s Boyne Resorts in the number and variety of courses under the same management umbrella. “We’re certainly flying under the radar a little bit,” Jon Scott says. “With six courses, we compete very well as a destination golf resort. Other than Boyne, we’re the biggest and oldest (golf resort) in the state.”
Jon Scott says he spent four years thinking about and developing the concept of a new layout. “I’m very excited about the course and I think it’s even better than I imagined it could be,” he says. “There were only five or six new golf courses built in the United States in 2015, the least amount of golf courses being built in the country from the time they started building golf courses.”