Stillwater Oaks Has Got Game
By Rhett Arens
I’m hard pressed to find a course in the eastern suburbs that offers a collection of golf holes with more variety than Stillwater Oaks. Within each nine-hole stretch on the card you will find open prairie style free-swingers, tall tree-lined narrow fairways, perplexing doglegs and the always fun, short par 4. That is the Stillwater Oaks Golf Course reputation in a nutshell, it gives you tremendous variety at the same time it is giving you fantastic value. Tweaking the bunker count (less), adding new golf carts and updating the clubhouse has only sweetened the deal
The history of Stillwater Oaks is fascinating as the Nicholson Family horse farm transferred from a collection of pastures into a cornerstone on the golf landscape. With all that pastureland kept clean and tidy through the heavy grazing, it was brought to Bob Nicholson’s attention in an off-hand comment that this land would make a good golf course. I’m not sure if a crystal ball was involved in that prediction, but truer words have never been spoken. Under Bob’s watchful eye, his long-time friend Ron Goulette was brought in and began to layout the course that eventually resulted in the nine-hole design that opened in 1975. In 1984 that was expanded to 18 holes and the rest is history. The course’s gentle elevation changes and arching fairways have held the test of time beautifully. Both pond and creek style water features compliment the deep woods and berm lined greens in a classic combination of elements. Thus fulfilling the dream of the Nicholson family to create a welcoming place for families to come together and enjoy a day on the links.
In his second season as General Manager, Jeff Keating has brought in a player friendly staff and modus operandi geared towards providing optimum value with course conditions that play challenging yet fair. Chances are good you will need all aspects of your game clicking to keep that handicap trending in the right direction. Jeff is usually somewhere within ear’s reach welcoming guests, attending to the clubhouse or out on the course tweaking his 18-hole, par 70, Championship course. Stillwater Oaks has operated quietly with its sneaky, tough layout somewhat under the radar for the past few years and to be honest, the course deserves a bigger audience given the great series of golf holes it presents. It seems like a perfect time to make a little noise in this secluded, peaceful slice of Washington County.
The opening of 2019 has brought a plague of winter kill conditions across many of the Minnesota regions. The problem was not one of budget, but with the expertise of Superintendent Jerry Webb and a willingness to go easy at start-up, the fairways and greens came through very well at Stillwater Oaks. So much so that golfers coming in are making positive comments relative to other courses they played this spring. It’s a testimony to Jerry and Jeff’s great teamwork and they are now reaping the benefits of the positive word of mouth that is going around on the great conditions.
On that first tee box you will be faced with a delicate decision, go hard or go short. Either approach can give you birdie looks, but a deep-drive to either side of that cottonwood can give you an eagle putt. Like Clint Eastwood famously said, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” That same long vs. layup question hits you on the tough par 4 fourth where you can safely leave yourself a 180+ yard second shot, or take a chance on the narrow fairway at the bottom of the hill for a much shorter approach shot. The signature par 3 fifth is all elevation and quite honestly one of the best looking par 3’s in the state. There’s nothing like watching a rocket launch over a pristine pond that ends in a soft thud on the green. Go ahead and drop the mike if you birdy this hole.
The back nine offers a great stretch from 11 through 13 with a little of everything thrown in. Uphill to start, downhill to finish. Target shot to start, target chip to finish. Carry to start, side-hill putt to finish. You get the idea, this place has variety with a side of classic features. The par 5 seventeenth could be called a muscle hole where a big drive and a big 3 wood will reward a look on this two-tiered green. The pin placement and your second shot will determine success. We all know those tiered putts are tough. The par 4 eighteenth gives you that coveted downhill second shot. I’m not sure why, but that is one of my favorite shots in golf.
Jeff has launched a wonderful Saturday/Sunday special for families where after 3:00 the kids play free with Mom and Dad. I’m guessing that special puts a smile on the Nicholson family given their original aim was to provide a family fun course and a foundation for gatherings. Jeff keeps that torch lit and the Nicholson vision for Stillwater Oaks true to its roots.