First Rate Fun At Stillwater Oaks Golf Course
By Rhett Arens
It’s comforting to know there are golf courses out there that deliver year-after-year. They bring a series of exciting holes and enough variety to keep you guessing on club selection. That’s why we keep going back. Part of that appeal is Stillwater Oaks runs like a Swiss watch under the hands-on leadership of General Manager, Head Golf Professional Jeff Keating. Spend five minutes with Jeff and you will understand why. He exudes a calm and sly humor that makes you feel right at home. If he’s not on the range providing instruction he’s likely circulating somewhere with a smile and handshake.
From its humble beginnings as a rolling, tree-covered horse farm in the late 1960’s, the landscape was transformed in 1972 into a 9-hole course by the Nicholson family looking to create a haven for family outings. It eventually blossomed into a full-fledged 18-hole course in 1979 and quickly built its positive reputation. If you do the math, the course has been charming golfers for five decades. I should know, I’m one of them. As proof the course hosts many long-standing events on an annual basis. The North St. Paul High School Alumni Tournament on the last Saturday of each August is one such event. Polar Pride can be heard all over the course on that day. Stillwater Oaks is the perfect locale for such a gathering, where getting friends and family together for some laughs and reminiscing is the end game.
The course architecture delivers on a balance of wooded fairways, elevated par 3’s, enticing water features and a rolling topography that is stingy on flat lies. What’s not to love about that type of golf?
Things start-off looking innocent enough with a birdie opportunity par 5, but beware of the monster tree splitting the fairway which sits right in the wheelhouse. You will find a little stream crossing the fairway near the green as well. That said, there are birdies to be had. The first par 3 seems to always play long. The third, at 155 yards uphill from the whites, shouldn’t rattle too many of us but sticking that green is never easy. The ideal shot keeps your ball under the flag on this sloped green. The second par 3 on the front might be considered the signature hole at Stillwater Oaks. The 135 yard fifth shows-off a dramatically elevated tee box providing beautiful views above the large, natural pond below. Factor in a bit of wind effect and hopefully you’ll be rewarded with an audible thud and a birdie putt. Either way it’s impossible to not enjoy this hole. The par 5 seventh is a sharp dogleg right which tempts the longer hitters to cut the corner. The yardage is dialed in just right to punish those who don’t cut that corner right. This hole was made for the term ‘power fade’ where a great tee shot will reward an opportunity to reach the green in two (assuming the 3-wood is working well). Hole #8 is the third par 3 on the front is another excellent hole with great use of water and plenty of natural beauty. At 156 yards from the whites it plays over a landscaped, cattail strewn pond into a large, gently undulated green.
The overall layout is set-up nicely for a quick stop at the clubhouse on your way to the 10th tee. Jeff and his team are at the ready to fill those coolers and prepare a quick bite to eat as you turn the corner.
The back nine is characterized as a smorgasbord that includes those namesake mature oaks and plenty of grip-n-rip open skies. The par 4 eleventh hole is a delight – even at 425 yards from the whites. It’s helpful to understand where to ‘take the hill’ on your way to a great downhill, second shot look. I’m a big fan of downhill second shots into the green and this hole has me hook, line and sinker. Quirky, strategic, target golf, layup, leave the driver in the bag, postage stamp green, bunkered, protected, tricky, sneaky tough are all terms to describe the short par 4 #12. At 288 yards via the fairway from the whites (a whole notch shorter to cut the corner) this bedeviled hole makes hero shot’s impossible to resist. It speaks to the type of diversity and action you can expect at Stillwater Oaks. I know Jeff is in the clubhouse smirking as knuckleheads like me try to land this green from the tee. The back finishes with another downhill second shot which will have you favoring the hilly side of the green for obvious reasons.
The Saint Croix River Valley is blessed with lots of golf course options. The fact that Stillwater Oaks is thriving after 50 odd years is a testament to the excellent cost and value it delivers. Jeff and his staff will continue to tweak and improve course conditions but above all else they will make you feel like you’ve had a first-rate round of golf. Cheers to the Nicholsons!