The Oak Marsh Mojo
By Rhett Arens
As you walk into the Pro Shop at Oak Marsh you are likely to be greeted by name. You’ll want to double check your wallet for your membership card, but alas, there are no members here. In fact, you can’t buy a membership here. But that doesn’t stop Steve Whillock and his team from treating you like one. First class all the way.
Steve Whillock is the Director of Golf and GM at this workhorse of a course. Smartly he has built a fine-tuned, extraordinary team of professionals during his long tenure at Oak Marsh. He is always at the course and always working to better the customer experience, leading by example. He did however find a little time to sneak out and play some golf in 2016. Using his own teaching techniques he went out and won the 2016 Minnesota Senior PGA Match Play Championship and to top that off, later in the year was named 2016 Golf Professional of the Year. That’s some serious mojo.
The Food and Beverage team who oversee The Golfers Grille restaurant and F&B Operations are new to the team in 2017 and come with a wealth of background that has reinvented the menu and raised the bar on food. Managers Kathryn White and John Maurer come from a Culinary Degree & Macy’s and Lancers & Prom Catering background respectively; a great combination for any golf course. Head Chef Ryan Hoffman makes sure this is not just a hotdog and chips type operation. Several standout menu selections include: Steve’s Smoked Turkey Sandwich, the Monster Roz Sandwich, Cajun Cheese Curds and their own homemade potato chips and great beer batter fries. Of course, they also serve awesome hamburgers using the freshest meat and condiments. The proof is in the steady flow of visitors from nearby businesses who frequent the Grille for lunch.
On the course, longtime Superintendent Brandon Gauster has maintained tournament ready conditions year-over-year at Oak Marsh. This isn’t an easy task when Oak Marsh has been known to open while snow is still on the ground. It’s a testament to his turf management skills that even after a month of early golf the course is in tip-top shape when May and June rolls around. He will be starting on a large bunker renovation project in 2017 that is expected to up the ante on the overall course conditions over the next several years.
There is no lack of creativity on the events calendar at the Oak Marsh complex. This has created a core group of regulars who attend and play in most of the events. A sampling of the theme’s include: Wild West Couples Night (Steve’s favorite), Caddy Shack Night (complete with standup comedy), Tee It Up For The Troops, Hawaiian Night and the Susan G. Komen Pink Swing Classic. All of this alongside a calendar that has 17 leagues playing over 5 days of the week and 80+ fundraiser tournaments throughout the year. Big numbers that speak to the satisfaction with repeat customers and the continuous growth that comes out of Oak Marsh’s hosting capability.
Speaking of hosting, weddings are a big part of the Oak Marsh’s’ success averaging around 45 individual weddings during the long summer months. In addition, the facility regularly hosts corporate meetings and at times funerals and prom celebrations. With three large rooms (Grand Oak Marsh, Willow and Heron), and seating capacity ranging from 10 to 300 any type of event can be customized to meet specific needs. The culinary team will work closely with you to design the menu by offering a choice of buffet meals, plated meals and/or hors d’oeuvres.
Playing Oak Marsh is like sitting down to a nice meal. It’s not a long course, which isn’t such a bad thing when winding your way through pristine marshlands and navigating the twists and turns around fairway berms. In fact, it’s a pleasure to step up to a shorter par 3 once in a while – like the 130 yard #6. The green has some real slope, which can make things tough if you’re above the hole. The par 5 seventh can be a birdie hole with a long tee shot and a little help from a tailwind. Fight the tendency to over swing or you could end up in the long marsh that runs up the left side of the fairway. The back nine starts with a short par 4 that provides a small target gap and a risk/reward decision. The smallish green makes things interesting for the second shot. Go for it!
The final stretch of #16, #17 and #18 provide a fantastic variety of golf shot opportunities and course management options.
As Steve likes to say, “Don’t worry about your swing, pick a small spot and visualize your target line.” As a long-time PGA Teaching Professional, he knows the time to tweak your swing is on the range. He likes the Jordan Spieth approach, visualize and commit, which is exactly how he runs Oak Marsh and why it is a must stop on the Twin Cities golf circuit.