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Breezy Point

Fairways & Greens
June 23, 2017

Oak Marsh - Where The Blue Heron Stands Tall
Oak Marsh Clubhouse and Putting Green
+ click to enlarge
Oak Marsh Clubhouse and Putting Green
Oak Marsh #2
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Oak Marsh #2
Rhett Arens

Simply put... Steve Willock is a pro's PRO. As Director of Golf and GM at Oak Marsh, he has worked tirelessly over the last 20 years refining the course playing conditions and continuously improving operations, always with a keen eye on the customer experience. Walk through the door and you're likely to be greeted by name. Keep in mind, this isn't a private course, this is a course that has worked hard to build its reputation and as a result has established a strong core of regulars within the eastern suburbs. Think of it like Cheers, you walk in, take a seat and they place your favorite beverage in front of you without asking. That's Oak Marsh.
But it's much more. The steady growth in rounds over the years is due to a fair and challenging layout. With some constraints on acreage, the course design more than makes up for the distance by taking full advantage of the natural elements, notably the pristine wetlands and towering oaks. Superintendent extraordinaire Brandon Gauster has the greens dialed in perfectly and the 30+ bunkers very well maintained. Over the last five years, Brandon has focused his efforts on increasing the use of native grasses and the overall natural atheistic. This can be seen in spades on the #2 signature hole; a par 4 that requires a healthy dose of bravado to carry the wetlands and hit your layup spot. Note, this hole has both oaks and marsh. In fact, there may even be a blue heron (the courses iconic symbol) quietly watching you from the sanctuary of the surrounding marsh.
According to Steve the state-of-golf "is what it is." He hears the naysayers who say golf is in decline; that the game needs changes. He agrees there are probably too many courses, but he isn't one to dwell on the negative, nor is his staff. He welcomes the competition and sees it as a healthy indicator that benefits the golfer. Looking at a 20-mile radius around the Oak Marsh area there is much to be positive about. Woodbury has seen a sharp population rise in recent years with more on the way. Lake Elmo is in full expansion mode as well. Tartan Park is going from 27 to 18 holes and is repositioning itself as a high-end course with more housing. So there are more golfers circulating in the eastern suburbs looking for quality and value. Oak Marsh is waiting with open arms and GPS carts ready to roll.
A real differentiator within the Oak Marsh business model is the events calendar. Creativity is an appropriate term for what Steve, F&B Managers Krista Fahey and Dianna Wright and Chef Ryan Hoffman bring to the table. An example would be Friday Couples Night where once a month a theme is put into motion with no expenses spared for a 9-hole round and dinner to bring the theme home (Think Western, Hawaiian, UpNort... you get the idea). The Ryder Cup will also trigger a special Couples night in September. Speaking of events, Oak Marsh has built an impeccable reputation as an event destination. The proof is in the year-on-year growth of fundraisers, tournaments, and league play on the calendar. Supporting many worthy causes from breast cancer to our troops, Steve and his staff have worked extremely hard to exceed the expectations of the event planners with a number of value-added extras up their sleeve. Several creative short round programs give the early risers a reason to get out of bed. Four holes for $5 dollars and 9 for $15 ($20 w/cart) provide an opportunity to get some swings in with your morning coffee and loosen that lumbar before 8:00 when the daylight hours are long. They also offer a rewards card that accumulates credits at a 10% rate that keeps the free carts and rounds coming quickly for frequent flyers.
Most diehards in the eastern suburbs know Oak Marsh opens early and closes late. The real science behind turf management is not at odds with this because as the turf goes dormant no real long-term damage is done. The high quality fairway and green conditions early in the season at Oak Marsh prove this point. This philosophy benefits course revenue when staff is minimal and benefits the golfer when you hit an iced over pond in late March. Yes, I have personal experience with this on #10. This year, Oak Marsh opened on February 28th - a record even by their standards.
It's a glass half-full time to play Oak Marsh. With the blue heron quietly watching from the wings and Steve's staff greeting you at the door all that is left for you to do is carve out a little time and roll into that first tee. Cheer's to Steve and the Oak Marsh Team.

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