Seeing Is Believing At Oak Marsh
By Tim Cotroneo
Oak Marsh Golf Course General Manager Steve Whillock is a strong proponent in the power of visualization. In 1996, when Whillock first walked 186 acres of untamed Oakdale farmland, it was hard to visualize what would soon be Oak Marsh. At that time the course didn’t have a single sapling, let alone greens, tee boxes, and a two-tiered clubhouse. “One of our first orders of business was to get our hands dirty planting 3,500 trees. We’ve come a long way since then,” Whillock said.
Planting roots for long-term success is still an integral part of Oak Marsh’s day-to-day game plan. When Whillock dons his operations hat he becomes a multi-tasker who balances golf’s best traditions with the latest in industry technology. In fact, Whillock has, quite by accident, been tagged as a golf social media expert.
“Even though I had no background in social media, I decided to dive in with a little help from my then teenage daughter Samantha,” Whillock said. When he’s not Tweeting on Twitter, Whillock can be found starring in YouTube videos promoting Oak Marsh’s Couples Nights. Whillock can be viewed dressed as a pirate, a Blues Brother, and a cowboy on horseback. “We try not to take ourselves too seriously here, but the truth is, those videos are gold when it comes to getting the Oak Marsh name out there,” Whillock said with a smile.
2,000 Rounds In March
Whillock can only shake his head in amazement when asked how the course has grown over its 19 years of Oakdale existence. One way the course stands out is to be one of the first to open each new golf season. After two miserably long winters in 2013 and 2014, Oak Marsh saw its first golfers on March 10 this year. One of the best early spring weather seasons translated into a record 2,000 rounds played in March.
To complement their golf revenue income stream, Oak Marsh’s 10,000 square-foot clubhouse has become a huge favorite for weddings, banquets, reunions, anniversaries, birthdays, and meetings. One reason for Oak Marsh’s hospitality popularity is that the clubhouse offers multiple event room options with the Grand Oak Room hosting 300 people and the Willow Room holding 120.
Whillock believes one of the main reasons for Oak Marsh’s success is the long-standing tenure of many key staff members. “We built this clubhouse in 1998, and that’s the same year that our Food and Beverage Director Krista Fahey came on board. Our Superintendent Brandon Gauster has worked at Oak Marsh for a decade. Krista and Brandon are not only very good at their jobs, they really get it when it comes to customer service and marketing,” Whillock said.
Friday Couples Events
Courting golfers for the long-term is ingrained into the Oak Marsh business plan. Oak Marsh features a number of loyalty programs for seniors, couples, and birthdays. The couples event is held on a single Friday night each month and has evolved into a popular social happening at Oak Marsh.
“This summer we have a Caddy Shack night in May, a Hawaiian night in June, a Wild West night in July, a Wine and Nine in August, and then we conclude with an Up Nort night in September. Prizes are awarded to the best dressed couple, and we usually feature a surprise that greets participants at each event,” Whillock said.
Providing golf lessons has long been a favorite aspect of Whillock’s job. As his golf operations responsibilities have grown, Whillock has curtailed his instruction to a handful of long-standing pupils. The good news for Oak Marsh golfers is that the course is home to one of the top-teaching professionals in the state.
Angie Ause, a former player on the University of Minnesota Women’s Golf Team, was the 2013 LPGA Teacher of the Year for the Midwest Section. Angie’s goal after each lesson is for golfers to feel confident that they understand their game better and know what needs to be done to improve their game.
As for the psychological aspect of the game, Whillock resorts to his literary secret weapon, a book that deals with the power of visualization. Whillock’s golf bible is David Cook’s Psychology of Tournament Golf. Whillock keeps a dozen copies of the book in the pro shop, and he’ll often reach for one when speaking with a golfer whose game could be elevated by concentrating on what they’ve done right, rather than dwelling on their mistakes.
What’s in a Name?
Whillock attributes much of Oak Marsh’s success, as well as his own, to long-time mentor Wendell Pittenger. “When Wendell first hired me, he shared a lesson I’ll never forget. Wendell encouraged me to learn as many of our golfer’s names as possible. Just like at Cheers, customers will come back if you remember their name,” Whillock said.
Visualization, recalling a name, and planting 3,500 trees are three secrets to Oak Marsh’s success. Those three secrets and 2,000 rounds in March should make 2015 one of the best golf seasons ever.