Tarnished Platinum
by Kevin Turnquist

Memorial Day, in addition to its original meaning, has come to symbolize the start of another summer. Barbecues, trips to open up the cabin, and digging those white shoes out of the back of the closet. For the SportsPage golf staff it meant the eagerly anticipated return to one of our favorite Metro courses, the Majestic Oaks Platinum Course in Ham Lake.

A half dozen or so prior visits had been so satisfying that, during an evening of winter bar talk, one of our writers had even contemplated the golf nomads unthinkable leap of faith. Getting a patron’s card. The argument went that ponying up a hundred bucks or so would be well worth the price if it meant being able to play the Platinum Course regularly with preferred tee times all summer. This turned out to be one of those rare, fortunate times when being cheap and lazy paid off. If we had actually purchased one of those quasi-memberships we’d be back to that old head banging habit again. Our Memorial Day golf extravaganza only served to remind us of what a living, fragile thing a golf course is. And how quickly a great course can become a mediocre one.

In contrast to the summer of ‘96, May of ‘97 found Majestic’s big lovely greens to be pocked marked monstrosities. Debate centered on whether this was the result of a crazed aerationist last fall or whether repairing ball marks had finally fallen out of fashion in the tiny burg of Ham Lake. We finally concluded that both must be true. The pits were just too numerous and irregularly spaced for either explanation alone.

Sadly, the fairways on this former gem were in even worse condition than the greens. It looked like they took a lot of winterkill and had been subjected to some strange effort to bring them back to life. The results were extensive areas of hard, deadened turf with little rectangular lines scored into them. Granted, winterkill affected a lot of courses this year but most of them are showing signs of a pulse by now.

Tincture of time would be all this course needs to recover its former glory if the only problems were attributable to a harsh winter and an aeration machine that left fist sized holes. But we saw hints of something more ominous. The attention to detail was no longer in evidence. In several places ambitious projects to move cart paths seemed to lack any clear goal. The new sod replacing the asphalt had been allowed to become dry and withered. Tee boxes were placed in a manner that totally changed the character of some of the holes, sometimes shortening them by as much as 40 yards and taking important hazards completely out of play. Some of the sand traps had not been raked since a recent rainfall. The rangers seemed rather surly, perhaps feeling a bit defensive about the conditions of their course. While Majestic has those little structures to house water jugs spread throughout the course, none of them actually had a water jug in them. By the 18th hole our money was firmly lined up behind "greenskeeper must have left" as the most likely cause of the downturn in Majestic Oaks’ fortunes. While it turned out that we were correct, as usual, this was one of those times when being right didn’t feel so hot.

Maybe it’s just a result of too many conspiracy theories in one lifetime but it does seem, as we hurtle towards the new millennium, that life has evolved into a constant battle with corporations that scheme to offer less and less value for each dollar received. At the Platinum Course this has come in the form of green fees which have been increased by $1, despite the clear decline in the conditions of the course. $26 per weekend round does not put Majestic in the upper echelon of expensive courses but paying more money for an inferior product left us feeling slightly hosed. We are sincere in our hope that the whole summer doesn’t turn out like its first official day.

Majestic Oaks Platinum Golf Course
701 Bunker Lake Blvd.
Ham Lake, MN

1996 Review

Green fee: Weekday: $21;
Weekend: $26.
Drive from TC: Approx. 35
minutes from either downtown.
Difficulty: Moderatly difficult
to difficult