When our family moved to Willowdale in 1978 we wondered how something so nice could stay so hidden. There, down this lonely road off Hwy. 90 was a stately 10,000 sq. ft. clubhouse, an 18-hole golfcourse, tennis courts and swimming pool.
The lush fairways offered beautiful respites behind the homes in Willowdale. And one didn’t have to cut the grass or keep up the property. It was there…free for the viewing. A priceless adjunct to one’s living space.
Right away, Lou Robinette, an activist club member and Garland’s mom, called me as a new member and somehow put me in charge of the decorations for the fall dance. She suggested I call Charlie and Barbara Sumrall because they knew where to get bales of hay and pumpkins and could help me with the decorations. Hey, that got me right into the swing of things and as a new to the community person was probably just what I needed.
These glimpses from the past filled my mind during the recent Willowdale members’ meeting especially when Dr. Beau Jeansonne asked the members where else could one find such a beautiful golf course in your back yard without having to pay for it. And member Joe Fisher told about dances and activities we had in the past. I remembered lots of parties, including the best Mardi Gras Ball ever, as a spoof on carnival, complete with entertainment by your neighbor.
I was in a Charlie Brown skit and another year we had members representing the KISS Band and yet another year member Jan Jones acted the part of Olivia Newton John in GREASE. There were quarterly parties with bands culminating with a fantastic New Year’s Eve ball. Friday night suppers, tennis matches, golf tournaments and parties, bridge clubs, swimming parties and parties for teens and children were the norm.
But this meeting was called to talk about the future of Willowdale Country Club, not the past. That was then, and now is now and many of the people who were party animals in the past have limited their activities now. In fact Ron Cantrelle, a six year president of Willowdale looked around the room and noted that there were not too many young people in the audience.
Board member Carroll Thibodaux explained the current finances. It costs money to run a golf and country club and especially with less members to contribute to it. The fact is that many members have been lost. Maybe due to both women and men going to work, moving, Involvement in school activities or whatever. But definitely because of Katrina and its aftermath. Club Director Stacey Kinler remembers club membership at 429 before Katrina and now the club has 245.
During the summertime, Willowdale’s swimming pool and swim team are sought after by young families. But there could be other activities that would be right in the neighborhood during 12 months of the year if the club had more membership.
Willowdale’s golf course has been a great boost for many young golfers in our community. Many have gone on to excel on the golfing circuit because a golf course was in their back yards.
It was explained at the meeting that in addition to lost membership, funds have been down because golfing brings in most of the money and Gustav and Ike caused a halt to much of it.
Ideas from the membership were put forth as possible solutions for making money. Cantrelle said that many years ago, some of the golf property rough was sold to several land owners in order to raise money. That idea was presented again because currently there are many rough properties that could be available for sale to landowners.
Member Greg Clayton suggested at the meeting that the driving range property is worth 3/4 of a million dollars and condos could be built there for more money and more members.
A paramount solution seems to encourage more residents to belong to Willowdale Country Club by reminding them what they already get for free and ask for support through membership. Members indicated they want a club that would address current needs and try to fill them. Sign-up sheets were available for involvement in finances, marketing, membership and entertainment.
Cantrell said that several membership levels can be had at different prices so that the club can be all things to all people. Monthly full membership is at $125, more with a personal cart. With full membership, grandchildren can participate. Associate membership including pool and tennis is $52; a golf single monthly cost is just $99 and summer swim season for a family is $425.
The bottom line is that Willowdale Country Club is a diamond in the rough. It has always been and that’s the beauty of it. Being part of it would be a smart thing to do.