Today’s big story for the Grand Ridge Golf Club is buying back the swimming pool that had been sold in an attempt to save the site, but Robbie Gilbert says that’s just the beginning of the club’s comeback.
Gilbert, who stepped in as club president to save the place, is raising hope that the golf club can not only survive but also thrive even as other courses have closed in south Louisiana and hundreds have been shuttered nationally. Fewer people are playing golf, leaving many of those shuttered courses to become real estate for housing developments.
“I think what’s happening here is such a tremendous story for the parish and for golf courses in general,” Gilbert said. “Golf courses are failing like crazy.”
Grand Ridge was headed in the same direction until Gilbert made his impassioned plea to members and residents of the surrounding Willowridge Subdivision at a meeting aimed at saving what many considered a historic landmark of St. Charles Parish.
In a just a few weeks, Gilbert turned the club’s monthly $18,000 red ink to nearly $20,000 in the black. Memberships rose from about 100 to more than 420.
It took some work and more is needed to sustain the club.Gilbert has been going door to door in the community to generate memberships and get the word out.
“The response has been amazing,” he said.
At this point, he is committed to turning the location back into a community place open to the public – and it’s working.
A crawfish boil held there this past weekend drew more than 200 people.
“Everyone tells me they love having somewhere in the neighborhood where when you walk in the door you know everybody and then you can ride home in your golf cart,” he said.
Gilbert’s wife, Kristen, added the goal is to restore the community feel of the club with events like the St. Patrick’s Day party, karaoke nights and a Mardi Gras party. An Easter Extravaganza for children from babies to teens is planned at 3 p.m. April 8 that will feature games, photo opportunities, a petting zoo and more.
Gilbert maintains country clubs lost their meaning when they went strictly to golfing and then discovered there weren’t as many golfers anymore.
“What has happened is our community was faced with failure” he said. “Over the years, it didn’t make it. Twenty-nine investors bought it about seven years ago and then, through that process, they did their best to try to make it and it got to the point of not making it again.”
Now, under new leadership the club is evolving. Gilbert, along with his wife, sister and brother-in-law, Edie and Chad Nuccio, his parents, Pete and Diane Gilbert, and 13 other investors are helping restore the golf course, as well as the clubhouse by giving it a rustic yet modern elegance.
Rye Canteen restaurant owner Barrett Roberts has opened his second location, Rye on the Ridge, in the clubhouse.
“I’m proud to expand my business to a second location and help to add the excitement and enthusiasm to helping the community coming back with the revitalization of the Grand Ridge Country Club,” Roberts said.
Growing up in Mimosa Park Subdivision, Roberts was a club member and now lives in Willowridge so he’s planning on becoming a member again.
“It’s not only a new business venture, but also an effort to make my own community better,” he said.Gilbert also found the desire to save the golf course in his own childhood.
With its moss-draped ancient oaks and ducks gliding on ponds, he saw an area worth saving and set out to preserve what he loved.
Having grown up in the area picking up turtles and finding golf balls on the course, Gilbert didn’t think it was a good idea to turn the area into a housing development.
“It’s a major part of us,” said an impassioned Gilbert.For new club member, Wendy Sawyer of Willowdale Subdivision, the future is right in her backyard.
Overlooking the golf course, Sawyer had anticipated joining the country club in 2011 when they first moved there, but it didn’t happen. She decided it was time to make the move when she heard the Gilberts were trying to make it work, and she’s even willing to volunteer to help make it happen.
“I joined because I wanted the community to come back as one together,” Sawyer said. “My kids are getting to hang out with their friends at the club, and the swimming pool opening back up is a bonus. I want my kids to grow up with great friends and a good community.”