It took 5 years to plan and create this place in the swamplands of St. Charles where people live and play today. This is the story of those efforts.
By ALLEN LOTTINGER as told by John Weinnig and other members of Willowdale Country Club in the St. Charles Herald-Guide, Saturday, May 24, 1997
Willowdale – the golf course and subdivision that at one time was almost hidden back in the swamp some 1-1/2 miles off U.S. 90 – was the product of desire and determination almost unmatched in St. Charle Parish history.
It was not likely that the finger ridges built up by the overflow of the Mississippi River in pre-levee days would ever be inhabited by anyone, much less become the center of one of St. Charles Parish’s fastest growing residential and recreational areas.
But today it is a spot of scenic beauty, a natural habitat where young alligators can be seen swimming in the ponds and, sometimes, even sunning on the banks. Eagles have roared past the many oaks and cypress trees that align the fairways. And a variety of Louisiana swamp birds peck their way along the area’s terrain. How it got started is a fascinating tale of how a group of people happened to find this spot of natural splendor and turned it into the object of their dreams. That object was the golf course to satisfy their desire to play the sport that was nurtured at Fashion Golf Club, a nine-hole course in Hahnville that was built in the fifties.
Fashion provided the facilities needed by the local golfers for some time because there were not many of them, according to John Weinnig, one of the founders of Willowdale. Fishing, baseball and Friday night football took care of the recreational and entertainment needs of most residents. But then the big chemical plants began moving personnel in from other area of the country. And many of them were golfers. The local population also began to change its ways. Many switched much of their leisure activities to the sport of trying to get a little white ball into a four inch hole.
It was soon apparent that Fashion’s nine holes on a narrow strip of sugar cane land would not satisfy the growing demand for fairways and greens. And the next golf course was 20 miles away. The events that led up to the creation pf Willowdale actually started at a meeting one night at Pascal’s Bar in Hahnville, recalled Weinnig. On the agenda was the prospect of adding nine holes to the Fashion course south of the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks
After negotiations with the owner of the course, it became apparent to the group that the expansion of Fashion was not feasible. It would alway be a nine-hole course.
But the desire for an expansion of the golf links in the parish did not go away. A group got together and started talking about an 18-hole, private family-oriented country club. The immediate problem was not interested people; it was land.
They decided to make a list of would-be members, and not just golfers. Each person would be asked to put up $500 as a start to help finance the acquisition of land. Lamar “Buga” Landry was designated to receive the applications at his business place, Landry Lumber in Luling.
Though St. Charles Parish had a good salary base per capita, it was not the high stakes country club set. So that began to set the options of how expensive the land could be.
Weinnig was a new resident in the parish and travelled most of the time, which put him at a disadvantage in recruiting new members. So much of that task was left to local businessmen like Landry and others who were here most of the time. They got others interested, such as Donald Samaha at Monsanto Chemical, Gene Wandling and Ed Hartman with Union Carbide, A.J. Marchand with American Cyanamid, Rod Plattsmier, and Stanley Tinney and Rusty Debroca who spoke it up at their tavern on U.S. 90 in Boutte. The list quickly grew to 90 prospects.
This was the time that residential golf course communities were springing up across the country. Timberlane Country Club in Gretna was almost complete; Ellendale in Houma was starting construction. And a failed development around Ama was history.
During the year 1965, Weinnig spearheaded the search for land for the club. He studied and visited every new and old golf development from Lake Charles to Panama City, Fla. The information and help he received was overwhelming.
His first approach to land acquisition was along the river. And he claims this was his first mistake. Not that there was anything wrong with the land, but it was cut up into long narrow strips that required the negotiation of more than two parties, he says. “We were competing against possible chemical plants that had big bucks, and we had nothing but dreams and good intentions. I combed the land off Highway 90 from Westwego through Bayou Gauche. There were good potential sights but no interested parties.” So the search went on.
One day, in a casual conversation with Tinney, a longtime resident of St. Charles Parish who knew a lot of land owners, Weinnig got a lot of valuable information. The two were playing golf at Fashion Golf Club when Tinney suggested buying the property owned by Rathborne Land Co., east of what is now Lagattuta Subdivision, where his hunting club had a lease. The only entrance was by the Texaco road that ran parallel to the Cousins Canal.
Weinning’s next door neighbor in Mimosa Park was Dr. Sidney Simoneaux Jr., also a member of this exclusive hunting club. “It was my understanding that people like Y.A. Tittle, a star NFL football player, and Palmer Long, Huey’s son, were members,” Weinning recalled. “I remember being in court in Hahnville one day paying a traffic ticket when the judge was giving holy hell to two Westwego teenagers caught hunting back there. They would never do it again after the dressing down they received.”
Through Simoneaux and Tinney, Weinning got permission to go on the land and see “Jim,” a resident of the area who was known to every hunter and kid in St. Charles Parish.
“I never knew his last name,” Weinning point out. “He lived in an old shack that was the last structure remaining from the cypress logging days back in the early 1900s. Jim was a trapper, hunter and guide and knew every trail from his cabin to Lake Salvador. All the trails had names after the hunters that used them in their quest for deer, squirrels, ducks and other game.
Jim rode with Weinning in his car on the two-wheel-wide roads that covered miles of beautiful tree-wooded terrain. Every now and then, they would come to an open area with bermuda grass and see cows grazing with the wild deer.
For Weinning, a city boy, this was a great experience. Jim talked very passionately about the people and the hunting experiences of his life in those beautiful woods.
“I could see the development of a par five around big live oaks; a picturesque par three over a marshy area,” said Weinning. “The more I looked at this land, the more I fell in love with it, and the more I became interested.”
Tinny and Simoneaux agreed that the land was the place they needed for the gold course. Two or three hundred acres out of this vast track would not diminish that fabulous hunting ground much.
At this time, Weinning informed some of the small interested groups about his finding and they shared his enthusiasm. He approached the Rathborne company about acquiring the property but ran into a dead end when asked to put up $25,000 as talking money. His group had no money. A few days later, one of the company’s vice presidents called and told him not to give up and to keep in touch.
Weinning then reported his failed mission to Jim, who had told him about another tract containing several thousand acres, own by John Lvert, just north of the Rathborne tract. The two rode around the property on the two-wheel track. It was just like Rathborne’s.
John Levert, president of Levert Land Co., was also vice commodore of Southern Yacht Club where Weinning was a member. This relationship stirred up talk about SYC politics and activities, rather than the prospective gold course during their first meeting in November 1965. During a second meeting December, Levert said he would talk it over with this board of directors at their meeting in January.
This seemed to be the right approach, because Levert called back in January and said his board showed some interest. He asked for further details of the proposal.
The plan was to organize Willowdale Country Club, with a minimum of 100 members, and purchase some 200 acres measuring 20-by-10 acres. It would be initially financed with a stock issue of $300 and an initiation fee of $200. Residential sites would be sold from the acreages to members with restrictions of $25,000 minimum cost and 1,800-square-foot homes.
Construction of the golf course would cost $3,000 to $5,000 per hole, which would allow them to lay out nine holds initially with the remaining nine scheduled for a later date. A swimming pool would also be built initially at a cost of $15,000 to be financed through lot sales.
With the letter, Weinning sent Levert a copy of a brochure about the recent development of Ellendale Country Club, some 35 miles west of the Willowdale site.
Levert was interested and the organizers of Willowdale began to realize their dream.
During the period following when he was negotiating with Levert, Weinning drove Ernest Pinfold, a Scottish Golf Professional with Colonial Country Club for many years, around the property. Pinfold had been giving lessons an doing some construction work at Fashion Golf Club.
“We spent one Saturday afternoon driving the two-wheel roads and walking the hunters’ paths,” Weinning said. “He was very complimentary about the land and shared his enthusiasm. He said if his health was better and much younger he’d be ready to go to work. He offered one piece of advice – use the natural lay of the land, keep it simple and don’t cut a tree down till you have to.”
A few weeks later, Pinfold visited Weinning at his home, bringing him some books and pamphlets by Alister MacKenzie, John L. Lowe and Max Behr. All three were early golf course designers with ideas similar to Pinfold’s. They all aid that some obstacle should be between the tee and green and the more natural the better.
In the meantime, negotiations with Levert got serious. The club would get its 18-hole course and the land company would get is profits later once the following agreement was fulfilled:
- The club agreement with Levert provided for the purchase of some 243 acres for $72,000 on a note for 20 years with no interest for the first 10 years and 5 and 1/2 percent interest during the remaining 10. The club was to complete and 18-hole course in four years and leave all outside building sites for Levert’s use with all utilities furnished by the club to be available for use by Levert. The agreement also allowed the club to purchase property around the course for homesites at a cost of $350 per acre, which would be applied to the purchase price.
Roland Bernard of Survey Inc. prepared drawings to help in the act of sale. The deal was finalized by the club’s attorney, Leon “Sonny” Vial of Hahnville, at no cost to the club.
Much to members’ surprise, the land was shaped like a parallelogram instead of a rectangle. with the unofficial drawings, they got busy laying out cut-out models of fairways, tees, greens and lakes. their purpose in doing this was to get some idea of what they were dealing with in area size.
Weinning called a meeting of interested people who could help prepare a list of prospective members. Include among those attending were Gene Wandling, Lamar Landry, Donald Samaha, Ed Hartman, Leon Vial, Norman Pitre, Rod Plattsmier, A.J. Marchand, Roland Bernard and Drs. Freeman Heck, Joe Isolani and Matt Huff.
Vial and Weinning explained the proposed agreement with Levert and describe the work that Bernard was doing that would allow them to finalize the agreement.
The group voted in favor of both. They also agreed to elect a board of directors, preferably from among local residents interested in the project. It was suggested that some of the board members be on the staffs of the chemical plants in St. Charles Parish to give a wide range of exposure to their membership drive.
The name of Willowdale Country Club was adopted at Weinning’s home, at 327 Wanda St. in Luling, was selected as the temporary official address. A drawing by Joan Zammitt showing a weeping willow tree with a flag on a green was adopted as the club’s logo.
First officers and board members elected at the next meeting a few weeks later were John Weinning, president; Roland Bernard, vice president; Donald Samaha, vice president, chemical engineer, Monsanto Chemical; Leon Vial, secretary, attorney; Lamar Landry, treasurer, part owner of Landry Lumber Co.; Norman Pitre, board member, attorney; Ed Hartman, board member; purchasing agent, Union Carbide; John Hill, board member, assistant plant manager, Union Carbide; John Hill, board member, assistant plant manager, Union Carbide; A.J. Marchand, board member, engineer, American Cyanamid, and Bob Wensch, board member, engineer, Hooker Chemical.
That night, Weinning started the financial ball rolling by giving the newly elected treasurer his check for $500. His stock number was to be No. 1 and, as members deposited their $500 in the St. Charles Bank, their numbers would follow in that order. It was agreed at that meeting that Rod Plattsmier and Bob Derveloy would be custodians of the funds, and no money could be spent without their release. Within a few weeks, the club had $80,000 on deposit in the Bank of St. Charles.
The new club could not afford a golf course architect, so they signed a contract with Central Industries of Lafayette, which was building a course in Baton Rouge, and doing engineering, construction and layout work at other courses. This was the least expensive way to proceed, because it allowed them to break down the construction in phases.
The board appointed a building committee consisting of Ed Hartman, Art Robinson, Samaha, Bernard and Weinning.
Weinnig hand-delivered the first drawings prepared by Bernard in May 1966 to Central Industries and told them that entrance to the property would probably be about 600 feet east of the northwest corner. One reason for this was that the club had verbal commitments from the three land owners to the west to enter the property at this location from Third Street in Mimosa Park across the Cousins Canal or from the Texaco Road from U.S. 90. Also because there was a large stand of live oaks in this ridge area. That area is about 180 yards off the Number 2 tee going west to the Number 2 green and a section over Levert and Weinning Drive.
Weinning also delivered some drawings he had made for talking purposes to the company. He told Central that they wanted the two nines to be as different as possible, but to get the maximum amount of lots as possible.
“Central was waiting for a topographic drawing of the land that gave elevations so their early design work was limited,” said Weinning. “We felt we picked the best portion of land available to us, which offered more ridges and less swamp area. Roland confirmed this with his survey crew.”
Progress continued as the club’s charter, prepared by Pitre, was received on May 16, 1966. A line of credit was established at the Bank of St. Charles.
At that time, all of the officers and board members were busy on their project. Sonny Vial was working on land documents, Bernard was doing survey work. The building committee was going forward, interviewing engineering firms. And everyone was talking positive.
The club announced that a meeting would be held in Mimosa Park Schools’ auditorium in June and asked members to bring a friend. It was well attended. Officers explained what was going on and that construction would be starting soon.
“We always had or skeptics and negative people around,” said Weinning. “One local businessman told his customers, ‘They will never build anything in that swamp, you can kiss your $500 goodbye.’ At the Mimosa School meeting, a gentleman stood up and asked me what I was getting out of this. May answer was that my feelings were the same as most of the people in the audience – to get an 18-hold golf course. I would buy one share of stock and one lot, that is how it remains to this day.”
Thins were going well and everybody was upbeat. The board agreed to let the bank invest their funds on deposit in short term securities at no cost to Willowdale. This provided $6,000 profit.
At that time, entrance to Willowdale was from the southwest corner, which is now at the intersection of Cottage and Beaupre drives. The club had permission from Rathborne to cross its land at that point. It was the only access from Texaco Road, which provided a route to U.S. 90 along Cousins Canal. Draglines, dozers and survey and construction equipment were headquartered at this location. At one time, there were five different contracting firms working simultaneously.
One of the adjacent property owners, however, would not give the club a right-of-way without stipulations and payment in acreage along the golf course, which was unacceptable to the club. So the board agreed to change the entrance to the north side on property owned by Levert, which accepted, provided the main road in the subdivision would lead to the company’s property on the south side of the subdivision. The Club agreed to that.
An entrance road was then built on the newly acquired right-of-way from U.S. 90 by P&L, a local contracting firm, at a cost of $80,000. It is the same one that exists today. The roadbed was formed by laying trees cut down along the route across the width of the road. This was topped with river sand, then shell. It was rough, messy and dusty, but it was a start. It has since been blacktopped and overlaid several times by the parish.
By this time, Central Industries had its topo drawing and was proceeding to finalize the golf course and subdivision lots. with the company’s cooperation, the club made a change in the layout to provide a true dog leg par 5 and opened up the back nine to give the course a more picturesque look instead of the confinement between houses. Central suggested the club install a 15-inch low lift pump with an outer perimeter canal to do as much drainage as possible before starting construction. A pump with a Waukesha engine that could run on gasoline, natural gas and LPG was installed on a platform about where the cypress trees now stand on the Number 13 fairway about 150 yards from the green. The outside ditch and pump cost approximately $27,600. Central dug the ditch and installed the pump. The pump was automatically operated from a float signal that started the engine, clutched it in and out, and shut down automatically. In May 1967, a 10,000 GPM 15 hp electric pump was purchased and the engine pump was relocated at the present site of Willowdale pump station by the back of the Number 14 green. This two-pump system provided a primary and standby system.
The club fueled the engine with LPG from a tank that was furnished free by the LPG company. The big problem was getting the tank and future fuel with a reasonable location to the engine. The back nine was not cleared and much of the fairways 13, 15, 16 and 17 were in a swamp area. This is why the pump was located off the Number 13 fairway, to assure a good flow of water.
The first thing Central Industries did was dig a canal or big ditch around the entire property. When this was finished, and a few drainage ditches were connected, the canal filled up with water. The LPG tank was delivered empty and put in the canal at the southwest corner where Willowdale and Rathborne properties meet. The tank was floated to its location by a survey boat with an outboard motor provided by Bernard. Central Industries put it in place on a platform with a dragline.
A 1-1/4 inch pipeline was laid along the east levee to about where the Number 13 tee is now. McMillan dozed a path to this location for the fuel truck to make deliveries. Water was pumped out day and night, and it wasn’t long before the area started to dry out and construction could continue. The pie is still somewhere under the present levee.
The building committee was busy interviewing engineering firms. DeLaurel Engineers of New Orleans was selected to handle all of the interior and exterior utility work, as well as interior roads and drainage. The firm was engineer for St. Charles Parish at the time and familiar with parish codes and other local factors.
With an arm full of drawings and a letter from DeLaurel Engineers, Weinning appeared before the policy jury. He gave each member a copy of the club’s sales brochures and requested approval to start work. They asked a few questions, were very courteous, and wished the new club good luck.
Drawings of the golf course and subdivision lots were displayed in all the local banks and Fisher Furniture Store. They, along with Pioneer Plan numbers one and two, were also mailed to members explaining the procedures of selecting lots based on stock number. Also indicated were lot sizes and building restrictions.
In late September, the club had its big meeting with 116 members in attendance. It was a success with 67 members buying $201,000 worth of lots. Good advance preparation provided a smooth selection procedure.
“We announced at that time that changes could be made on an individual basis and lot sales would be limited to members only until further notice,” Weinning noted. “It was a demonstration of blind faith when you consider that over 90 percent of the people who purchased lots that night were never on the site. How could we fail in the future?”
The bulldozers, dredgeline and various other equipment were in full swing in January 1967, and it was going to be this way all year. The sale brochures listing all 174 charter members were circulating around the parish. The board set May 31 as the final day that lots would sell for $3,500. They would increase to $4,000 on June 1 and that price would be re-evaluated when 25 more lots were sold.
Mel Borey was appointed chairman of the swimming pool committee and asked to present his committee and future plans at the next board meeting.
During this period, the title transfer for lots went off as planned, and members had clean titles on the 68 lots sold. Willowdale had clean title on 74 other lots that had been released at that time. Around July 1, P&L was finishing the entrance and roads on the west side. McMillan Dozer Service was clearing the first nine holes of the golf course and Survey, Inc. had started staking out lots on the west side with numbers and sold signs.
Carnival season arrived and the club decided to celebrate with a dance. They rented the St. Charles Recreation Building. “Bea Hartman, Joan Zammett, Lou Robinette and Ann Maroney decorated this building like you’e never seen before,” said Weinning. It was a BYOB party and Rod Plattsmier handled the set up and ice Member’s sons were waiters.
A group from Monstanto made George Russell king and paraded him around on an elevated throne. He waved his scepter to all his subjects as they hoisted their BYOB glasses in response.
And that was the start of the Koon Ass Ball, which became an annual event. It was the wackiest part of the year in St. Charles Parish.
The club signed a contract with Clement Betpoe Jr. & Co. for the laying of sewage, gas and water lines at the Bank of St. Charles in the presence of all parish utility managers present. The work, which would take eight months, was $178,711 for sewage, $88,173 for water, $22,434 for gas and $29,000 for surveying and engineering.
Everything was going fine until Ed Harman suggested the club plant rye grass on the finished fairways for aesthetic purposes. They tried it on Number 2 and, when it came up, it was impressive. So they had Central plant the seeds on the other first nine holes and, by December, the club had a good stand of rye grass.
But then, Harry Posts’ cows that roamed on adjacent lands, got the scent and came out of the woods in all directions, leaving hoof prints from 4 to 9 inches deep all over the fairways. The finished fairways on the front nine were a disaster and they could not do anything about it until spring.
When club officials went back to Levert to see what could be done about the cows, he said that Post was a good tenant and he was there first. So Weinning approached Post about buying his cattle lease. The answer was no because the woods, which were 10 degrees warmer than open fields, were needed for winter grazing. It helped the cattle retain their body heat and fat.
So they only solution was to build a fence, which the club did at a cost of $2,400. It has since been removed.
But the fence did not solve all of the problems. Post called Weinning one morning to inform him that about 10 of his cattle were out on U.S. 90 because the club had failed to put a cattle guard at the beginning of the entrance road. Post gave the club a two-car cattle guard, which was installed promptly.
Winning got some good advice from golf pro John Fister who was a greens superintendent and Houma Golf Club and was supervising the construction of Ellendale Country Club near Houma at the time. Fister walked the new Willowdale course with Weinning and Rod Plattsmier. He suggested they hire a professional greens superintendent at that time since the greens and tees had the basic dirt in place but were not yet shaped or dressed. So the search began.
The first pro they interviewed turned the club down because members would be allowed to use private carts. This has always been an issue with golf pros because club-owned golf carts usually provide a good income for the pros who get a cut. At some clubs, the pros even own the carts and get all of the income.
But Willowdale was committed to its membership, many of whom owned their own carts. Upon Fister’s recommendation, Weinning and Donald Samaha interviewed Everett Alleman, who accepted the job as the club’s first pro. From that day on, Alleman took over seeing to the construction of the greens on the first nine, and construction of the back nine. He suggested they use trees and lakes for hazards in lieu of sand traps to keep maintenance to a minimum. He stressed the importance of installing a good irrigiation system to all greens. This job was given to Russell Daniels Irrigation Co. of Florida at a cost of $70,000. When the first nine was ready, they put in the pump and pump house, and finished the job on the back nine in 1970. It was an electric system and fully automatic.
Willowdale was the first course in the area to use dwarf tifton on greens and aprons. When the course opened in August, it had the best greens in the area.
Alleman was a big help with his broad knowledge and ability to maintain the course with a minimum crew, Weinning noted. “He got along well with our contractors, and we made deals with other contractors like Leonard Lauve and P&L to work for lots or lake spoils in lieu of cash.”
The early acquisition of Everett gave the club many cost savings such as disposal of unburned stumps. The mounds seen on seven of the fairways are the burial grounds of the remains of those stumps. They add character to the flat fairways.
All fairways meet or exceed the U.S.G.A. regulations of 30 yards wide. Wennning said they would have liked to clear some trees out of the roughs that would lend the course a more spacious appearance. But Alleman pointed out that those problems could wait.
Just as a point of information, the big dip on the Number 5 fairway is Bayou DeSalle and the bank on each side of the highest elevation in Willowdale, 5.5 feet. The lowest level is Number 15 lake – 1-foot.
As Alleman pointed out early in the construction, good greens required a lot of care; plus good grass, good drainage and an abundance of water. Even though the area gets a lot of rain, controlled watering is very essential, so the club used its rough clearing fund for a good irrigation system.
“We found out in the early stages that even though we were practically surrounded by water, we didn’t have enough in dry seasons,” Weinning said. “That is why Number 14 lake is connected to Number 15 and a drainage ditch was dug to Number 1 lake pump house. We also installed a self-priming pump with an electric motor on pump platform to take water from the swamp to supplement our water shortage during dry seasons. We own the platform and pump at this time and later turned them over to the parish.”
Weinning made a trip to Baton Rouge where LSU Forestry Department representatives advised him to keep the water table up in the outer ditches to save the cypress trees. Wildlife and Fisheries representatives gave advice on stocking the lake with fish.
Glen Douglas built the first house in Willowdale subdivision and had to use LPG gas until a favorable ruling the by the Louisiana Supreme Court gave the LGS Company the right to pipe gas into the subdivision. Douglas was an avid golfer and went on to spearhead some of the cartpath tournaments.
The club started charging $15 per month dues in August and met with little opposition from members. Only one member reneged at first, but later came back into the fold.
The club bought a used trailer for $85, which was used half for a pro shop and the other half for a 19th hole with a bar, two tables and chairs. When the first nine holes were opened for play, the club had spent $67,000 on fairways and $26,000 on greens.
Twelve new Pargo golf carts were purchased for $900 each and put into a little pre-fab shed behind the pro shop where six of them stayed with seat wrappings still in place for three or four months. At that time, members used pull carts. The Pargos could have been returned for a refund, but instead the club lowered the rental price from $5 to $4 for 18 holes. From then on, they were in constant use.
The back nine was coming along, but lot sales were slow. New membership picked up a little, but not enough. The swimming pool and cabana cost $106,000 and was due to open June 15. A big luau was held in August to celebrate the opening. The party was put on by Bobby and Pat Vedros.
George Tonry wrote the bylaws and Bob Glasener was appointed chairman of the real estate committee that would help keep the subdivision in order. In the early days, some golf tournaments were held in spite of bad weather and a constant surge of mosquitos.
The ladies started playing bridge on Thursday, organized by Ms. Willie Mae Cook, and golf on Tuesday, guided by Ms. Marcella Bernard. Alleman began giving lessons to some members who had never been on a golf course. The Duffers Mixed Golf Tournament was held in October, and it was such a success that the last Sunday of each month except December would be set aside for this occasion.
Eual Landry Sr., a retired Air Force colonel and high school principal, took care of the 19th Hole under the direction of Roland Bernard and Donald Samaha and enjoyed every minute. The club closed out its year successfully with a Christmas Dance set up by Melvin and Regina Borey, Joan Zammitt, Bea Hartman, Lou Robinette and Ann Maroney.
Bernard took over as president in 1969 from Weinning, who remained on the board and building committee. It was estimated that $90,000 to $100,000 would be needed to finish the back nine. Lot sales sagged and membership was slumping which delayed some of the construction. Bernard introduced several sound financial proposals to get things going, but feelings that were lot sales would pick up. But they didn’t.
Late in the year, a bond issue was implemented and construction was continued. The club did manage to build the pro shop and 19th Hole with tables, chairs, a large bar and porch. The tennis courts were completed, and Bernard kept things going with barbecues, covered dish parties and a big Christmas dance.
Alleman announced the back nine would be playable in early summer of 1970. The club’s commitment to Levert Land Co. to build an 18-hole golf course in four years was realized. It was inspected and accepted on July 15, 1970 by the new president of Levert Land Co., Ramon E. Billeaud.
“There is one gracious lady from the beginning that was a booster, organizer and worker,” said Weinning. “There wasn’t a ladies tournament, social event, dance or ball she did not have a hand in. And this went on until she passed away on June 5, 1986. We, of Willowdale, will always remember Ms. Lou Robinette.”
“We all should thank Leon Vial and Roland Bernard for their cooperation. We should thank Lamar ‘Bugga’ Landry for his unselfish contributions. He was probably the man who signed up more members than anyone else. Ed Hartman had to leave us because of a company transfer, but he and Bea were with us at the right time. In their quiet way, papa and mama Gene Wandling, along with many others, got things done on various committees. Norman Pitre helped us a lot with legal matters and Donald Samaha and Art Robinson patiently did their job to conclusion. Thank God for Mel Borey’s machine shop, which kept our used equipment running. I would like to thank all the board members for their cooperation and help. We had quite a number of them from 1966 to 1970.”
Weinning said that there were a lot of people who experienced the ups and downs as Willowdale developed from a dream into reality. Their goal was an 18-hole golf course, and they got it.
One story Weinning likes to tell is the story about the construction of the bridge over the connection between the lakes on the 14th and 15th fairways. Bobby Vedros formed a construction company called B.B.&S. Construction Co., standing for beg, borrow and steal, with several other members of the club. One day materials for the bridge mysteriously appeared in the area where it was to be constructed, without bills of material, invoices or paperwork of any kind. Apparently the company had received several donations. Vedros and his partners also appeared and built the bridge in a weekend.
The other workers were Charlie Smith, Jamie McWilliams, E.E. Cook, Henry Hoffman, Gus Gustafson, George Russel, Paul Robert and Bill Tyree.
Ray Tilyou took over as president in 1970 and a ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the completion of the first 18-hole golf course in St. Charles Parish at Willowdale.
Now, 27 years later, the club is in the midst of a rebuilding program to improve fairways, install underground drainage and upgrade fairway irrigation. Members are looking forward to an improved golf course in the near future.
But the natural beauty of its fairways has been there throughout those 27 years. That has resulted from much research and planning and following the advice of a Scottish golf Pro “to use the natural lay of the land, keep it simple and don’t cut a tree down till you have to.”
It worked and paid off in one of the most beautiful settings to be found anywhere in the South.