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Smith Mountain Lake course developer Ron Willard and the late Archie Goode will enter the Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame in November.
The Roanoke Times | File 2011
Ron Willard and the three golf courses his company owns have been key in developing the Smith Mountain Lake area.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Ron Willard's golf game is not the reason he's headed to the Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame.
"The lowest my handicap has ever been has been a 10 and today, I'm shamed to say, it's a 16," Willard said. "Frankly, I never thought about taking the time to conquer the game."
No big deal. The rest of Willard's golf resume is impeccable, thus there was no shock when he was confirmed by the selection committee as a 2013 inductee to the hall of fame.
Willard, whose company's three golf courses - The Water's Edge, The Waterfront and Westlake - have been key in molding Smith Mountain Lake into a popular retirement community , will be enshrined as the hall's 40th inductee at the organization's November banquet.
The late Archie Goode, manager and pro at Roanoke's Brookside Par-3 from 1962-87 and a major player in the development of golf turfgrass, will also be inducted at the banquet.
Willard, 67, was a no-brainer for the selection committee. After starting his construction company in 1973, the Scruggs native has been the lead man in transforming Smith Mountain Lake from a rural valley into a resort area that attracts people from all across the United States .
The Willard Companies employ more than 200 people in golf, home-building and various other businesses.
"When I got into business it wasn't to get into the hall of fame, it was to develop the recreational part of community development and golf seemed to be the natural thing, especially around water," said Willard, a 1964 Franklin County High School graduate.
"I went out and did a lot of research on other lakes and looked at what they were doing with golf, and it seemed that everywhere you went whether it was to the beach or to Florida or it was to just [a]man-made lake, the water was just a natural draw and the golf was just a natural recreation."
The construction on the first club , The Waterfront Country Club in Moneta, began in 1976. The Water's Edge, a highly decorated country club in Penhook that includes an island green par-3 hole that borders the property of Willard's home, was launched in 1985. Then, in 1996, the company purchased the former Chestnut Creek course in Hardy and changed its name to Westlake Golf & Country Club.
Willard said he has seen two generations of retirees since the Waterfront opened.
"I see people who have been playing golf at The Waterfront for over 30 years, there are guys in [their] 80s who are still out there playing golf, and when I run into them they come up to me and say: 'I want to say thank you because the reason I'm still living is because of golf ... it keeps me agile, it keeps me happy and it keeps me away from Mama!' " he said.
"They can come out here, get in the cart, get a cooler of beer, go out and play and come in and have me a couple of drinks and go home and say, 'I'm happy!' And when they get home and Mama says this is what you need to do, they can say, 'I'm too tired Mama, I'll get it another day!' "
While the recession has trimmed housing sales and slowed the golf business , Willard chooses to look at the bright side .
"The big thing is value and appreciation of lifestyle," Willard said. "Golf has brought a lot of wealth to Smith Mountain Lake."
Now that he has turned over many of his daily work duties to his son, Ron, Willard has found more time to play golf. The ultimate salesman has long parlayed the game for business.
"The real thing about golf is if you want to get to know somebody - you can go out to dinner, you can do whatever you want with them, you can go fishing with them - but when you play 18 holes of golf and hang out with them for four hours you can learn an awful lot about the person you're with," Willard said.
Those business rounds have helped Willard make decisions about the people he works with. And he's not above losing a round to make potential client happy. When he's not using his game to negotiate, Willard's career-low round of golf is a 75. Better than most ever shoot, certainly.
"The lowest I've had this year is an 83," said Willard on Tuesday. "I'm playing this afternoon and all the guys want to bet me because they find my game a little bit suspect. But I've been working on it so I'm going to give them a damned good surprise today!"
Was he surprised when he got the call on becoming a hall of famer?
"I'm very honored to even think that this committee would even consider putting me into the hall of fame," Willard said. "The real compliment I get out of all this is for those guys to recognize and just give me a little piece of an opportunity to be a part of this hall of fame. It really makes me feel good."
* * *
Brookside's venerable par-3 course on the north end of Roanoke's Williamson Road is celebrating its 51st season .
Roanoker Archie Goode, who died in 2001 at 82, was the man who made the place rock for its first quarter century.
"He's looking down and he's excited. I feel sure he's up there smiling right now," said Goode's daughter, Diane, in reaction to her late father's election to the hall of fame.
Goode spent countless hours through the years at Brookside, managing the daily operations and making certain the course remained in top condition. His wife, Elsie, who died in 2007 at 82, would often come to the course to run the clubhouse so her husband could get a few hours of downtime. In those long summer days the lighted course would be open from 8 a.m. to as late as past midnight.
Despite the long hours that curtailed his play , Goode had a sweet golf swing. Although his vision deteriorated in his later years, the Brookside pro loved to hit the big courses with friends.
"He was a good player, that's what everybody says," said Diane, the oldest of three daughters (Judy and Nancy) born in a span of four years. "When he got older he still played for many years after he was legally blind. But that didn't stop him because he would go out to the golf course and people he played with would just watch for his ball and they would tell him where it was.
"And they would say it's really bad when a blind man beats the sighted man!"
Goode knew grass. Under him, Brookside's greens were often as good as those at the area's "big" 18-hole courses. He was a lifetime member of the Virginia Turfgrass Council, for which he served as director from 1975-80 and as president in 1980. He was later extended an honorary lifetime membership for his dedication .
The mention of neat grass made Diane Goode chuckle .
"I would always laugh and say, 'You don't have any time left for your own yard!' " she said. "It probably would have better if he had more time. Down at Brookside, though, Dad took great pride in his greens .... If they didn't look good he would worry and fret about them. "
Her father would also have taken pride into going into the hall of fame, she said.
"It's quite an honor," she said. "I'm so grateful that people recognize that he gave it his all. All I could do was think how excited Dad would have been and how happy and proud. And I'm very proud to say that he was my Dad."
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