The land surrounding what is now Willow Oaks Country Club is rich with beauty, history and tradition. That history is honored today in architectural elements throughout the Golf Course and grand layout of the Clubhouse, which incorporates one of the original homes into its design. The Clubhouse patio encompasses beautiful sweeping views of the land and the James River.
Willow Oaks began as a working farm in 1679. William Byrd was granted the land as a condition of providing security from the Indians. In 1768, the Byrd family sold the land to pay off debts due to poor management. The Willow Oaks property changed hands several times over the next few years, but a relic of Willow Oaks’ farm days remains – the springhouse at the end of the first fairway.
Following the Civil War, the immediate area (including what is now the Club’s golf course) became known as Granite for its underground resources of granite. Two Union entrepreneurs – Generals Herman Haupt and Albert Ordway – acquired mining rights to the quarries in the area and began extensive removal of the stone. Local granite can be found in the State, War and Navy Building in Washington, DC; the Mississippi River Bridge; the Post Office and City Hall in Richmond; and in cobblestone streets up and down the eastern seaboard. In the 1880s, some of the property was acquired by the James Netherwood family, sculptors who used the granite for artistic purposes (including the tall granite base of the Robert E. Lee monument, the first statue constructed on Monument Avenue).
In 1912 the Netherwood family sold their land to E.K. Vietor, a prominent tobacconist and an early promoter of the Richmond Trade Association. As the German Ambassador, he promoted the German culture, but when the United Stated entered into World War I, enemy aliens’ properties were confiscated and the Willow Oaks property fell into the possession of the United States Government.
On January 15, 1937, the property was deeded to E. Ross Millhiser. Mr. Millhiser purchased two houses from North Carolina that had been built in 1740, dismantled them, and had them shipped to Virginia. The building which is now known as the “Old House” at Willow Oaks Country Club was constructed from the woodwork of these buildings in classic Colonial style. It remained the home of the Millhiser family until 1955, when it was purchased by a group of 21 investors who had a vision to develop the property into a country club and golf course, the first private club in Chesterfield County.
Willow Oaks Country Club opened its doors in 1957, with the golf course formally opening in June of 1959. Handsome refurbishments completed in the early 2000s took their inspiration from the “Old House,” the heart of it all. Renovations included a new pool and bathhouse surrounded by fine ironwork and masonry, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and a return to classic décor in the Clubhouse, Dining and Lounge areas. During the 2008 renovation of the par-72 golf course along the James River, the Club unearthed storage piles of stones from its mining days. In homage to history, these stones were incorporated into the architecture of the course, including the large stone wall at the first and eighth tees and the base of 17th green. Today, two mounds just in front of the 12th tee are all that remain of those old stone piles.
Despite the growth of neighborhoods and highways nearby, Willow Oaks has retained its idyllic setting and country feel. With its river vistas, rolling hills, serene environs and old world charm, Willow Oaks still feels like that home in the country it was so long ago. Willow Oaks celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008, and remains unyielding with nearly 1000 families comprising the active membership. The Club’s continued growth is due to the Board’s commitment to excellence in providing top notch facilities and service. The Willow Oaks mission to “provide an exceptional country club experience for our families and guests” will continue to shape the Club’s future.