Winter work done, WindStone Golf Club is ready to greet spring on the links

Photography by Olivia Ross / WindStone Golf Club owners Wes and Tim Gilbert.

Play may ebb and flow with the seasons at most golf clubs, but the work for those who run those clubs is year-round.

"The course starts waking back up in March," says Wes Gilbert, who, with his brother, Tim Gilbert, owns and operates WindStone Golf Club. "In April, the Bermuda (grass) starts popping, and by the third week of April, we're mowing everything, full-bore."

But it isn't as though the Gilberts had this past winter -- or any winter -- off. Tim says mowing pretty much stops in November, when the Bermuda goes dormant; but that's when the clock starts on everything from spraying for weeds to irrigation projects and more. In the "off-season" that just concluded, for instance, the WindStone grounds crew put new curbs on nearly four miles of cart paths.

"And every winter, we're clearing trees," says Tim. "As a stand gets thicker, you've got to clear some out to keep the others healthy."

The Gilberts say they bought the club, which straddles the Georgia-Tennessee line between East Brainerd and Ringgold, Georgia, from the original owners in 1996. Tim was 35 at the time, and Wes was just 30.

"We could have done it on a handshake," Wes recalls. "Those guys were like father figures to us, truly gentlemen. They trusted Tim and me and decided to give two young guys the opportunity of a lifetime."

Tim says the club was semi-private at the time, with about 50 members, but added that membership shot to more than 400 when he and Wes took it private in 2007 -- the year before the Great Recession.

"When things got bad in 2008 and 2009, we lost probably 100 members," Tim recalls. "At our lowest point, we were down to 350."

The brothers say the club's membership has rebounded, though, with nearly 450 on the rolls. They're quick to add that WindStone's success is due in no small measure to the efforts of Jeff Craig, WindStone's longtime head golf professional.

"Jeff does a wonderful job of keeping the club active," Tim says. "We have a member tournament every month except December, and in the winter months, he'll take a different group every week over to TopGolf on Thursday evenings. He's also done very well in keeping our women members involved -- he'll conduct clinics Tuesday mornings and evenings, and have 40 or 50 at each."

Craig has long been a champion of Chattanooga-area junior golf. That's vital, Wes says, because golf's future is all about drawing young players. Statistics published in February 2023 by the National Golf Foundation show that golf participation among kids aged 6 to 17 grew by 900,000, or 36%, from 2019 to 2022.

"Our (members') kids love golf," Wes says. "They're here all day in the summertime, and you can't find a spot on the practice range at 5 p.m. because they haven't left."

The Gilberts say the club's junior contingent has grown in the last couple of years due to, of all things, the global pandemic. They estimate that 30% of the club's members are families with kids.

"Back in 2020, when kids' sports were being canceled and they needed something to do, their parents joined," he explains. "And they stayed."

Having so many families with kids means WindStone has to offer more than just golf -- and it does. The club has a pair of tennis courts, one of which is also lined for pickleball, and a $350,000 renovation of the pool complex should be finished in May.

"In today's market, with so many families, you have to have those amenities," Wes says.

  photo  Photography by Bob Gary / WindStone Golf Club co-owner and superintendent Wes Gilbert treats turf on the course's 11th hole.