The Bluffs: Back and better than ever

PGA Pro Tom Agazzi teaches a youngster during a recent golf camp.

A young boy stood on the driving range at The Bluffs Golf Resort, listening intently as golf pro Tom Agazzi explained the basics of how to hold his club. Impatiently, the youngster took a couple of swings at the golf ball, missing badly. Finally, he connected and the ball sailed away with a slight draw.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again was the lesson learned by the boy during the recent summer golf camp. Through perseverance, dedication and hard work, his golf game could get better.

In a similar way, The Bluffs has endured some tough lessons. But after a couple of whiffs, The West Feliciana community has connected with golfers, residents and the public, thanks to a determined owner and a hands-on management team. The upscale residential neighborhood, intertwined with the spectacular Arnold Palmer-designed golf course as it meanders along scenic Thompson Creek in the lush hills where John James Audubon roamed and created many of his iconic bird paintings, is thriving.

Businessman Claude Penn is the principal owner, acquiring the deed to The Bluffs in 2009 after it floundered through some dubious years of ownership. In January 2013, Clyde Dubois assumed full control of The Bluffs as Managing Partner in a business arrangement with Penn and Jeff Russell was hired as operations manager.

In just six months, they’ve steadily implemented changes and improvements, and again The Bluffs is among Louisiana’s premier 18-hole layouts.

In addition, shaking off the doldrums of the Great Recession, construction is active and steady and demand for housing in the residential community is growing.

The restaurant, which is managed by long-time Chef Buff Thompson, is attracting a steady stream of diners again, thanks to his signature touch on classic Louisiana cuisine along with an array of staple menu dishes.

“And we’re operating in the black,” said Russell triumphantly.

Indeed, the turnaround in just a few years has been remarkable.

When Penn rescued it from the uncertain fate of receivership, the course was closed to play and the recently-finished $6 million clubhouse was not being used.

A group of loyal members hungry to play the course again approached Penn about leasing it for a year. Then Penn decided to open the club to public as well and put his management team in place. Now Dubois’ team literally hands on with all aspects of running the course, restaurant and real estate.

“We’re responsible for management of the day-to-day operation,” said Russell, a 23-year veteran in the golf business. “We streamlined the operation and we’re literally hands on with the day-to-day decisions. We operate it by doing what’s in the best interest of The Bluffs.”

The larger of two swimming pools at The Bluffs.

Memberships for the course — which also include use of the driving range, well-appointed fitness center, two swimming pools, tennis courts and other amenities – are up to 180.  That number includes a mix of residents and non-residents. Families are encouraged to join and take advantage of the services and facilities that are available.

There’s currently a can’t-miss offer to join: For a 12-month commitment, folks can have full access to the facilities and the $3,500 initiation fee is waived.

“After you get on the interstate, from downtown Baton Rouge you’re just two traffic stops, 30- to 40-minutes away for everything here,” said Russell. “It’s a great deal.”

The golf club is hosting various types of tournaments and competitive events like couples days and member days.

“We also brought back the popular Dogwood Invitational in April and it attracted golfers from all over the South,” said Russell. “Next year, we’re going to host it on the same weekend as The Masters so the competitors can enjoy the whole weekend and watch the tournament in our sports bar.”

Regular green fees are a bargain at $55 for weekdays and $72 for weekends, including cart. On Mondays, there’s currently a $35 special all day. Penn also owns Carter Plantation in Springfield, and there are reciprocal privileges between the two courses.

The clubhouse is home to Palmer’s At The Bluffs, The 19th Hole, the pro shop, administrative offices and golf cart storage.

The clubhouse is bustling with activity again. Agazzi runs a well-stocked pro shop with a nice selection of merchandise available for purchase.

The main dining room overlooks the scenic 60-foot dropoff to the creek below, and was recently renamed Palmers At The Bluffs in honor of the course’s legendary designer.

Thompson originally worked for the restaurant when it was operated by Mike Anderson’s. He eventually left, then returned slightly more than a year ago and the restaurant is known for quality food and attentive service.

“He knows his stuff and Buff’s known for his fare and it fits the clientele of The Bluffs,” said Russell. “Portions are plentiful. People usual leave with a to-go box.”

Tuesdays are family buffet night from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and include dishes like fried chicken, baked chicken, meat loaf, pot roast, pork chops and spaghetti and meatballs.

Russell described it as “comfort food.”

Wednesdays are reserved for Steak Night or Bar-b-cue Night. Thursdays through Saturdays feature unique Chef Specials in addition to the regular menu. A brunch is offered on Sundays.

A chapel is available for weddings and other events.

“He’s so creative with what he does and his spices are fantastic,” Russell said. “They’re all his personal recipes.”

On Mondays, the 19th hole, which is a comfortable sports bar, has a limited menu of po-boys, sandwiches, salads and pizzas. The casual atmosphere attracts locals and golfers.

Like the golf course and the clubhouse, the real estate is very active. A new neighborhood, Savannah Square, has been developed with 46 lots available for home construction, and so is an area of affordable luxury condominiums.

Summing up the upsurge in The Bluffs, “People are getting the personal service touch when they walk in the door,” Russell said. “It’s something that was lacking and once they see it, they come back for more.”

For more information, call The Bluffs at (225) 634-3400 or visit www.TheBluffs.com.