Smith Mountain Lake Prudential Waterfront Properties -

Future Renovation Plans at The Waterfront Country Club

0511012 Pool and Tennis Perspective 11x17

0511012 Pool and Tennis Plan Rendering 11x17

The Willard Companies, owners of The Waterfront Country Club, a private golf and country club at Smith Mountain Lake, unveiled future club expansion and long term renovation plans at a vision meeting with its membership last week in conjunction with a new membership campaign.

The Willard Companies partnered with Richard Mandell Golf Architecture to develop a proposed land plan for the Clubhouse and hired Architect Antonio Veloso to design a new fitness center and pool building. The Willard Companies main goal will be to update existing Club amenities such as relocating the swimming pool in closer proximity to the Clubhouse complex, incorporating a new state-of-the-art fitness and recreational area for members, and creating a new short game area for the club. Expansion features include the following: zero entry pool, lap pool and diving area, lounge area in pool, outdoor bar, fitness center (group exercise and weights), 4 Pickle Ball Courts, 2 tennis courts, and a short game area between the club and range. Estimated costs for the renovation are projected around $1.4 million.

Timeframe for the groundbreaking and construction start on the renovation project hinge on membership growth. The company recently launched a new membership campaign offering prospective members lower initiation fees with financing options, reduced social dues structure, and new Under 40 classifications with special pricing. The company goal is to reach pre-recession membership at around 400 members in order for the vision to become reality.

According to Ron Willard II, Vice President of The Willard Companies, the Private Club Industry is in the process of finding its niche again and clubs are being forced to adapt to the demands of membership and potential members. “The Private Clubs that are going to survive in the decades to come must change and adapt to the market demands,” said Willard.

For media inquires or for more information, please contact Christopher Finley at 540-721-5288 or email


The Waterfront encompasses 750 acres and 8.5 miles of shoreline. The 18-hole, PGA Championship Golf Course was designed by George Dillon of the Fazio Group. The course offers a very fair but challenging layout. Preserving the history of the land used was at the top of the list of priorities when this course was built. It offers incredible vista views and follows the original topography of the land. The 22,000 square foot clubhouse was planned by The Willard Companies in cooperation with Robert Bradley, AIA and Associates. Club amenities include tennis courts, swimming pool, fitness center, driving range, pro shop and fine dining. The Waterfront Country Club opened in 1981. Visit online at

The Willard Companies is the umbrella for Willard Construction of Roanoke Valley, Inc., Prudential Waterfront Properties, The Waterfront, The Water’s Edge and The Westlake Golf and Country Clubs. The company is involved in country clubs, building, developing, marketing and real estate. The Willard Companies is also affiliated with Westlake Towne Center, Westlake Cinema, Westlake Salon & Spa, Window and Door Design Gallery and Smith Mountain Building Supply. Visit online at

April 15, 2013   No Comments

How developer Ron Willard built Prudential Waterfront Properties –

“I came to work for the company … 100 years ago when the dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I feel like.”

Although Jane Sullivan Horne may have the starting date off by some 200 million years, her recollections of the early days of working for and learning from Prudential Waterfront Properties owner and lake developer Ron Willard are quite clear.

Willard, through his business, The Willard Companies, has developed several residential developments including The Water’s Edge, The Waterfront and The Boardwalk, and commercial centers including Westlake Towne Center. Among the feathers in his cap is Prudential, which is celebrating its 25th year in business. Sullivan Horne has been there for almost all of them.

Like Willard, the real estate firm’s origins are humble.

“I was the person selling real estate seven days a week,” said Willard. “Seven days a week, daylight to dark, on the hood of my car I sold millions.”

For almost 10 years, Willard both developed and sold properties. In 1985, he hired the first salesperson, Bitsy Davis, now with Long & Foster, and the following year added Sullivan Horne. She and Ramona Washburn, now Ramona Simpson, started working for Willard at about the same time, Sullivan Horne recalled. Neither had any experience selling real estate.

“I said, I don’t care if they don’t have any real estate experience,” Willard recalled telling his sister when he first decided to hire someone to help with sales. “I said, I just want somebody that can sell and let me train them in real estate.”

Sullivan Horne said that’s how she and Simpson ended up among the first to graduate from what she calls “Ron Willard Training School.”

“Ron put us in his car and he made us walk every lot,” recalled Sullivan Horne, adding that Willard taught them about other important parts of the business such as home construction, drainage fields and determining viewsheds.

“He said, ‘There’s no way you can sell something if you don’t know what you’re selling,'” Sullivan Horne recalled. At that point, Willard and his sales staff were selling only developer-owned property. When customers came back to ask for representation on resales, Willard said they were turned over to one of the lake area’s real estate agencies. That meant the sales were going elsewhere.

“That’s when we developed the name Waterfront Properties of SML Incorporated in 1987,” he recalled. “It was a full-fledged real estate company.”

Helping assist the sales staff in the transition was Ann Bowen, who worked as the broker for Waterfront Properties until her death in 2004.

“Ann helped move us from … four or five of us in the beginning to being more of a real estate brokerage firm,” said Sullivan Horne, who counts Bowen among the top friends she’s ever had. “[With Ron], Ann was the other half that was our glue that really held us together.”

Following Bowen’s death, Realtor Cathie Daniel was named the principal broker for Waterfront Properties in 2004. Within a year, Daniel brought the national Prudential brand to the business and the real estate agency became Prudential Waterfront Properties as it is known today.

Daniel said in the company’s 25 years, it has supported a number of community events and causes such as the After 5 Jive concert series, which benefits United Way of Franklin County; SML Charity Home Tour; Toys for Tots; and Franklin County e-cycling Day.

“We have always believed in being part of the community and giving back to the community that supports us,” said Daniel. “We grew up here, we didn’t just come in.”

The SML community has supported Prudential as well.

It was honored in 2010 with the Prudential Real Estate Round Table Award as one of the top three offices in the U.S. South Region, and was nominated for Business of the Year by the Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce in 2011.

Daniel attributes the company’s success to customer service, the training its agents undergo and a steady presence in the community. She said joining Prudential has broadened the company’s reach and allowed Realtors an opportunity to pursue speciality training in sales.

“Every one of our agents has a certification of some sort beyond the standard Virginia license,” said Daniel. “I think that’s a testament to their commitment to the industry and to the profession as well.”

There are 20 agents working for Prudential now, and that’s been the norm, she said, even during the past few years, which have seen real estate sales plummet both nationally and at the lake.

“For our agents, this is their career,” said Daniel. “We don’t have a lot of turnover; they come and they stay.”

That stability has helped Prudential weather the tough times.

“We’ve not been immune to [the recession]. We’ve had our struggles, but we are still strong,” she said.

But like most real estate sales people, Daniel is ever optimistic that the market is about to pick up.

“We’re seeing a lot of improvement so far this year,” she said. “Things really are looking up.”

July 2, 2012   No Comments

Westlake Cinema at Smith Mountain Lake Announces Digital Cinema Conversion

Westlake Cinema is scheduled to begin converting to digital cinema in late April. The process will take approximately one week and plans to debut its new technology with the release of Marvel’s The Avengers on Friday, May 4th.

There are a number of advantages converting to digital cinema. “The viewing quality will greatly improve the overall movie going experience and we will now have the capabilities to show 3-D (three –dimensional) movies,” stated Thomas Althoff, General Manager at Westlake Cinema.

Althoff added that a premium of $3.50 will be set for 3-D movies, which is industry standard.

Converting to digital cinema consists of replacing traditional 35MM film with an electronic copy. This removes any of the image degradation seen with traditional 35MM projection systems.  Westlake Cinema partnered with Sonic Equipment Company based in Iola, Kansas for the project. They will be installing industry leading Christie® DLP Cinema® projectors.

According to Lee Willard, Vice President of Corporate Holding at The Willard Companies, owners of Westlake Cinema, “Converting to digital is a good business decision. Although there is a large cost in doing so, we believe it will provide a better financial future for Westlake Cinema. Not only will our theater be able to play 3-D movies, but we have also positioned ourselves to be on the cutting edge with high frame-rate technology. We are very excited to bring the 3-D and digital movie experience to the local community so folks no longer have to drive outside of the area to enjoy.” The projectors will have the ability to play the newest “high frame-rate” films such as The Hobbit this December, Willard added.

The company estimates the conversion costs around $275,000 to complete. Westlake Cinema will continue to operate business as usual without any interruption to hours of operation.  Future 3-D showings will include Men in Black III, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Ice Age 4: Continental Drift.


About Westlake Cinema (www.westlakecinema.) – Westlake Cinema is a 13,800-square-foot cinema featuring a four-plex movie theater with stadium seating, concessions and games. In addition, Westlake Cinema offers Dolby® Digital Surround Sound and optional headphones hooked to a USL Infrared Hearing System for those with hearing impairments. Westlake Cinema’s goal is to offer moviegoers an upscale theater with first run movies, state of the art sound system and full service concession area.

About Sonic Equipment Company ( – Sonic Equipment Company is a leading provider of sales, service, installation, new construction, remodeling, and consulting to community-owned theatres and independent exhibitors. They staff a fully trained and certified group of technicians, installers, and sales managers to meet the needs of today’s growing digital cinema industry.

April 25, 2012   No Comments

10 questions with Ron Willard

Ronald L. Willard


Story by Andie Gibson, Photo by Huong Fralin |

When it comes to development at Smith Mountain Lake – commercial and residential – no one’s influence has been more significant than that of Ron Willard.

A native of the Scruggs area of Franklin County, Willard started a small construction company in 1973, just seven years after the lake reached full pond. He has spent the past 38 years building the business into The Willard Companies, a multi-faceted enterprise that includes three country clubs, a real estate company and the area’s largest commercial development, Westlake Towne Center.

Willard employs more than 200 people in the region, including two of his three children. Ron Willard II, who joined the company in 1992, is vice president and runs many of the day-to-day operations. Lee Willard came on board in 2010 as vice president of Corporate Holdings. Ron Willard’s family also includes his wife of 10 years, Kris Willard, who owns and operates Interiors by Kris, daughter Kim Waters and four grandchildren.

Willard, 65, has been a strong community advocate through his work with the W.E. Skelton 4-H Center, SML Regional Chamber of Commerce, Ferrum College and numerous other organizations. He was instrumental in bringing a branch of the Franklin County Library to Westlake and said he hopes to do the same for a proposed multi-million dollar arts complex.

It’s difficult to imagine what the area would look like today without Willard’s contributions. So, as the magazine celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2011, we thought it was time to get his take on the past, present and future of Smith Mountain Lake.

Q: Did you envision the lake as a tremendous development opportunity from the very start of your career?

A: In one of my first jobs working for a contractor in Danville, I would visit other lakes – Lake Norman (N.C.), Lake Wiley (S.C.), Lake Lanier (Ga.) – and I would see what was going on there. Snoop shopping has been a big part of my career. I would see what was going on in those areas and knew it was something we could bring to our community. Of course, there was a lot that we weren’t ready for. We had to wait until the clock ticked. But I knew if I got the amount of money together that it would take that the lake would be a great draw for retirees. For Smith Mountain Lake to have success, the community had to have a place to get together and socialize. I knew if we gave them the activities they desired, they would be willing to pay for it. So, yes, I could see that.

Q: In what ways do you think you’ve changed?

A: At 28 years old when I started, I was all about doing what I wanted in my career and taking care of my family. Then it got to the point where I was successful enough that I was concerned with taking care of my employees and the community. Today, I work because I want to take care of them and keep the community thriving and getting better every year. … It’s not just about my family. Today, it’s a much broader thought process. It’s about putting my arms around the whole community.

Q: What’s been the most rewarding part of your career?

A: The satisfaction I get from making others happy and comfortable. I can’t believe the number of people I’ve sold real estate to over the years who have come back four or five years later and say, “Ron we’ve got to move on. There’s no healthcare, no assisted living center, things we’re going to need in our later years.” Now, they have that. I get letters and cards from people who say how much they appreciate my efforts, and that’s nice. I have the best job in the world, and I have the hardest job, too. I get all the glory, but I also catch all the hell.

Q: How has it been working with your children?

A: When [oldest son] Ron came in, it was like I had a second pair of eyes. Now it’s like that again with [youngest son] Lee. It’s allowed me to step back and play more, have more fun. … I’m really not concerned about handing over the reigns to Ron and Lee because their ethics and attention to detail are beyond compare. And I think their ability to deal with people is better than mine because they wear their generosity on their sleeves. Their knowledge of technology is also what is helping drive the company forward.

Q: Will you ever retire?

A: In my case, my name is attached to these communities. It’s important to the people who live here. Believe it or not, I never want to stop doing the things I do for my employees and the community. I would never think of retiring because of that. I do look forward to being semi-retired and having more free time. And I will always be available to serve as a sounding board for the boys.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

A: I’ve always said that when I hear someone say something bad about me, it’s for one of two reasons. Envy, or because I didn’t do something for them that they wanted me to do – maybe because it was unethical. Certainly someone who’s in a position like me is never going to win a popularity contest. … My enemies don’t have to like me, but I want them to respect me for what I’ve done for the community and for my employees. And if they respect me, they’ll learn to like me. I think if some of those people would get to know me, they’d change their impression.

Q: You pulled back on some planned development right before the economy started to slide in 2008. What factors indicated to you that we were headed for recession?

A: I’m convinced that the recession we’re living in today is because of 9/11 and the inability of our government not to be able to control its pocketbook. … What really happened, though, were the elections in 2006. That was a real turning point in Congress – when Democrats took over and stalemated George W. [Bush]. They handicapped him the last two years of his term. It is political war that drove us to this recession. There’s been no work done politically to keep or make jobs. … What I don’t think people will forget about this recession is the importance of having a job and giving it your best shot because you want to be the last one standing, not the first to fall.

Q: What are your predictions for the lake in the next 10 years?

A: Over the next 10 years, the development and construction will go green because it’s an important way of preserving energy and providing a better way for families to live comfortably. I think commercial development will be very slow to recover because we’ve overdone it. Key locations are the ones that will survive. … The residential market will come back starting this summer, but where it was [pre-recession] will not happen in the next decade. Maybe 80 percent is the best it can come back to.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: If people who live here will shop at home and keep spending their dollars here, Smith Mountain Lake will keep rolling on. We can continue to improve services if people continue to patronize the things we already have. Hopefully, I’m going to spend my next 10 years impressing that upon people.

Business Highlights

Golf Courses and Country Club Communities
The Waterfront Country Club (1976)
The Water’s Edge Country Club (1985)
The Westlake Golf & Country Club (1996)

Other Residential Communities
The Boardwalk (1995)
The Farm (2007)

Real Estate Sales and Marketing
Prudential Waterfront Properties (1987)

Willard Construction of Roanoke Valley, Inc. (1973)
Smith Mountain Building Supply – Southlake (2000)
Smith Mountain Building Supply – Westlake (2001)
Westlake Towne Center (2001)
Westlake Cinema (2005)
Westlake Salon & Spa (2009)

March 24, 2011   No Comments

The Willard Companies Wins Enduring Enterprise Award

Enduring Enterprise Award

The Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce rang in 2011 with the theme, “Celebrate” at their Tenth-Annual Chamber Awards Dinner. In addition to gathering the membership to kick off the 2011 business year in grand style, the dinner also served as a platform to recognize the work of area individuals and businesses for outstanding achievement.

The Willard Companies received the “Enduring Enterprise Award”. This award goes to the business that has survived the test of time and has demonstrated leadership, superior customer service, and a contribution to the quality of life.

Prudential Waterfront Properties, The Willard Companies real estate division, was nominated for the “Regional Advocate Award”. This award goes to a SML Chamber member or business who has exhibited creativity in promoting this region as well as their business and has used many levels of marketing to significantly impact growth in the region as well as promote products, services, and this region.

February 4, 2011   No Comments