First, it was Hodges Gardens Motor Inn, just across the highway from the magnificent Hodges Gardens. It was created and designed specifically to complement Hodges Gardens… which in the 60s was such a heavy tourist attraction that a nearby hotel (okay, motel) and restaurant was needed.
Not just wanted, but needed.
And an accompanying golf course was perfect for the men who might tend to be bored with the Gardens.
Later, perhaps in the early 70s though I am not exactly sure of the when, it became Toro Hills Motel & Restaurant. That is how I remember it, when my grammar school marching group from Lake Charles (the Our Lady Queen of Heaven Barronettes!) visited Hodges Gardens and ate across the street after the Many Christmas Parade. As kids, eating out anywhere was fantastic… but I remember having such a blast at Toro Hills… us all spread out in a room that I swear at the time seemed every bit as big as two skating rinks combined.
When I moved to Many in the early 1990s, it was still Toro Hills. It is where we ate after the Easter Sunrise service, and they served an incredible breakfast to pretty much fill you up for the day. I ate dinner (supper) more times than I could count for the next many years at the Grille which overlooked the golf course. The golf course was one of the best in the state from what I had heard. As a reporter, I covered banquets honoring graduates, etc. there. I played some occasional tennis there, even though the courts weren’t kept up all that well … They were still better than anything else in the parish.
For me, Toro Hills for many years simply had a great feel to it.
Until it didn’t. Until things kind of seemed like they were slowing down a little too much there. I’m not sure if the owners lost interest or the area residents and visitors lost interest or if it was a combination of each. But for a time, it clearly wasn’t looking so great for this once far out and groovy place.
During the mid or late 1990s, businessman Steve Alford purchased Toro Hills and it became Emerald Hills. Alford’s purchase of Toro Hills was a good thing, it seemed, because before he bought it, the rumblings about the area were that Toro Hills would be shutting down. Alford managed to keep Toro Hills alive and thoroughly enjoyable, even with its new name of Emerald replacing the Toro. It seems he made a really good go of it, and there were times it seemed that the former Toro Hills would make a comeback… maybe never to its glory days, but a comeback nonetheless.
But then the State of Louisiana funded the construction of a rival golf course on Toledo Bend Lake and a hotel as well… Actually an entire resort, complete with club house restaurant, hotel restaurant, condominiums, ballrooms and meeting spaces and much, much more.
There were many who said Emerald Hills wouldn’t have a chance once Cypress Bend Golf Resort was opened. And perhaps it didn’t have a chance. To his credit, though, Alford, who lived in neighboring Vernon Parish but had plenty of roots in Sabine Parish, gave Emerald Hills a fighting chance to survive.
The Emerald Hills Golf Course held on to several dozen die hard golfers who hung in there and stayed loyal and supportive. The restaurant largely attracted the nearby residents of Florien but not so many diners beyond. The motel seemed to usually have far more vacancies than occupancies. One of the two swimming pools was closed for much of the summer times.
I can only imagine the expense that must have been involved in operating Emerald Hills would have required tremendous patronage. Without that patronage, Alford was unable to continue to maintain some of the features of Emerald Hills… such as two pools and two fully lighted tennis courts. The hotel rooms were approaching 40 years of age and were in need of serious renovations. But with occupancy as it was, costly renovations were out of the question. The cut backs and lack of needed renovations fed a vicious cycle which in turn further negatively effected the patronage Emerald Hills was getting, or rather, as it came to be, not getting.
Then some Chinese investment group purchased Emerald Hills, stating they were going to turn it into a golfing school of some sort. They didn’t. Instead, they began renting the villas there by the month. They quit maintaining the golf course. They closed the hotel. They closed the grille. They closed everything.
From what I understand, about four or five years ago, a businessman from Florida with roots in Florien offered to buy Emerald Hills. He was willing to pay a healthy price for the property, and he was financially able to as well. But the owners refused to sell.
And so it sits there. Doing nothing. Except rotting. All of it.
And this pretty much seems to be the end of the story of the little resort that once was.