August 18, 2010 by MARK HERRMANN / firstname.lastname@example.org
For years, the Woodcrest Club was shrouded in gloom and controversy, with money problems that ultimately closed the place. Then for a few months, the club was submerged by bankruptcy. Now, this weekend, Woodcrest will be covered with something else altogether: golfers.
In a surprise to the golf community, especially the people who assumed the 107-acre Syosset property was headed directly for development, new owner Jerry Steinlauf and his family have revived the course and declared the country club back open for business (once the kitchen is renovated).
Mowers have been going up and down the bright green fairways, workers have been updating the English Georgian clubhouse and the owners have invited former members to play for free on the course that was all but dead six months ago.
“People say, ‘What are your intentions?’ It sounds silly, but the intentions are to let people play golf. I don’t know how else to answer it. Really, it’s that simple,” said Steinlauf, cofounder of the Bohemia-based Jerome Stevens Pharmaceuticals, a family business. He said the soon-to-be renamed Woodside Acres Club will be a family business, too.
It is a family of sports buffs. Steinlauf is a former caddie at Bayside Links who played junior hockey at the old Madison Square Garden and coached youth hockey at Long Island Arena in Commack. His son Ron played men’s hockey for many years. His grandson Daniel Akeson, who works at the pharmaceutical business and the club, is a single-digit handicap and editor/publisher of Blueshirt Bulletin, an independent magazine that covers the Rangers.
The pharmaceutical company had a corporate membership at Island Hills before Steinlauf stopped playing. His son and son-in-law kept looking for a new home course. They heard about Woodcrest’s troubles and, out of curiosity, registered to attend the bankruptcy auction on May 6. Jerry and Ron had been to auctions before, but never had spent $19 million for the winning bid.
“It was surreal, it’s still surreal,” Akeson said. “I say to my grandparents, ‘People don’t own golf courses.’ “
His grandfather said, “It seemed reasonable. I think we did OK. I have no second thoughts about it. We don’t want to be greedy about this. Our investment will return to us in 100 years, just having the land.”
For now, the family is rushing to finish a 2011 pricing plan for prospective members before they join other clubs. The Steinlaufs are mindful of the rough golf economy that helped push Woodcrest into bankruptcy.
“We don’t pay much attention to the marketplace, you know, ‘Business is down, the economy is bad, you can’t do this, you can’t do that . . . ‘ ” Steinlauf said. “We’re hiring people at our other business, we’re hiring people here.
“It’s a very narrow focus. I don’t look at other courses failing. I just see us as giving people a place to play golf, and I’m optimistic about it. I don’t go any deeper than that, otherwise I’d be frightened off of it.”
The Steinlaufs are pitching William Mitchell’s 1962 layout, spruced up since the closing in late June, and a restored clubhouse that hosted President Franklin Roosevelt and the Prince of Wales when it was iron magnate James Burden’s mansion. Steinlauf’s wife of 54 years, Amelia, a non-golfer, oversees the detailed interior work.
Thinking back on her husband and son leaving the auction with a $19-million purchase, she said, “I tell you, if I would have been here I would have killed them both.” But she now is as enthusiastic as anyone, especially about the clubhouse designed by William Adams Delano (who reconstructed the White House during the Truman Administration).
Steinlauf said the former members who played last weekend praised the course’s condition. He said tee times this weekend are almost all booked, a situation he hopes will become a habit.