The bankrupt Woodcrest Club in Syosset was auctioned off Thursday for $19 million to a father and son in pharmaceuticals, as dozens of members looked on with sad and hard feelings over the club's demise.
Bidding Thursday started at $15.5 million, and in 15 minutes, Ron Steinlauf and his father, Jerome, beat out persistent offers from a restaurant owner and a developer. Other registered bidders included a publisher, a former 9 West executive and an environmental-municipal coalition led by the North Shore Land Alliance, a nonprofit land trust.
The winners were mum on the property's future, a touchy topic in an area where many fear the 107-acre property will be chopped up for houses.
"We're not sure yet," said Ron Steinlauf, adding that he was open to keeping the club as a golf course for now. "We're going to take a few days to discuss and we'll see."
The winning bidders did not identify themselves publicly but bid under the name Vincenza Properties.
However, the son said he was from Bohemia and club attorney Kenneth Silverman later identified him as Ron Steinlauf. Public records show he is the president of Jerome Stevens Pharmaceuticals, a Bohemia firm that his father cofounded about 30 years ago and became notable for creating Unithroid, the nation's first FDA-approved hypothyroid drug a decade ago.
Woodcrest filed for bankruptcy in December after huge financial shortfalls. As of January the club had about 100 remaining members. Long Island's country club sector has been losing money and members in recent years, a crisis worsened by the Wall Street meltdown.
A bankruptcy hearing is set for Tuesday, and the judge will have to approve the auction results. The closing would be done within 30 days of the approval.
Scores of club members attended the sale, several tearing up and others glad that the bid would be enough to pay the $10 million-plus debt and shareholder members' investments.
"I feel like this is a funeral," said Ellen Halpern of Oyster Bay Cove, a longtime member who was married there, saw her daughter married there, and showed up Thursday with her parents, husband, brother and sister-in-law, who also are club members.
It wasn't just the auction that has left a mark on Woodcrest; arguments have torn apart one-time friends - those who were for bankruptcy versus those against.
"I'm sorry I ever knew them and greeted them," Halpern's mother said about some who agreed to file bankruptcy. She wiped her eyes, saying, "Very hurtful, to see something destroyed like this. This was a second home to many people. It was like a protected zone."