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Woodcrest Club files for bankruptcy, has rescue plan

The Woodcrest Club in Syosset has filed for bankruptcy as part of a plan that would allow a board member to loan the private golf haven up to $2 million and run it for at least five years.

John Bennardo, a general contractor and Cold Spring Harbor resident who's been a member since 2002, said the bankruptcy route was taken because talks with the mortgage lender, which must agree to having another loan on the property, stalled.

Court documents filed Thursday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Central Islip show the club has a $6.5-million mortgage on a 107-acre property plus more than $1 million in unpaid vendor bills and employee pay.

"We're willing to pay all the vendors 100 percent through the funding that I provide," said Bennardo, who last month became interim manager under a letter of intent from Woodcrest's board. "I just need the bank to say, 'This is a real plan.' . . . Once they agree to that, we can pop out of bankruptcy, and we'll be back off to the races."

Bennardo, owner of Manhattan-based Legacy Builders, said his Woodcrest contract is being worked out and would give him a percentage of annual profits, if any. Court papers show his Legacy Capital Management company for the club would get $250,000 a year, pending board approval, and he'd get 10 percent interest on his loan.

The bankruptcy court judge would have to approve plans.

Word in country club circles suggested Woodcrest might close or be sold. Clubs are in damage control after the Wall Street meltdown last year and the loss of some members hurt by the Bernard Madoff scandal.

These member-owned clubs are nonprofits and rely on five-figure initiation fees and annual dues to survive. Woodcrest has 125 members, down from about 300 this past summer.

Bennardo said it's "worthwhile" to rescue a club that has not shut out minority members, and his vision is to bring back the original splendor of the club's 1900s mansion, which has fireplaces and other features dating back to the 1700s. The club turns 50 next year.

"I want to spend as much money on the club as possible to get as many members as possible and to make sure all the departments are running as efficiently as humanly possible, like a company should run, not a country club," Bennardo said.

"I think the whole concept of a country club has changed. This is not an exclusionary environment anymore. This is a place where you bring your family and you can enjoy some amazing memories."

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