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Buyers say they'll reopen Woodcrest as golf course

The Marlton real estate group that won the auction for Woodcrest Country Club is planning to reopen the Cherry Hill club as a public golf course, township officials said Tuesday.

The first hole at Woodcrest Country Club in Cherry Hill.
The first hole at Woodcrest Country Club in Cherry Hill.Read moreINQ SUWA

The Marlton real estate group that won the auction for Woodcrest Country Club is planning to reopen the Cherry Hill club as a public golf course, township officials said Tuesday.

The Haydingers - principals of First Montgomery Group - contacted Mayor Chuck Cahn on Tuesday and shared their plans for the property, saying "they do not at this point plan to seek a zoning change," township spokeswoman Bridget Palmer said.

Township officials, who have opposed development of the 155-acre property, "are cautiously optimistic," Palmer said.

First Montgomery bid $10.1 million at a bankruptcy auction Monday, topping Camden County, the Union League of Philadelphia, and an investment group led by George E. Norcross III and Ira Lubert, who offered $10 million.

All three had stated plans to keep the course as green space, either as a golf course or a park.

First Montgomery, however, did not reveal its aim. The group has developed apartments in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, and the properties on its website do not include golf courses, though it does advertise apartments and townhouses built at the Ingleside Country Club in Thorndale.

After one bankruptcy court hearing, a lawyer for the group said only that its plans for the Cherry Hill property were "not golf."

A website that appears to have been recently created by the group describes the opposite, announcing plans for a "grand reopening" of the 18-hole course.

"The Village at Woodcrest, as it has been repositioned, paying homage to the Woodcrest name and the village/community it will serve, will be maintained to high standards and offer golf, swimming, tennis, and banquet facilities rivaling the area's private clubs," according to the website.

First Montgomery did not return messages Tuesday about its plans for the property or the website.

The website announces the group's acquisition of Woodcrest "as of 1030 am on Monday May 20th," though some information on the site is dated Sunday, the day before the auction.

The site gives a brief description of the group - which has also built shopping centers and developed a housing community at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst - and lists its principals, Richard J. Haydinger II and his sons Richard III, Michael, and Matthew.

"Having grown up in Cherry Hill, the firm's principals value Woodcrest Country Club's historical ties to the community as well as the appeal of the highly acclaimed course and facilities," the site reads.

The club, which dates to 1929 and was once a haven for Jewish golfers who were not allowed to join other clubs, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year and did not open this season.

Its future has since been the subject of debate, with neighbors worried about development of the property, a rare piece of open space in crowded Cherry Hill.

The property is zoned for institutional uses, such as a medical facility. While vowing to oppose any change in zoning, township officials partnered with the county to bid on the course at Monday's auction, saying they wanted to prevent future development.

The county bid $7.2 million. After the auction, Freeholder Jeff Nash said he was "outraged," questioning why First Montgomery bid nearly $4 million more than the property's appraised value.

According to county officials, a recent appraisal valued the property at $6.5 million.

Nash said Tuesday that he was "happy to hear that Woodcrest will continue to be preserved for the here and now as a public golf course."

But, he said, "I will not back away from the statements I made [Monday] about the significant investment and the intentions for a developer to build on it."

First Montgomery had made a request to the state Department of Environmental Protection that the entire property be considered for sewer service, according to a DEP spokesman, who said last week that the state had referred the group to the township.

Expanding the sewer service area would require county and possibly federal approval because of the property's "environmentally sensitive" location, Nash said. About 30 acres is wetlands, according to the township.

Any attempt to develop the property "will be met with substantial opposition," Nash said.

Cahn echoed that opposition Tuesday. "My position has not and will not waiver: I do not want to see any piece of this property developed, and I will not support any effort to rezone it," he said.

First Montgomery may face financial challenges running Woodcrest as a public course, unable to rely on member dues, said former club president Irv Richter. The fee for Woodcrest members was $7,950 a year, with an additional $2,000 food bill.

"I think they'll get a lot of former members playing - you just pay as you play," Richter said. "Whether they can make money doing that, I'm not real sure."

Building housing on part of the course would subsidize golf - an idea club members pitched years ago that was rejected by the township, Richter said.

First Montgomery may have a similar plan, Richter said.

"They paid a lot of money for the course, which only makes sense if you're going to build on it," he said. "It doesn't make sense as a golf course."