MINERAL WELLS - A foursome of golfers lounge in the snack bar, eating peanuts, watching television, splitting a pitcher of beer. It's Monday afternoon and the men - retirees - are taking an extended break from their rounds of golf at Woodridge Golf Club.
Bill Neal would fit right in.
Neal, who retired from General Electric in 2001, is dressed to play; khaki pants, short-sleeve windbreaker and ball cap. But he only dresses the part. As owner/operator, he's too busy to play.
Bill Neal, owner and general manager of Woodridge Golf Club, stands on the clubhouse balcony overlooking the Mineral Wells course. Neal recently completed the purchase of the property, securing the course and providing local ownership. (Photo by Jody Murphy)
"I played 36 holes at this place this year," he said looking over the course.
Recently, Neal became the owner and general manager of Woodridge Golf Club, purchasing the property from Orix Capital Markets LLC of Dallas. The course, which had been plagued by financial distress for several years, is once again in the hands of local owners.
"It's solid," Neal said. "Orix won't shut us down. Nobody will buy it. The ownership is me. Nobody else is involved."
Orix loaned Newblakor, the course's owners, $3.6 million in August 1997, when it sought to refinance its $3.1 million debt. In 2006, Orix sought summary judgment against Newblakor after filing a federal suit, seeking $3.8 million, in 2005. When Orix was awarded the property, Ron Jaworski Management (RJM) was brought in to manage the site in May 2006. That move was nearly fatal. Orix closed the course in 2008.
Woodridge Golf Club reopened in 2009 after the Woodridge Plantation homeowners came up with $100,000 in seed money to obtain lease rights to reopen and operate the course. Neal was part of the group.
Neal has been an avid golfer at Woodridge since it opened in 1991. He got involved with the business end of the course for the love of business.
"It's a good investment. A great investment for me," he said.
Since control of the course was reverted back to locals in 2009 play has increased 50 percent, Neal said.
Neal said it reached the point where the 150-acre site was maintained by six employees. It now employs 20, and Neal hopes to add more as business grows.
Last week, he completed the paperwork to purchase the property outright. The purchase was financed by Huntington Bank. Neal declined to disclose how much he paid for the course.
"I've worked very hard to get a fair price so we can be here for a long time," he said.
Neal said there were a lot of rumors about new owners, "but nobody stepped up to the plate."
With Neal serving as owner and GM, he will continue to grow the game and facilities. The club has about 100 members.
Neal said the banquet facilities, one of the largest in the area, remains a popular draw. booked to capacity for the remainder of the year and into 2014.
Jim Hamric, local homeowner and adviser, said Neal's purchase is good news for the homeowners.
"It's a win-win situation for both sides," Hamric said.
Neal said the change in ownership won't result in changes to the course.
"Nothing will change," he said. "We will move forward as we can afford it. And improve what we can."
He is planning to hold an open house and ribbon-cutting June 23.