For sisters Cara Spencer, Janene Aul and Jacqueline Smith, who are the driving force behind the revamped Woodlake Country Club located in Vass, the
motivation to redirect the property’s narrative is not only ambitious, but also a personal one.
Spencer, Aul and Smith grew up spending their summers at the lake skiing and tubing where their father owned a second home.
“We celebrated birthdays out there; we brought friend groups out there,” Aul, principal of Woodlake Country Club, said. “It had a special meaning for us. Growing up, it was a place we could go and have fun on the lake with our friends — and it's only 35 minutes outside of Fayetteville.”
Spencer, Aul and Smith’s father was initially part of the homeowners group who tried to improve the property. However, according to Aul, the organization began neglecting the property and did not make proper repairs to the dam as required by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Aul's role in the relaunch of the club is to tackle the legal aspect of leases and contracts.
“During Hurricane Matthew, the DEQ came in and breached the dam because the ownership group had not made the requested or required repairs to the dam,” she said. “That's how the lake ended up drained; it was never repaired. And then the property just kind of went downhill from there.”
The sisters had to wrangle and untangle several legal issues to get the club, dam and golf course up and running again.
“The homeowners ended up winning about $165 million judgment against the ownership group and a lot of liens on the property,” Aul said. “My dad was involved in all of that and lawsuits with the homeowners. We ended up acquiring the property through foreclosure of one of the liens on the property.”
From there they’ve made progress beginning with reopening the community pool in May 2022, the breaking of ground to rebuild the dam earlier this year in July, the upcoming opening of the golf course sometime in late fall and the opening of the lake in spring of 2025.
The first initiative since the sisters took over the country club was the reopening of the community pool last summer.
“That was the first sign of good faith towards the community: to get the pool up and running, selling memberships and having that sort of country club aspect — that was what (the community) missed most,” shared Spencer, project manager of Woodlake Country Club. “The community residents were able to operate it with our permission the year that we transitioned and tried to gain ownership. The residents pulled together and opened the pool so we were able to take that over and open the pool.”
While the sisters worked on a transition of ownership and reopening the pool, they have also been working on the golf course for over two years, which sat dormant for about seven years.
Woodlake’s golf course is set to open in the coming months and it is the most anticipated opening of the Woodlake community.
Once opened, it will be one of the top 25 golf courses in North Carolina, according to Spencer. The club is partnering with regional and national big names in the golfing world such as Bobby Jones Links to manage operations and the club, Kris Spence as the architect of the golf course, as well as Chris Dwiggins, Woodlake’s new superintendent. There will be changes and enhancements added to the previous course under Spence’s direction.
“To have an architect like Kris Spence behind us, it’s going to be a big thing in this community, especially the development that will follow,” Spencer said. “[He] really helped show us the vision of what the course could be and execute on that plan.”
To get the buzz going, Woodlake will be hosting sneak-peek plays and a VIP soft opening on the new Maples Course green. Additionally, the sisters are excited about having Dwiggins at Woodlake because of his previous experience at the Country Club of North Carolina (CCNC) in Pinehurst.
“Dwiggins is the one who has been driving the renovation of the golf course,” Aul said. “CCNC is a very prestigious one in the Pinehurst area, so it kind of brings that level of standard over to us.”
With this opportunity to turn a neglected project into something remarkable, the sisters’ aim is to set a new standard of affluence for country clubs in the area.
“I think the money was not being put into it to maintain it,” Aul said. “We really just want to take it to the next level; a luxury community with a lot of amenities.”
Membership level plans for the golf course will be published on the Woodlake Country Club’s new website, www.Woodlakecountryclubnc.com, which will be launched on Sept. 12. Along with the launch, they will debut the club’s new brand logo, masterplans, upcoming plans and other details. The launch of the website will be the first time the community will have access to Woodlake Country Club’s information on what to expect and when.
According to Aul, though the dam’s reconstruction had only recently begun, there were behind-the-scenes efforts that took two years to be executed from the time they took over in order for its projected opening in the spring of 2025 to happen. These endeavors include working with the state and private entities on permitting and design.
“I think everybody is getting very excited because it's becoming more of a physical construction,” Aul said. “And now they can start to see the progress.”
Smith, head of renovation and masterplan design of Woodlake Country Club, said they aspire to not only add to Woodlake community’s previous experience with the country club, but change the experience completely.
“Our long-term goal would be to have more facilities, maybe for a golf school and just continue to expand and grow our amenities in the next few years,” Smith said. “We are going to have fitness, pickleball, things that they didn't have in the old course.”
One of the amenities the sisters aim to bring back is the tennis courts, restoring the historical Oates House as the future community center of the community, opening up more restaurants, event spaces and offering some leasable commercial spaces for the community.
“We will have sort of a new, different 19-hole restaurant experience, an event lawn where we can host outdoor events and weddings in the future,” Smith said. “A little bit outside the Club, but for the community, we are taking an old sales office and we are constructing sort of a community center where the market and some leasable commercial spaces [will be].”
In regards to the lake, Woodlake aims to add more water amenities and access to attract non-residents to the lake.
“It is our goal to add additional docks and boat storage that will make it easier for some of the nonlake homeowners to store their boats and access the water and have more of a marina-type experience,” Smith said. “The facilities and amenities are geared towards the community of Woodlake, but for the first time we are going to open it up on a limited capacity to non-Woodlake residents.”
Currently, the temporary clubhouse is located at the nicknamed “19-Hole Grill” restaurant, which will be opened later this year, before it moves to its more permanent location at the Oates House in the future. In the meantime, “19-Hole Grill” will offer indoor and outdoor dining with an event space as well as fire pits outside. Other food options are the snack shop by the community pool and grab-and-go offerings at the pro shop in September. Woodlake will be offering memberships to anyone who is interested in having a second home on the lake.
“The facilities and amenities are geared towards the community of Woodlake, but for the first time we are going to open it up on a limited capacity to non-woodlake residents,” Smith said. “We are hoping to make this sort of a destination club in the future.”
As far as how the country club’s reopening will affect the community, Spencer has seen an uptick in landed property appraisals.
“We've seen real estate value increase substantially since all of this has been transpiring,” Spencer said. “That's been a benefit as well for the community.”
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