Wentworth members threaten legal action over fee hike

Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham February 15, 2016 14:30

Members of Wentworth Club have formed an action group to block plans to reduce the number of members and massively increase the rates they pay, and have threatened legal action against their own club’s owner.

18-19 Wentworth Clubhouse

Chinese firm Reignwood bought the world-famous golf club in 2014 for £135 million, and announced last year that from April 2017 all current members, bar the over-75s, will have to pay a £100,000 debenture if they want to remain at the club. The club currently has about 4,000 members but there will be 900 available debentures. The annual family membership fee will also almost double from £8,388 to £16,000.

Reignwood has received a 15-page letter from a law firm representing a group of members that gives an ultimatum to backtrack or face court action. The letter claims the planned changes to the club’s membership will breach a legal trust agreement in place for 50 years, contravene consumer and equality laws, and possibly even break Chinese laws regarding ‘exclusive membership’ on joining golf clubs.

‘The proposed membership structure will fundamentally change the nature and character of the club and the Wentworth estate and is unacceptable. It must cease,’ states the letter.

The law firm claims the trust document guarantees the character of the club and that estate residents’ rights of access and membership of the club would be threatened by the ‘prohibitively expensive joining fee’.

The £100,000 sum is described as ‘a patently unfair charge, whose purpose and effect appears to be to exclude the majority of the current members’.

The letter goes on: ‘The club will, if the proposed membership structure is implemented, become the preserve of a small number of extremely high net worth individuals and lose its role at the heart of the vibrant community of the Wentworth estate.’

“Reignwood hasn’t listened and is simply trying to ride roughshod over the Wentworth community.”

Nigel Moss, leading the campaign against the changes.

“The club where the Ryder Cup was founded. Thousands of British people play there every year, as guests of members and in invitational tournaments. Chop it down to a few hundred ultra-high net worth foreign members and Wentworth will be lost to the nation.”

Eric Leon, chairman of the Wentworth Residents Association, added: “It is an absolute tragedy that the situation remains so antagonistic when a fair and reasonable solution could easily have been found.

“Reignwood appears intent on clearing out the membership, restricting accessibility to the club and thereby changing the character of a great golfing institution.”

And member Sir Michael Parkinson said: “They [Reignwood] came in without any regard for the traditions or feelings of members of the club and tried to assume everybody would just go away quietly. They have misunderstood the nature of the club.

“A lot of members will go elsewhere. Maybe that is what Reignwood want. Maybe they will get their car park full of Lamborghinis.

 

michael parkinson national media museum

Sir Michael Parkinson. Flickr / National Media Museum

“It seems to me the super-rich golf clubs I have visited are soulless places used by oligarchs. They don’t feel like a club. They don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘club’.”

Sports minister Tracey Crouch added: “The government is disappointed with the decision by the new owners and hopes that a solution can be found that is acceptable to the local community and the existing members of the club.”

A club spokesman said: “Wentworth Club has undertaken an extensive legal review of the proposed membership structure, together with various legal and professional advisers, including seeking the opinion of Queen’s Counsel, which has confirmed that based on the available evidence it is able to proceed with the revised structure.”

 

Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham February 15, 2016 14:30
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4 Comments

  1. JayneB February 15, 18:29

    Beware all golfers! If an aggressor like Reignwood can evict all of the members at Wentworth Club, then it can happen anywhere. Let’s hope the the members can resist this terrible aggression and save a great golfing institution from ruin! JayneB

    Reply to this comment
    • William February 15, 20:40

      Fortunately it can’t happen anywhere, only if the club is sold to a business like Reignwood. Private members’ clubs are owned by the members, run for the members, so no worries of some company or individual owning the club and changing conditions a la Reignwood.

      Reply to this comment
    • Tim P February 24, 12:25

      Yes you need to check your membership model to avoid the whims of a rich owner. Just like football, foreign ownership is a poisoned chalice.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Andy Hurley February 15, 18:40

    Wentworth is one of the finest golf courses in the World. It has a preeminent position in the hearts of golfers because of it’s history , it’s role in the Ryder Cup , the very many contests that have attracted hundreds of thousands of people to the game.
    What ,amongst other things the new owners do not appreciate is that a golf club is about the members. No Club cam survive without a solid membership base , those who play, eat and drink at the Clubhouse.
    Golf is available online , you can play on the internet but that quite frankly is nonsense
    , a substitute and in no way encompasses the camaraderie of friends enjoying a lifestyle choice.
    I would suggest to the new owners that, sure you can by the course, you can buy the buildings too, but you can never own your membership , an empty club house will lead to a financial collapse. Ultimately 300 multi millionaire members will resign.
    Unlike in China , prestige is not everything in England, we enjoy diversity we enjoy “banter” .
    Ruin Wentworth if you wish. Unless your ultimate aim is to have a building site, remember that the reason that property is expensive is because of the Wentworth GC. Remove that, lose that, then you just have another Croyden , Brighton , just a place quite close to London

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