Residents Association threatens legal action against owners over controversial membership plans
By Michael McEwan
The feud between the new Chinese owners of Wentworth and the club’s members and local residents has intensified.
The Wentworth Residents Association (WRA) has been campaigning to stop the Reignwood Group from slashing the number of club members from 4,000 to 900 by charging current members £100,000 to take a debenture should they wish to rejoin. Annual fees are also set to jump from £8,000 to £16,000 from the start of next year.
In the face of tremendous opposition, which included a letter from the WRA threatening legal action to block the changes, Reignwood offered a concession to 888 members who choose to rejoin by allowing them to pay the £100,000 debenture in non-refundable instalments. That, however, was met with short shrift from the WRA, who intend to press ahead with their legal challenge.
Nick Marsh, a partner in London law firm Quinn Emanuel, said: “The club’s new Chinese owners intend, in pursuit of their own commercial interests, to impose fundamental changes to the club and its membership structure. The residents will not allow the club to damage the Wentworth Estate or to ride roughshod over the residents’ longstanding property and other legal rights.”
Reignwood, meanwhile, remain resolute. A spokesperson for the organisation said it was ‘disappointed’ that members had been put off by the new fees.
“The final membership offers have been made as a result of numerous meetings with member representatives, the club and its owner Reignwood the last five months, which the Wentworth Residents Association has been an important part of,” added the spokesperson.
“We believe that the changes we are announcing clearly show our commitment to our existing members and local residents, who are an integral part of the Club’s past and our future.”
Reignwood purchased Wentworth, the headquarters of the European Tour and host venue of the BMW PGA Championship, in September 2014. It reportedly paid restaurant entrepreneur Richard Caring £135m for the property and, at the time, promised to preserve the Surrey club’s ‘unique culture’.
News of its plans to overhaul the club’s membership emerged last October, sparking outrage from its existing members as well as the wider golf community. Long-time BBC commentator Peter Alliss described the move as ‘an extraordinary step’, adding: “There are very few people who have £100,000 to piddle away on their pleasures.”
Wentworth is one of many British establishments or businesses to have been taken over or invested in by Chinese firms in recent years. Others include Savile Row, Weetabix and the Hinckley Point C nuclear power station.