Club’s acquisition by foreign owners an exception, not a rule
THE multi-million pound sale of Wentworth Golf Club to foreign investors is likely to be an exception rather than a rule. That’s the opinion of a leading golf club official.
Speaking to English Club Golfer, Andrew Lloyd-Skinner, the CEO of the UK Golf Course Owners Association, said that Wentworth operates in a ‘different world’ to the rest of the British golf industry and that its reported £135m sale to China-based Reignwood Investments would be unlikely to set a trend for foreign companies taking charge of the country’s top golf clubs.
Reignwood’s acquisition of the prestigious Surrey club - home to the annual BMW PGA Championship - is the second high-profile purchase of a British golfing institution by a buyer from overseas in the last five months, after Donald Trump snapped up Ayrshire’s Open Championship venue Turnberry.
That has prompted some to suggest that the UK golf market could soon be flooded with overseas investment in much the same way as the English Premier League has become.
More than half of the clubs competing in the English Premier League this season are under foreign ownership, including Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, who have dominated the league for the last two decades.
However, Skinner insists that it is unlikely we will see a similar level of investment in the golf market, despite recent activity.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he revealed. “If it does, it is only going to be at the very top level with the most high-profile clubs. Wentworth operates in a different world because it is so high-profile, so I don’t think that what happens with it will have any impact on the UK golf industry.
“The majority of clubs in the country are small, family-run or member-owned organisations that are not particularly open to being acquired, so I would be very surprised if it did happen.”
Wentworth’s new owners have pledged not to drastically overhaul anything at the club in the immediate future.
A senior spokesperson for Reignwood commented: “We are not planning major changes to the existing operational staff as they currently are operating in a stable state. We will, instead, provide more support to the existing staff in order to stabilise the operation of the club.”
Meanwhile, the club’s former owner Richard Caring will stay on as a non-executive director. The English restaurateur and businessman revealed that he had turned down numerous approaches to buy the club he bought for £130m in 2005. He had resisted all those advances until Reignwood came calling.
“I have always looked for an owner with integrity... an understanding of the special place [Wentworth] holds in so many people’s hearts,” he said. “An owner who wants to develop the club ever further, improving on what is already a masterpiece.”
Caring had previously admitted his purchase of the club - where Rory McIlroy won the BMW PGA Championship in May this year - had been reckless, as he had ended up paying as much as 50% more than its actual value at an auction.