Disquiet that began shortly after the 2014 purchase of The Wentworth Club by the Chinese based conglomerate Reignwood, has again boiled over with news last week that around 30 per cent of Wentworth members have now resigned their memberships.
Among those to relinquish their playing rights are several past Captains and long standing resident members. While a number of reasons are cited, the chief complaints seem to be culture change and hefty price increases. Annual fees have risen from a substantial £8,000 to £13,500 per year. The club is believed to have made a loss of £5.5 million for the last financial year.
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It's one of Britain’s best-known golf clubs and has attracted an army of celebrity fans. But now well-heeled members of Wentworth are leaving in their droves in protest at the club’s new foreign owners.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that 30 per cent of them have relinquished their membership as the club racked up a £5.5 million annual loss.
In addition, insiders say, a number of former club captains have withdrawn their association with Wentworth, which lies at the heart of the exclusive Wentworth Estate in Virginia Water, Surrey, where homes can cost upward of £30 million.
One member, who spoke anonymously after the club’s owner, Beijing-based billionaire Dr Chanchai Ruayrungruang, threatened to expel members criticising the establishment, told the MoS: ‘It is tragic. They’ve lost the majority of those who are long-standing members. These are people who have been here for 30 or 40 years and you don’t get those people back.’
‘Dr Chanchai and his team have torn the heart and soul out of the club. It used to be such a happy place, but when you take away the people who stay around socialising, you have a problem. There have been hundreds of harrowing letters from people who have been brought up and spent their lives here. The owners are ignoring us.’
The ill-feeling between members and the club owners began shortly after Reignwood, a Chinese conglomerate owned by Dr Chanchai, bought Wentworth from restaurateur Richard Caring for £135 million in 2014.
Fees have increased from £8,000 to £13,500 per year and members last week became further outraged when Reignwood declared that children over the age of three months would have to pay a £1,000 annual fee to join the health club.
That is unless a member pays the £100,000 debenture which will then cover their children's membership. Previously the cost for a three month old upwards was £350 per year.
Long-term members are also furious at a decision to change the culture from what they describe as having been ‘quintessentially British’ – including the placing of a 5ft by 3ft portrait of Dr Chanchai in the club’s entrance hall.
The members’ bar area is also rumoured to become an Asian fusion restaurant.
The club said it wants to become the world’s premier private golf and country club and had consulted extensively with its members.
It said Reignwood was in the process of making a £20 million initial investment in the golf courses, clubhouse and other facilities – more than the total amount invested at Wentworth Club over the past ten years.
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