The Mail on Sunday
You’re just not Wentworth it...
Ordinary golfers driven out of legendary club where Ryder Cup was born – as billionaire Chinese owner forces up prices to turn it into super-rich enclave
It’sI a cull anda it angers and saddens me to see an iconic golf club treated this way
RENOWNED as the home of European golf and the unofficial birthplace of the Ryder Cup, Wentworth holds a revered place in the sport’s history and is a social hub for the well-heeled residents of the Surrey stockbroker belt.
But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that its loyal members, including celebrities such as Sir Bruce Forsyth and Sir Michael Parkinson, will this week hear the bombshell news that its new Chinese owner has hatched a secret plan to dump them – and replace them with oligarchs.
Members who currently pay £8,000 annual subscriptions – after a one-off joining fee of £15,000 – will now be required to fork out up to an additional £80,000 to buy a ‘debenture’ share, or face being kicked out.
An insider told The Mail on Sunday that the club’s Chinese bosses expect only 250 present members out of a total of 3,000 to remain after the price hike.
The source said they will be replaced by 600 ‘ultra high net worth’ individuals – those with assets of more than £20million each. Many of them will be Chinese or Russian tycoons.
Chat show legend Sir Michael Parkinson, 80, branded the decision ‘barmy’, and like many others he is now considering his future at the club. ‘It’s a cull and it saddens and angers me to see an iconic golf club treated in this way,’ said Sir Michael, who has been a member with his wife Mary for more than 30 years.
‘Wentworth is a byword for golf and it’s where the Ryder Cup was conceived.’
Other celebrity members of the club include Strictly dancer Anton Du Beke and veteran comedian Jimmy Tarbuck.
The Ryder Cup grew out of an informal match between Americans and Britons played at Wentworth in 1926.
Seed merchant and golf promoter Samuel Ryder remarked ‘we should do this again’ in the Wentworth bar and donated the gold trophy still used today.
Sir Michael added: ‘The members will be bitterly disappointed. Golf has suffered from accusations of elitism and snobbery and this is a very backward step.
‘I feel very concerned for all the loyal staff at the club as well.
‘At present the members do a lot of charity work, and there are thriving schemes to bring on young tennis players and golfers, and I’ve heard no mention of any of that in these plans.’
Unless existing members ‘buy into’ the scheme, they will be kicked out within a year as the oligarchs and foreign millionaires move in.
The news will be announced by Wentworth’s owner, Chinese-Thai billionaire Dr Chanchai Ruayrun- gruang, on Tuesday at what is expected to be a stormy annual meeting. When his Beijing-based group, Reignwood, bought Wentworth for £135million last year from restaurant boss Richard Caring, the firm pledged to retain the Surrey course’s ‘unique culture’.
Mr Caring said he had held out for the right offer before selling, add- ing that he had ‘looked for an owner with integrity… an understanding of the special place it holds in so many people’s hearts’.
Wentworth’s purchase was the latest deal in what has been dubbed the ‘Great Chinese Takeaway’ as Beijing capital snaps up well-known British brands and landmarks.
In recent years, more than 500 Chinese firms have invested in the UK, buying MG Rover, black cab makers Manganese Bronze, the Lloyds Building in London, and Weetabix, along with a minority share in Hinckley Point C nuclear power station.
The future base of the European Tour, which runs all profession golf tournaments in Europe from its headquarters on the Wentworth estate, was unclear last night.
A spokesman for the Tour said it and Wentworth were in discussions about how best to continue their relationship.
Wentworth is also the venue for the prestigious annual BMW PGA Championship in May.
Peter Alliss, the BBC’s legendary ‘voice of golf’ and a honorary Wentworth member, said the plan was ‘an extraordinary step’ and was sceptical about how it would work.
The 84-year-old commentator said: ‘I don’t know if they’re bringing an Asian philosophy to Britain. I believe, rather old-fashionedly, if you have a wonderful restaurant with the best chef around, it’s no good if you’re only doing ten dinners a week.
‘It’s a magnificent club, but I don’t know where the money’s going to come from to pay all the staff. Who’s going to use all the magnificent gym facilities? You’re not going to get many 75-year-olds leaping about in the gym.
‘There are very few people who have £100,000 to piddle away on their pleasures.’
Sir Bruce Forsyth was unavailable for comment last night.
Although existing Wentworth members will be offered some discount on the debentures – ostensibly issued to raise money for a £20 million makeover of the clubhouse, the three golf courses, and the spa facilities – many fear the main object of the exercise is to weed out the traditional membership and replace them with a more exclusive clientele. Club insiders confirmed the full extent of the plan, billed as ‘the New Vision’ whose goal is to ‘increase the level of privacy afforded to Wentworth Club members’. Reignwood expects only around 250 of the existing members to stay after the new debentures are launched next April.
One source said: ‘The management is being very callous about it.
‘They’ve obviously done their calculations and they don’t really care if the current members can’t afford to stay on – they are seeking much bigger fish.
‘They’ve worked out – I’m not sure exactly how – that only 250 current members will be able to afford to remain.’
Reignwood bosses are also believed to be planning a ‘shake-out’ of existing staff at the club. A spokesman said last night: ‘Wentworth Club is continually looking at ways of improving its facilities and the experience of its members to retain its position as one of the world’s most prestigious golf and country clubs.
‘Any confirmed changes to the club will be communicated officially from the club to our members.’