Tuesday, December 01, 2015

New owners want to slash Wentworth 

membership to only wealthy 800

The Wentworth Golf Club clubhouse, pictured in 2006
Wentworth clubhouse, Surrey. Pictured in 2006 ( Getty Images )
VIRGINIA WATER, England –– The spirit of golf has left Wentworth Golf Club. That much is obvious from the actions of new owners Reignwood.
The Chinese company is kicking 4,000 members out of their own club unless they pay a debenture of $167,000. Members were handed a fait accompli this month. It simply said: Pay up or get out!
Most members who agree to buy the debenture will then have to pay double the current annual subscription of $12,000, although there are limited individual memberships at a cost of $15,000 per annum.
I wonder if Reignwood chairman Chanchai Ruayrungruang hands out candy on Halloween, or if his middle name is Ebenezer. Heaven help the child whose ball lands in his backyard.
Reignwood bought the club from Richard Caring last year for $209 million. The company is intent on recouping most of that cost from members.
Most people won’t be too concerned about rich golfers having to pay more to rejoin one of the United Kingdom’s most elite clubs. Houses on the Wentworth Estate sell for an average price of $7.5 million, according to the local newspaper, the Surrey Advertiser.
No matter the status of Wentworth members, what’s being done to them is just wrong. 
All members have already paid a joining fee, currently $23,000, and are now being told they have to pay another joining fee to stay in the club. 
That surely can’t be right? Even if it is legal, it’s highly unethical, immoral and just plain unfair.
Many residents won’t be able to join the club that sits on their doorstep. There are 1,100 homes on the Wentworth Estate. Reignwood reportedly only wants 800 members. So at least 300 families will not be able to join even if they had the money to do so.
With just 800 members and three courses, the now thriving club is in danger of turning into a ghost town.
Reignwood is creating a club that goes against the grain of British golf. Not only is the company intent on making it an exclusive enclave for the super rich, Wentworth no longer caters to corporate groups, golf societies or accepts green fees from casual visitors.
With the exception of a few British clubs, Loch Lomond and Queenwood being the most notable, ordinary handicap golfers can gain access to most clubs. 
Muirfield, Royal St George’s, Sunningdale, Royal Lytham and other elite clubs accept visitors and visiting groups.
As a golf writer, I’ve been fortunate to play Wentworth many times. The club has been very generous in allowing British golf writers to play all three courses over years.
I recently played the East Course – the most fun of the three Wentworth courses, in my opinion – in the golf writers' annual championship. I fear it was my last round at Wentworth. 
I can’t anticipate playing at a club that sees nothing wrong with the mass eviction of long and loyal members.
Chairman Ruayrungruang has so far been reluctant to meet with members. He’s got a chance to do so this coming Sunday,  December 6, at an Extraordinary General Meeting members called to try to get the new owners to see sense.
Ruayrungruang should read section I of the Rules of Golf, Etiquette, before that meeting. That section introduces the Spirit of the Game, and talks about honesty, integrity, consideration for others and adhering to the rules, everything that makes golf a great game.
Maybe then he’ll rethink his plan to rip the heart out of one of Britain’s most famous clubs.



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