Golf club members claim increase in membership fees is a breach of trust

A row between one of Britain’s most prestigious golf clubs and its members has escalated with the owners being threatened with legal action over plans to dramatically increase annual fees.

Members of Wentworth golf club have accused the Chinese-based owners of using a steep increase in membership rates to get rid of them and turn the club into a preserve of the ultra-rich, according to a report in The Guardian.

Reignwood, the Chinese conglomerate, bought the club for £135 million in 2014. The new owners proposed to reduce the number of members from 4,000 to 800 and those invited to rejoin the club would be charged a one-off payment of £100,000 while annual fees would rise from £8,000 to £16,000.

In the legal letter sent last week, Wentworth’s new owners were given an ultimatum by the current members to back down or face court action. The letter claims the planned changes to the club’s membership would breach a legal trust agreement in place for 50 years and contravene consumer and equality laws. “The proposed membership structure will fundamentally change the nature and character of the club and the Wentworth estate and is unacceptable,” states the members’ letter.

Members have clubbed together to form a legal fighting fund and employed a specialist litigation practice to resist the changes. The law firm claims the reforms breach a 50-year-old trust document, said to guarantee the character of the club. It also argues that estate residents’ rights of access and membership of the club would be threatened by the “prohibitively expensive joining fee”.

A club spokesman replied: “Wentworth Club has undertaken an extensive legal review of the proposed membership structure, together with various legal and professional advisers, including seeking the opinion of Queen’s Counsel, which has confirmed that based on the available evidence it is able to proceed with the revised structure.”

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