Golf: Wentworth club members challenge new Chinese owners' massive S$202,826 fee hike

 A practice green is seen next to the clubhouse of the hallowed Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain on Jan 8, 2016.
A practice green is seen next to the clubhouse of the hallowed Wentworth Club in Virginia Water, Britain on Jan 8, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Members of Wentworth have threatened legal action over plans by the prestigious English club's Chinese owners to introduce a £100,000 (S$202,826) membership fee, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported.

Chinese conglomerate Reignwood Group bought the club in Surrey, southwest of London in September 2014 and last year announced a price hike for people hoping to renew their membership.

Annual fees are also due to rise from £8,000 to £16,000, but the Telegraph reported in an article on its website that a group of members wrote to the owners last week urging them to backtrack or face legal action.

Long-time members of Wentworth, a hallowed golf club in the affluent county of Surrey just west of London, accuse the new Chinese owners of using an eye-watering fee hike to get rid of them and turn the club into a preserve of the global ultra-rich.

The dispute has caused diplomatic ripples, with interventions from Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who represents the local area in parliament, and from the Chinese embassy in London.

"The proposed membership structure will fundamentally change the nature and character of the club and the Wentworth estate and is unacceptable. It must cease," the member's 15-page letter states, as quoted by the Telegraph.

The paper said members had formed a legal fighting fund and employed a specialist litigation practice to challenge the changes, which they believe contravene a 50-year-old trust document.

The protesting members describe the new charge as "patently unfair" and say its effect would be "to exclude the majority of the current members".

A spokesman from Wentworth said: "Wentworth Club has undertaken an extensive legal review of the proposed membership structure, together with various legal and professional advisers ... which has confirmed that based on the available evidence it is able to proceed with the revised structure."