The Union Flag still fluttered over the battlements of Wentworth golf club. Immaculate greens swept down to the lake – with its ornamental fountains through which water still flowed.
On the Wentworth Estate – built around the club that was conceived as its centre, its social hub and beating heart – the “Residents and Wentworth Club only” signs still proliferated.
You could snap up a five-bed new build here for just £11m, and if you could survive without the triple garage and separate staff apartment, there was something more basic for £3.75m.
The portrait of Sir Winston Churchill still glowered in club reception, as a manager glowered at the reporter who showed up without an appointment. “You are not allowed on the premises,” she said. “This is a private members’ club.”
And no we couldn’t just pop into the bar to see who was around now we were here. “Certainly not.”
Yet despite such reassuring signs, God was not in His heaven. All was not right with the world, or at least with this once idyllic corner of Surrey.
Because Wentworth’s new Thai-Chinese owner, the Reignwood Group, chaired by Dr Chanchai Ruayrungruang, one of China’s richest men, has decided to take the club – which some had naively assumed was already fairly exclusive – to a whole new level.
From April 2017 all current members, bar the over-75s, will have to stump up a £100,000 debenture if they want to remain at the club.
And the annual family membership fee is almost doubling from £8,388 to £16,000. There will also be only 900 available debentures, thus reducing membership numbers from 4,000 to nearer 2,000.
Reader, if you have tears, prepare to shed them now: Parky is upset. Sir Michael Parkinson, the most luminous of chat show royalty, fears his beloved Wentworth will be turned into a soulless enclave for a few of the super-rich.
“It is very sad,” he said, conveying his displeasure to The Daily Telegraph.
On the Wentworth estate, where 300 once-happy club members live, one gained the impression of a (private security patrolled) community of 1,100 homes – (total value: £5.5bn) – suffering under the yoke of the foreign invader.
“The club is the heart of the estate,” said one resident, “Our church, our pub, our canteen. There is no evidence they want to embrace English culture. It is a drive to destroy a community.”
Yet even in the darkness there is hope.
From the residents’ side of the high, entryphone-controlled gates, came mutterings about the upper class, insurrectionary talk suggesting a glorious struggle against the oppressor.
The flame of resistance had been lit.
We met in one of the estate’s humbler dwellings: the 4,500 square foot, four-bedroom home of company director Nigel Moss, 54.
It was from here that Mr Moss issued the clarion call.
“Save our Wentworth for the nation,” Mr Moss of The Resistance/newly formed Wet Feet action group, had written.
Because they weren’t just doing this for themselves.
“Wentworth is a huge heritage asset for Britain,” said Mr Moss, “The club where the Ryder Cup was founded. Thousands of British people play there every year, as guests of members and in invitational tournaments. Chop it down to a few hundred ultra-high net worth foreign members and Wentworth will be lost to the nation.”
In a way, said Michael Fleming, club captain in 2015, Resistance stalwart in 2016, they were rather like Liverpool football fans protesting at high ticket prices.
“The mega-wealthy seem to want to reinvent the aristocracy,” he said. “Is the ordinary man going to be priced out?”
Because, you see, Wentworth has been accessible. Yes, the current £15,000 joining fee for full membership is more than 16 times what England Golf figures suggest is the national average.
Yes, the £8,388 full-membership fees were among the most expensive in England. But you could be a social member for £468 a year and no joining fee.
“The mix is fantastic,” said Mr Fleming, 58, a dental surgeon. “From all walks of life, couldn’t care less how you made the money.”
“I would hate,” said Andrea Tenconi, an associate partner in an asset management firm, “For this to be perceived as a fight between the well-off and the more well-off, the rich versus the super-rich.”
It would indeed be most unfair to describe this as the haves manning the barricades against the have-mores.
After all, you don’t need barricades when you own the roads.
Which, thanks to the highly unusual Wentworth Estate Act 1964, the residents do.
So, said Mr Moss, they were perfectly placed to break with custom and veto the usual road closures for this May’s PGA Championship at Wentworth, the flagship event of golf’s European tour.
UK news in pictures
UK news in pictures
1/30 19 July 2016
Merlin Entertainment’s Talking Donkeys are put through their paces in preparation for three days of children’s donkey rides, celebrating the start of the summer holidays in London
2/30 18 July 2016
David Barber, The Queen's Swan Marker, holds a cygnet, or young swan, during Swan Upping, the annual census of the swan population on the River Thames, in a week long exercise where unmarked mute swans are now counted - rather than eaten - in a tradition exercised by the British Crown for nearly 900 years, at Sunbury
3/30 18 July 2016
A 'Vote LEAVE' battle bus is re-branded outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster by the environmental campaign group Greenpeace. The bus which was used during the European Union referendum campaign and had the statement "We send the EU £350 million a week let's fund our NHS instead" along the side was covered with thousands of questions for the new Prime Minister Theresa May and her government about what a 'Brexit' might mean for the environment
4/30 17 July 2016
US director Steven Spielberg poses as he arrives to attend the UK premiere of the film "The BFG" in Leicester Square
5/30 16 July 2016
A Raticate, a character from Pokemon Go, a mobile game that has become a global phenomenon, in front of the gates of Downing Street in London
6/30 16 July 2016
London landmark, The London Eye is illuminated in blue, white and red lights, resembling the colours of the French flag, as Britons express their solidarity following the deadly attack in the southern French city of Nice A gunman smashed a truck into a crowd of revellers celebrating Bastille Day in the French Riviera city of Nice, killing at least 84 people in what President Francois Hollande on Friday called a "terrorist" attack. / AFP / CHRIS J RATCLIFFE (Photo credit should read CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
7/30 15 July 2016
Armed police outside the French Embassy in London, following the death of at least 84 people, including several children, after a terrorist drove a truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice
8/30 14 July 2016
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addresses staff inside the Foreign Office in London
9/30 13 July 2016
New British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the media outside her official residence 10 Downing Street in London
10/30 13 July 2016
David Cameron makes a speech outside 10 Downing Street in London, before leaving for Buckingham Palace for an audience with Queen Elizabeth II to formally resign as Prime Minister
11/30 12 July 2016
Former Queen guitarist and campaigner Brian May poses with people dressed as Badgers during a photocall in London. The event was organised to 'urge' the government to abandon their planned Badger Cull which is to be rolled out in the Autumn
12/30 11 July 2016
Britain's new Conservative Party leader Theresa May speaks to members of the media at The St Stephen's entrance to the Palace of Westminster in London. Theresa May will become the prime minister who leads Britain's into Brexit talks after her only rival in the race to succeed David Cameron pulled out unexpectedly. May was left as the only contender standing after the withdrawal from the leadership race of Andrea Leadsom, who faced criticism for suggesting she was more qualified to be premier because she had children
13/30 11 July 2016
Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is seen on the concourse at Waterloo Station in London. Ghostbusters take over Waterloo Station as Stay Puft Marshmallow Man smashes through the concourse during the morning rush-hour
Getty Images for Sony Pictures
14/30 10 July 2016
Demonstrators from the Black Lives Matter movement march through central London, during a demonstration against the killing of black men by police in the US
15/30 10 July 2016
Members of the British Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, perform ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone motor racing circuit in Silverstone
16/30 9 July 2016
Jeremy Corbyn is escorted by police through enthusiastic crowds following his appearance at the 132nd Durham Miners Gala
17/30 8 July 2016
To mark exactly one month until Olympic Games and celebrate Usain Bolt’s 9.58 second 100m world record, Virgin Media has created an ambitious installation which transformed the River Thames into a 100m-long video screen, while the Eye itself became a giant stopwatch counting down Bolt’s time. Viewers within the London Eye were able to witness Bolt’s record-breaking speed, thanks to a 100m-long, floating screen stationed on the river beneath
18/30 7 July 2016
Home Secretary Theresa May makes a statement outside the Palace of Westminste, after she won 199 votes for the Conservative leadership
19/30 6 July 2016
Relatives of military personnel killed during the Iraq War talk at a news conference after listening to Sir John Chilcot present The Iraq Inquiry Report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster
20/30 6 July 2016
Protesters dressed as former British prime minister Tony Blair hold a demonstration outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre as they wait for the release of the Chilcot Inquiry in London
21/30 6 July 2016
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair responds to the Chilcot report
22/30 5 July 2016
Participants march in London as teachers across England stage a 24-hour strike in a long-running dispute with the Government over the "underfunding" of schools
23/30 4 July 2016
A remarkable twelve metre sand sculpture has been unveiled on the coast of Cornwall’s Porthminster Beach to celebrate the 10th annual Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue Project globally. In a bid to inspire the nation to keep Britain’s beaches ‘barefoot friendly’, the spectacular artwork has been created as part of the first ever World Beach Rescue Day (WBRD), a global initiative launching on 9 July pioneered by champions of cleaner beaches, Barefoot Wine
24/30 3 July 2016
British Conservative party leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom arrives at the BBC television centre in London to appear on "The Andrew Marr Show" in London
25/30 2 July 2016
Tens of thousands of people march through central London in a 'March For Europe Event'. The march is in protest at the result of the EU referendum
26/30 1 July 2016
Demonstrators chant as they wave underwear and placards with the words "Liar Liar Pants On Fire" written on them outside the home of former London Mayor Boris Johnson
27/30 30 June 2016
Justice Secretary and leading Brexit campaigner Michael Gove leaves his home in Kensington before announcing his intention to run to be the next Conservative Party leader and UK prime minister
28/30 29 June 2016
Spectators with umbrellas struggle against strong wind as stormy weather delays play at Wimbledon
29/30 28 June 2016
A couple kiss outside the Houses of Parliament during a protest aimed at showing London's solidarity with the European Union following the recent EU referendum
30/30 28 June 2016
Queen Elizabeth II & Prince Philip, Duke Of Edinburgh attend the unveiling of the Robert Quigg VC memorial statue in Bushmills village, Northern Ireland
They might also deploy the Surrey commuter belt version of work to rule: rigorously enforcing estate rules banning publicity banners, even those of tournament sponsors BMW.
“Absolutely,” said Mr Moss. “It’s non-collaboration.” And in such struggles, comrade, there can be no collaborators.
Although Wentworth chief executive Stephen Gibson seemed to disagree. He issued a statement: “I don’t think the estate residents are the type who would be prepared to obstruct such a celebrated event.”
There was also a club statement: “It is extremely important for us to be an integrated part of the community, [so] we have been liaising closely with our members and the Wentworth Residents’ Association.
“We [deny] that changes would turn the club into a ‘ghost town’. Our ambition is to become a family club where memberships are passed down through generations.”
A £20m revamp of the golf courses was, apparently, just the start: “Our vision is to make Wentworth the world’s premier private golf and country club. The club has listened to member feedback.”
The Wentworth Resistance remained unappeased. Even if people thought they were privileged, said Mr Fleming, “Does privilege rule out the right to fair play?”Reuse content