Wentworth manager accused of mishandling £5m worth of wine

Jamie Johnson
Reignwood claims that Ni Songhua, pictured, has “refused to provide an account of his stewardship” of the wine, worth £4.8m - Ni Songhua

The owner of one of Britain’s most prestigious golf clubs is suing its former head of international operations over 32,000 unaccounted for bottles of wine worth nearly £5 million.

Reignwood, which is owned by Chinese billionaire Chanchai Ruayrungruang, bought Wentworth golf club for £135 million in 2014 from the restaurateur Richard Caring, but it has been mired in controversy over extortionate green fees and membership costs ever since.

Now, Reignwood claims that Ni Songhua has “refused to provide an account of his stewardship” of the wine, worth £4.8m, bought from Berry Bros & Rudd.

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Last year, as part of a redevelopment of the facilities at Wentworth, a new clubhouse was built at a cost of £13 million.

According to Golf Monthly, two new private dining rooms – the East and West – have been installed for member functions, and the clubhouse now has 25 chefs and a dedicated wine sommelier.

Wentworth owner Chanchai Ruayrungruang (L) and Laurent Feniou attend the launch of Ten Trinity Square Private Club in London Credit: Dave Benett/Getty Images for Ten Trinity Square Private Club

There are five drinking and dining areas in total – The Dining Room, the Club Lounge, the Club Bar, the Burma Bar and the Conservatory.

Although Wentworth golf club declined to provide the Telegraph with their full wine list, or comment on the claims, it is understood that the bars at the members’ club are operating as usual.

The golf club’s links with Berry Bros go further than just providing wine. On the retailer’s website, there is an advertisement for a black tie event at Wentworth, hosted by Mark Siddle, who runs Burgundy vineyard Domaine Bertagna along with his wife Eva Reh.

Tasting wines include the 2000 Vougeot Blanc, Premier Cru, which retails at around £500 for a case of six, as well as the 1999 Vosne-Romane, Les Beaux Monts, Premier Cru, which costs £1,200 for six bottles.

According to The Sunday Times, Mr Songhua said the claim about his stewardship of the wine was “without merit” and that it was a “pure tactical play to put more pressure on me”.

He added that, while some of the wine had been used for entertainment, most of the bottles were still in storage.

This is the latest chapter in the long-running feud between Mr Songhua and Mr Ruayrungruang, who is one of Asia’s richest men with a fortune estimated at $11bn.

Wentworth golf club has upped its fees despite resistance from its members Credit: David Cannon/Getty Images

The pair have sued and counter-sued each other over the management of Reignwood in recent years. 

Their relationship soured in 2016 after Reignwood proposed to cut the number of members from 4,000 to just over 800, and those invited to remain would be charged a one-off payment of £100,000 before annual fees were taken into account.

Those plans were abandoned after uproar from members, but fees have since risen from £8,000 to £13,500 per year, while membership is said to have declined by 40 per cent in the past two years.

Famous faces at the club include former England cricket captain Kevin Pietersen and broadcaster Sir Michael Parkinson, who has been a member for more than 25 years along with his wife, Mary.

In 2016, he spoke out about changes at Wentworth, telling the Telegraph that the new owners “came in without any regard for the traditions or feelings of members of the club”.

He said: “A lot of members will go elsewhere. Maybe that is what Reignwood want. Maybe they will get their car park full of Lamborghinis. It seems to be the super-rich golf clubs I have visited are soulless places used by oligarchs.”

Mr Songhua alleges that Mr Ruayrungruang reneged on a series of promises to reward him for buying overseas assets for the group, and told the Financial Times: “I think Chanchai is very good at getting people to trust him and do projects for him.

“But when the time comes to pay up, then he goes cool on you, and you find the deal is not what you thought you had.”

When questioned about the litigation, Mr Ruayrungruang told reporters in China: “Listen, the things you are asking about, it’s like a small dog biting your pant leg. 

“It is not a big thing. It is a small matter.”

Neither Mr Songhua nor Mr Ruayrungruang could be reached for comment.