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John Lewis golf club members make retailer sale bid to remain independent

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Members of a golf course earmarked for closure by the John Lewis Partnership are trying to swing a deal for the links, valued at about £4.5 million, to prevent the retailer selling it to another club or a private bidder.

The department stores owner put the Winter Hill Golf Club in Cookham, near Maidenhead in Berkshire, up for sale last month to boost its finances. The clubhouse and course, which have been owned by the partnership for almost a century as a benefit for its staff, are expected to close this month.

John Lewis revealed last week that it was in advanced talks with the nearby Maidenhead Golf Club, which is considering relocating to the Cookham course after it recently sold the lease on its own land to a housing developer.

Winter Hill members have expressed disappointment that John Lewis has been working on a deal without asking if they were interested in raising the money to buy the club. They said it had happened “very quickly and rather secretively without consulting the hundreds of members”.

An action team, named Phoenix after the club badge, has been set up by several members to develop a full purchase proposal to put to the partnership’s leadership team. It is understood that some of the capital could be raised from angel investors.

Phoenix made an initial approach to Dame Sharon White, the John Lewis Partnership’s chairwoman, last week and it is waiting to see if the retailer would consider an offer.

A partnership spokeswoman said: “We know that our decision to sell Winter Hill is disappointing to many of its members and we would like to thank them for their support over many years.

“We took the decision to sell because the club is no longer used as it once was by partners and former partners and is not the best use of our resources. We remain in advanced discussions with Maidenhead Golf Club.”

The 200-acre site was bought by John Spedan Lewis, the founder of John Lewis, in 1938, with the vision of turning it into a golf course. However, the club did not open until 1976, 13 years after his death, having been used as farmland in the Second World War.

The mutual also owns another golf course at the Leckford Estate in Hampshire and has five ocean-going yachts moored in the Hamble estuary.

There are about 700 Winter Hill members, with 150 of those members being either John Lewis Partnership employees or retired staff. John Lewis and Waitrose staff can get a discounted rate on membership at the club — although use from its own employees has diminished in recent years, it admitted last week.

Last week John Lewis ran into resistance over its first build-to-rent project, under which it will build 430 flats in towers up to 19 storeys high in the west London suburb of Ealing above a Waitrose supermarket.

Peter Mason, leader of the local council, accused the retailer of “bullying” and raised concerns about the height of its planned tower blocks and the lack of affordable housing.

The partnership, which comprises John Lewis and Waitrose, is due to report full-year results this week amid fears among staff that their annual bonus may be axed. Analysts expect the group to report another year of pre-tax losses as the shift to online shopping hits its department stores and as cash-strapped shoppers defect from Waitrose to cheaper supermarkets.

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