I have discovered that there is no shortage of interesting, sometimes humorous and occasionally outright quirky legal disputes that have a golf connection. Please enjoy

I also invite you to join the Golf Dispute Resolution Linked In group, which has more than 2000 members.

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Please don’t hesitate to share ideas for either the blog or the Linked In group.

By way of background, I am an attorney who serves as general counsel to a financial services company.  I also frequently serve as a mediator and arbitrator. And, of course,  I enjoy golf, most often at the Yale Golf Course. You can learn more about my experience here.

Now, for the required disclaimer, so I can remain in the good graces of the legal ethics powers-that-be:  This website, which may constitute Attorney Advertising in some jurisdictions, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.


Rob Harris



By: Rob Harris

Deputy Penrod was dispatched to check out a burglar alarm that sounded at a local residence. The home was near a golf course. Deputy Penrod encountered two young males driving a golf cart in front of the residence. It was the middle of the night, and, as Deputy Penrod astutely testified, ”nobody was playing golf at 2:40 a.m.”

After asking for ID, Deputy Penrod determined the two men were under 21 years of age. He testified he”detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage from inside of the golf cart,”  coming from both men. Duh…. it was 2:40 a.m. and they were driving a golf cart in the street.

Penrod testified he stopped the cart “because of the relation to the vehicle and the burglary alarm,” but also because it is unlawful in Illinois to operate a golf cart on a public highway.

Deputy Penrod told the men to cool their heels in his squad car, while he investigated the alarm.

Lo and behold, he determined that the men were not up to criminal mischief of the burglary kind, and that the alarm had been triggered by a door slamming due to the wind.

Not missing an opportunity, however, Deputy Penrod managed to convince the young men to own up to the fact that they had been drinking, and then agree to a blood alcohol test.  When the results proved positive, charged them with illegal consumption.

Good police work, right?

Not according to the trial court or the Illinois Appellate Court, both of which determined that the confessions about drinking and the blood alcohol test results should be suppressed because he failed to administer Miranda warnings.

The Appellate Court did acknowledge that ”Deputy Penrod was justified in stopping the golf cart because it was in front of the residence where he had been dispatched to investigate an activated burglar alarm.” What was problematic for the court–and fatal to the prosecution–was that Deputy Penrod kept the men in the patrol car longer than necessary after determining they were not the source of the alarm.

A burglar alarm and a wayward golf cart, driven by two underage men enjoying a couple of illicit beverages. That’s a lot of excitement on one street at 2:40 a.m.

By: Rob Harris

All of you who play early in the morning, keeping the greenskeeper company as he waters fairways and greens, now have an answer to the question  foremost in your mind: is the golf course irrigation system subject to property tax?

And, as with most things viewed as a potential source of government revenue, the answer–at least in Ohio–is “Yes”.

The owner of  the now closed Blue Heron Golf Club argued that, of course, the irrigation system should be viewed as part of the real estate, and not as separately taxable personal property. After all, as he argued, in 2007 the Board of Tax Appeals spared the famed Inverness course from taxation for the renovations done to the course–including the installation of new irrigation on fifteen holes– finding they were non-taxable construction services and not landscaping activities that could be taxed.

The appellate court described what happened at Inverness this way:

After consulting the United States Golf Association, Inverness retained “a noted golf course architect” who sought “to improve playability, to improve drainage, and to change the difficulty level.” … The club then hired a construction company to implement the plan. The extensive renovations featured excavation of thousands of tons of dirt and entirely relocating a hill, reconstructing tee boxes,installing tee drainage, realigning fairways, relocating and reshaping numerous bunkers,completely reconstructing one hole, and installing new irrigation on fifteen holes.

So, argued Blue Heron’s owner, if a new irrigation system at Inverness isn’t taxable, why should I be taxed for my irrigation system?

Calling this argument “misguided”, the court explained that “[w]hile the Board of Tax Appeals in Inverness determined that the renovation project constituted ‘site improvements’ to the real estate, it considered the renovations in their entirety and did not specifically analyze the irrigation system…. Instead, the BTA observed that the ‘changes to the land in renovating this golf course have no physical existence separate and apart from the land itself.’”

Once again, in plain English? According to the court, while Blue Heron

“argues that removing the irrigation system would cause injury to the land, we draw a distinction between the damage caused by the removal of an irrigation system and undoing ‘permanent fabrication and construction to the property’ as was discussed in Inverness. … Though removing an irrigation system would undoubtedly result in temporary damage, such damage could be repaired. Furthermore, it is apparent from the record that the installation of the irrigation system was separate from the construction of the golf course with the primary intent of benefitting the business.”

Stated somewhat differently, “the irrigation system was designed and installed to address the unique needs associated with the operation of a golf course and to primarily benefit the ongoing business conducted on the land,i.e. the golf course.”

Bottom line: pay up, Mr. Golf Course Owner.


By: Rob Harris

Former PGA Tour player Richard Zokol was a designer of Sagebrush, a minimalist course recognized as Canada’s best new course of 2009.

The accolades received by the golf course were lost amidst the legal claims between Zokol and the course owner, likely brought front and center by the economic problems of the times which led to the club’s closing.

Zokol sued for unpaid fees totaling $200,000. The club responded with a $42,000,000 counterclaim alleging mismanagement.

After two years of litigation, the dispute has been settled, as disclosed by this otherwise unenlightening press release:

“The Notice of Civil Claim and Counterclaim, file No.#51775 in the Vernon Registry in the Supreme Court of British Columbia between Richard Zokol Enterprises Ltd and Richard Zokol (the Plaintiffs) and Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club Ltd, aka Sagebrush Holdings Ltd., Calvin J. Payne, Bee Fore Holdings Ltd., Four For Fore Investments Ltd., and Baramundi Investments Ltd., (the Defendants) have been discontinued. Both parties agreed that the claim and counterclaim be dismissed without any costs to any party as stated in the Court Order filed in the Vernon Registry on September 24, 2015.”

Separately sharing his views about the litigation process, Zokol commented in an email:

“Lawsuits are not a fun process at all. They are extremely costly and I am not meaning financial costs. There is such a deep-rooted ugliness about them that limits your ability to move forward. When they are over and when you get to put it behind you it brings great relief.”

Well stated, Mr. Zokol. Congratulations on the settlement, whatever its terms.

By: Rob Harris

Pennsylvania’s Applecross Country Club maintains a seriously outdated blog on its website. Suggestion to the club: I have a great post to make your blog current.

This week, the club owner prevailed in litigation lotto when a jury awarded it $20 million. The club owner had sued developer Pulte Homes, alleging that Pulte enticed it to acquire the club with promises that it would build 1000 homes in the golf community. According to the club owner, when the economy soured, Pulte stopped building, leaving the club with millions in lost revenues and golf club membership fees.

For its part, Pulte disagreed that the contract obligated it to build so many homes.

The trial proved a bit problematic in that a key exhibit that purportedly described the intended scope of the project went missing. Nonetheless, the jury agreed with the club that the written agreement required Pulte to build the homes.

How long before the club decides to post the news on its blog?

By: Rob Harris

The website for Las Vegas’ Silverstone golf club proclaims in large, bold font “GOLF COURSE CLOSED.” The closure occurred promptly after the new owner purchased the club on September 1. In closing the club, the new owner also turned off the spigot, turning the course from green to brown in short order.

The neighbors did not take kindly to the new ground cover color scenario, expressing to a federal judge their concerns that the browning of the course was unlawful and would negatively impact their property values and their lifestyle.

The judge has agreed, at least for the time being. As reported:

“U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware issued a temporary restraining order Friday. If the water isn’t flowing again by Wednesday, Desert Lifestyles and Ronald Richards, its Beverly Hills lawyer, will be required to disclose a full financial statement to demonstrate they can’t afford to turn the water back on.

“The judge’s order requires that the golf course property be restored to the condition it was in before the water was turned off in early September. The next court hearing is Wednesday, when the owner will be expected to provide an update on the water issue. The hearing also is expected to clarify what areas of the golf course need to be irrigated.”


By: Rob Harris

We followed closely the events surrounding the allegations and subsequent guilty plea by the former manager of New York’s Rye Golf Club, who used a shell entity to scam the municipal owned golf course of hundreds of thousands of dollars (see here and here and here).

The core dispute spawned satellite litigation–a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of those who worked for the shell entity. The class action complaint seeks to have the municipality reimburse the workers for wages, tips and business expenses that the wrongdoer misappropriated. The plaintiffs are asserting rights to $2 million in damages and another $2 million in interest and liquidated damages.

No surprise–the city’s response is that it already paid the monies to the management company, and, thus, the lawsuit seeks to have it pay twice. Settlement negotiations reportedly were unsuccessful last week. Best prediction: the case will settle before too much longer.


By: Rob Harris

There certainly is no shortage of stories today about Golf fraud. Of course, almost all of them are discussing Volkswagen emissions software.

Buried among the golf fraud stories, however, is one that may be of more interest to some of you.

Apparently, the Singapore High Court has issued an injunction freezing almost $20 million of assets of a long time insider of Singapore’s premier Keppel Club, together with two accomplices.

As reported, a “probe had detected ‘irregularities’ in more than 1,300 membership transfers at the club spanning a decade from 2004. Among other things, some membership files contained only the records of payment of the food and beverage deposit to the club, not the membership transfer fees.”

By: Rob Harris

With the possible exception of a presidential debate podium, there is nothing like litigation to provide a theater for the drama known as life.

A California appellate court described as follows the circus, I mean dispute, that existed between two contractors that was about to occupy a trial court’s time and resources for the next millenium:

The complaint alleges that on January 29, 2010 Laing approached Cardona on the golf course at the Glendora County Club. The complaint alleges that, while Cardona was “playing a round of golf with his business associates,” Laing “confronted Cardona regarding monies allegedly owed, ” “used obscene and profane language, ” and “did touch Cardona in an attempt to take [his] watch and did touch Cardona in an offensive matter.” The complaint alleges that “Laing was negligent in making the offensive contact” and was “under the influence of alcohol when the negligent touching took place.” Although the complaint did not allege the precise amount of Cardona’s damages, the complaint alleged that Cardona was damaged “in [a] sum to be determined at the time of trial, ” which Cardona estimated “to be around $4, 000, 000.”

While many of us may subscribe to the view that a golf course, like a church, constitutes a place of sanctuary at which no one–no matter his off-the-course transgressions–should find refuge, the calculator workout necessary to compute a damage claim of $4 million for a few drunken off color words coupled with a boorish reach for a watch seems rather excessive.

The trial judge, hoping to bring reason where apparently none could be found, proceeded as follows:

The court stated, “I’m going to give you folks a few minutes to go into the jury room and resolve this case.” Counsel for Laing responded that “[t]his case cannot be resolved. They already owe us $60,000. This whole lawsuit is a retaliation for trying to collect the debt. . . . And if you start to break down this case, the only claim he has is that‘Mr. Laing grabbed my arm at the county club.’ That’s the only claim that survives,which Mr. Laing denies and which the witnesses that Mr. Cardona said were with him and witnessed it also deny it. I took their depositions. They said no such thing took place. There’s no way to settle the case.” The court stated,“I want you both to go into the jury room and discuss a disposition of this case,reasonably considering all aspects of costs and future costs and additional judgments or postjudgment issues, appeals and everything. Just go back there and see if you can resolve this case by some sort of disposition.”

After the parties returned to the courtroom and reported that they had not settled the case, the court asked, “Are you close?” Counsel for Laing stated, “Not in the same universe.”

So, apparently reluctant to let his courtroom be held hostage to a lengthy trial, the judge invited the defendant’s lawyer to make motions to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims, which the court promptly granted.

However admirable the motivation, the California appellate court found fault with the trial judge, reversing his dismissal. As the appellate court explained:

Cardona may not have had the strongest case against Laing. The allegations in Cardona’s complaint may not have been a model of notice pleading.. And Cardona may not have suffered much in the way of provable damages. But Cardona deserved to have his day in court, and, if he did not prove his claims by a preponderance of the evidence, to have a jury of his peers find against him on his claims, or, at a minimum, to have the court grant a directed verdict at the close of his case. The opportunity to be heard is a fundamental cornerstone of our justice system, and the trial court’s day-of-trial rulings deprived Cardona of that opportunity.



By: Rob Harris

Drought conditions in California and the southwestern United States may have golf course owners clamoring for a share of limited water, but there’s at least one course in Minnesota that wishes conditions were a bit dryer.

Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Golf Club sits approximately two feet below the level of nearby Lake Hiawatha. For years, the course has been pumping groundwater into the lake.

Apparently, however, the volume of the transported water exceeds the amounts authorized by permits, calling into question the legality of the pumping an placing the course’s future in doubt.

A recent report is avaialable here.

By: Rob Harris

I’d like to thank the Elon Law Review for providing me with an opportunity to share some thoughts regarding the caddies’ lawsuit against the PGA Tour. The article is now online and available at this link. Writing shortly after the lawsuit was filed, I made the following prediction:

“While the merits of the underlying lawsuit are important, the most significant driver of a settlement decision likely will be the degree and intensity of the support the caddies are able to engender from the media, golf fans, golf organizations, and corporate sponsors. Without a meaningful outcry of support for the caddies, the Tour will treat the lawsuit as a defendant treats most litigation of this type: by attempting to dismiss counts at the outset or at summary judgment and ultimately settling or failing to settle based on the merits and the plaintiffs’ settlement demand.  If, however, the caddies successfully keep the case on the radar screen, rallying support either by public outcry or private persuasion by corporate sponsors, the Tour will negotiate with the caddies and agree upon a package of benefits to give the caddies, a byproduct of which will be the termination of the litigation.”

While the lawsuit attracted meaningful attention at the time of filing, it largely has vanished from the sports pages. The litigation continues, unabated. Coincidence? I think not.

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