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By: Rob Harris

A lawsuit recently filed by Toronto’s York Downs Golf & Country Club against its former general manager should serve as a cautionary tale to the officers and directors of private clubs.

Here are the circumstances, as reported:

“York Downs’ is suing Leonardo De La Fuente, an employee for the past 11 years, seeking damages of $1 million, claiming he made false claims — assigning bills for work up to $200,000 on his own property and other items including riding lessons for his daughter and trips to West Palm Beach for his family — to the club.

“The statement of claim also suggests the Stouffville man used the company credit card for his own purposes, expensing food, vacations, clothing, club memberships, personal flights and accommodations.

“According to the documents, he was modifying and forging statements to remove his personal expenses, only to replace them with fictitious expenses attributed to the club.

He then provided these statements to the York Downs staff, all of whom worked for him…”.

Apparently, the defalcation was discovered by accident, when a staff member opened a piece of mail that had been returned to the wrong address, only to find that the envelope contained a check “signed by De La Fuente and the club controller to an electrical company.”

Message to country club boards: trust but verify. There need to be financial controls in place to assure ongoing review of the financial transactions undertaken by club employees and officials at all levels.

By: Rob Harris

Sagebrush Golf Club is a minimalist design golf course built on Nicola Lake in British Columbia by former PGA Tour player, Richard Zokol. Zokol’s inspiration reportedly was Ben Crenshaw, more specifically, Crenshaw’s Sand Hills course in Nebraska.

Timing proved to be unfortunate, with the course unveiling occurring in the midst of the economic recession and the accompanying decline in golf participation. Thus, the pricey memberships remained unclaimed and the contemplated accompanying residential development proved to be a non-starter.

Zokol severed his affiliation with the development in 2012. Recently, he filed suit, claiming the moneyed developers failed to pay a $200,000 design fee that he had temporarily deferred.

The developers have now fired back, asserting counterclaims against Zokol, claiming the he mismanaged the project, and that he filed his lawsuit knowing that the developers were close to a sale of the project, and that his complaint would scuttle the transaction. The developers claim $42,000,000 in damages.



By: Rob Harris

Years ago, I had occasion to represent two developers who had their eyes on waterfront property which they hoped to turn into a residential and boating community. Convinced they had been deprived of the property and opportunity by nefarious means, they brought suit against the perceived wrongdoer. Instead of bringing shovel to earth, they brought pencil to paper, arriving at a claim for lost profits that, even in 1990 dollars, was a substantial sum.

This week’s story about the would-be developers of Montreal’s Meadowbrook Golf Club therefore resonates. The developer, having purchased the property in 2006 for $3 million, aspires to turn it into residential housing. The city government, backed by citizens who seek to preserve the land as open space,  have thwarted the developer’s plans for a number of years.

The developer has now filed suit, claiming $44 million in damages for the project not built.

The suit has met with an icy reception from the public, being characterized as a “‘rapacious and arrogant’ last-ditch cash grab.”

Time, and the legal process, will tell whether the developer can turn handwritten calculations into spendable profits.


By: Rob Harris

The members have been slumming it for the past three weeks at Vancouver’s Marine Drive Golf Club.  Following a union’s refusal to accept the club’s contract offer, the club has locked out its servers, cooks, bartenders, locker-room attendants and janitors.

According to a news report, union members claim the club offered an average increase of seventeen cents an hour, when initiation fees for new members recently increased from $65,000 to $75,000.

The optics don’t appear too good for the club, and the members likely aren’t too happy with having to clean their own shoes.

By: Rob Harris

According to the Canadian equivalent of the GHIN handicap service, Ron Hannigan plays to a 19.6 handicap at his home course, Sparrow Lakes Country Club.

Mr. Hannigan has entered scores for ten rounds thus far in July, which is interesting because on July 10, according to news reports, the 76 year old Mr. Hannigan allegedly committed aggravated assault on his golf partner, also 76 years old. Apparently, during their golf game, the men got into a dispute, which became sufficiently physical that it left Mr. Hannigan’s golf partner with broken ribs, a collapsed lung and the need for “immediate and life-saving surgery.’”

Which brings me to this. If Mr. Hannigan has posted ten rounds in July, did he play (and post) 36 holes on any of the days before July 10? Has he played since the July 10 altercation (bail presumably not being an issue)? Or, most intriguing, did he complete his round following the fight on July 10, and then post his score (in which event, under the circumstances, 91 was not such a bad score)?

Presumably, trial will reveal the answer to these and other, more pertinent, questions. In the meantime, we wish the alleged victim a speedy recovery, and, hopefully, reconciliation, as good golf buddies are hard to come by.

Judicial Enforcer

By: Rob Harris

I suppose it could have been more painful for Brad Ashley. Instead of confronting National Hockey League player Matt Cooke in a courtroom, they could have done battle here. As this You Tube clip shows, Mr. Cooke knows how to get his point across.

However, court it was, as Cooke, together with a few neighbors, brought suit against Mr. Ashley regarding the Bayview Golfing Centre that he and his wife own.

The dispute–characterized as a “feud” by news reports–centers around what Cooke and his neighbors claim are “thousands” of golf balls that have besieged their homes from Bayview’s driving range. The court has ordered the facility closed pending relocation of the driving range.

Mr. and Ms. Ashley, believing that their neighbor’s celebrity status contributed to the adverse court result, have posted a large sign:  ‘Range closed for relocation due to lawsuit filed by NHL star Matt Cooke and his wife Michelle and Mario and Stella Mathieu. Sorry for inconvenience.’

You’re a brave man, Mr. Ashley.


By: Rob Harris

Fast food restaurants responded to the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case by including warnings about the propensity of coffee to burn, creating great material for late night comics.

A creative landowner unsuccessfully attempted a similar disclaimer strategy in seeking approval to build a house adjacent to a golf course. Roger Gray, owner of the Wasaga Sands Golf and Country Club in Canada’s Ontario province, owns a piece of property proximate to the golf course. His attempt to obtain approval from the Ontario Municipal Board was met with resistance.

Objections included projections that the property would be on the receiving end of 160-190 golf balls annually. Mr. Gray responded to this concern by arguing that a warning clause could be included in the sale documents warning of the danger of errant golf balls.

Nice try, Mr. Gray.  Thumbs down from the Board:

“The creation of a new residential lot as is being proposed, would in the Board’s finding, be creating an unsafe condition with no effective mitigation measures being in place to deal with issue of errant golf balls entering private property. Nor does the Board find that a mere warning clause in the proposed deed is sufficient protection for future residents.”

Time for a cup of coffee, Mr. Gray, while you plan the appeal.












By: Rob Harris

Five hundred high school golfers in British Columbia find themselves the innocent victims of a dispute between the government and the teachers’ union.

The dispute is over legislation called Bill 22, which, if enacted, will prevent teachers from striking and will otherwise limit their collective bargaining rights. The teachers, feeling the need to register their concerns about the proposed legislation, have withdrawn from participating in extracurricular activities, thereby leaving the schools unable to proceed with the all high school golf finals.




By: Rob Harris

Arbitrators and mediators–like judges–are supposed to appreciate the importance of impartiality. Arbitrators and mediators are called “neutrals” for a reason. The parties must have confidence that the neutral is, well, neutral.

So, imagine my surprise in reading about Charles Jago, a former president of a Canadian university, who has been assigned “the challenging job of mediator” in a dispute between the British Columbia government and its teachers’ union. Mr. Jago apparently shares something in common with the government side of this dispute: the government is controlled by the Liberal Party; Mr. Jago  in recent years has donated $1000 to the party. How can this be?

My apprehension about his neutrality was reinforced by the reaction of the teachers’ union president. When told about Mr. Jago’s contributions, she stated “that would concern me.” “I’m sure he is very accomplished person, but I am concerned about his ability to mediate this dispute and his ability to understand the issues that separate both parties.”

Not to worry. All is well with the universe. Mr. Jago didn’t reach for his wallet out of love for the Liberal Party. Mr. Jago ponied up his money as entry fees for two charity golf tournaments sponsored by the Liberal Party. No bias, just a rational response to an opportunity to tee it up. My faith in the integrity of arbitrators and mediators is restored.


By: Rob Harris

The Sechelt Golf and Country Club ostensibly is for sale. Interested buyers can view a marketing video of this facility located in British Columbia.

Before proceeding too far down the purchase road, however, interested buyers should be aware that the club owner has filed suit, claiming that the local Sechelt government improperly seized the course on January 9, claiming that the owner failed to make payments under the leases pursuant to which it operated the facility.

According to the District of Sechelt, the owner owed almost $200,000 at the time the government declared the leases to have been forfeited. The owner’s controlling shareholder–claiming that 250 club members also have an interest–takes a substantially different view. He asserts that “we want the golf course back,” claiming that the District is miscalculating the rent.

Indeed, in its recently filed lawsuit, the club owner contends that, as far back as 2003, the Sechelt governing council revised the formula used to calculate gross revenue upon which the rent was determined. The revised formula allegedly excluded food and beverage sales, golf cart rentals, golf club rentals, golf lessons and pro-shop sales from the calculation of gross revenue. With these items excluded, the owner contends that there is no rent default, and the lease forfeiture was improper.

Confronted with these allegation’s, Sechelt’s mayor was not especially firm with his response, stating that “there has been a tremendous amount of communication back and forth over many, many years, and there are a lot of different interpretations over all manner of things. At this stage, we will let the lawyer and the court address the issues.”

In other words, the situation is muddy. Look for a negotiation. Prospective buyers, put your checkbooks away. This opportunity is going nowhere fast.


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