Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Gallery - Dis­il­lu­sioned golfer, Nel­spruit

he Con­sti­tu­tion of South Africa, sec­tion 33(1), states “Ev­ery­one has the right to ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tion that is law­ful, rea­son­able and pro­ce­du­rally fair.”

The SA Golf As­so­ci­a­tion (SAGA) Dis­ci­plinary Hear­ing Guide states “South African law re­quires that no per­son may be de­prived of his or her rights with­out a fair process.”

Any mem­ber of a golf club would thus ex­pect that dis­ci­plinary hear­ings at golf clubs will be dealt with con­sis­tently and with proper ad­her­ence to laws, pro­ce­dures and pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

Golf is a sport gov­erned by ethics, prin­ci­ple and self-gov­er­nance. In the public eye it is a no­ble sport that has a proud his­tory of be­ing well dis­ci­plined with es­tab­lished rules, guide­lines and ethics.

What hap­pens when mem­bers of a golf club in­sist on en­force­ment of the ethics, in­tegrity and gov­er­nance that form the back­bone of what golf stands for?

The SAGA, Mpumalanga Golf Union (MGU) and Nel­spruit Golf Club (NGC) have in the re­cent past been con­fronted with this dilemma.

A Nel­spruit mem­ber was ex­pelled for life from the club for us­ing a sin­gle swear word de­scrib­ing his feel­ing to­wards the club. The in­ci­dent took place dur­ing a Spe­cial Gen­eral Meet­ing in which he and his wife, also a club mem­ber, were ver­bally abused for point­ing out the non-com­pli­ance to the club’s con­sti­tu­tion. This had re­sulted in an un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally elected man­age­ment com­mit­tee, po­ten­tially mis-stated fi­nan­cial state­ments, and the ‘man­age­ment com­mit­tee’ not in­form­ing mem­bers of all pro­posed changes to the club’s con­sti­tu­tion.

None of the ac­tions taken by the ‘man­age­ment com­mit­tee’ to ex­pel the mem­ber were in line with any leg­is­la­tion in South Africa, the

TSAGA Dis­ci­plinary Hear­ing Guide, and the Nel­spruit GC con­sti­tu­tion, in­clud­ing the re­fusal by the club and MGU to hear his ap­peal. The non-com­pli­ance with prin­ci­ples of nat­u­ral justice has been re­ported to all golf­ing bod­ies up to and in­clud­ing the SAGA. To date no ac­tions have been taken to ad­dress this gross in­jus­tice.

To put this sanc­tion into per­spec­tive, a teenager was as­saulted on the Nel­spruit course in a racial in­ci­dent dur­ing Oc­to­ber 2016. All the golfers in­volved, in­clud­ing the teenager, were sus­pended pend­ing a hear­ing, which only took place six weeks after the in­ci­dent. At the hear­ing, the as­saulted teenager and one of the golfers were sus­pended for 18 months, this sen­tence be­ing sus­pended for a pe­riod of two years.

Due to the in­ci­dent hav­ing been re­ported in news­pa­pers, so­cial me­dia and tele­vi­sion, the teenager was found guilty of bring­ing the game into dis­re­pute and for be­hav­iour un­be­com­ing a golfer.

Fur­ther ex­am­ples of the lack of con­sis­tency of dis­ci­plinary sanc­tions at Nel­spruit GC:

In an­other racial in­ci­dent, a NGC mem­ber as­saulted a per­son in the bar of an­other Lowveld golf club, re­sult­ing in the per­son be­ing taken to hospi­tal. The sanc­tion for this was a 6-month sus­pen­sion, re­duced to 3 months after ap­peal.

A NGC mem­ber was sus­pended by the MGU for 3 months after play­ing a tee shot from an en­ergy drink bot­tle and do­ing a “Happy Gil­more” after a Hand­i­cap Bet­ter­ball league match had fin­ished.

A NGC mem­ber swore at a home owner while retriev­ing his ball from the owner’s prop­erty ad­join­ing the course. The mem­ber was sus­pended for 3 months.

It is left to the reader to draw a con­clu­sion as to whether the SAGA, MGU and NGC have han­dled these sit­u­a­tions con­sis­tently within the re­stric­tions of leg­is­la­tion and with the ex­pected in­tegrity and ethics.

In clos­ing, the nov­el­ist Elie Wiesel wrote: “There may be times when we are pow­er­less to pre­vent in­jus­tice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” And “We must al­ways take sides. Neu­tral­ity helps the op­pres­sor, never the vic­tim. Si­lence en­cour­ages the tor­men­tor, never the tor­mented.”

Jock of the Bushveld statue at Nel­spruit.

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