Overseas member wins court case against Sunningdale

Tania Longmire
By Tania Longmire January 1, 2020 12:05

A golfer who took legal action against Sunningdale Golf Club because it revoked his cheaper international membership because he was playing more than 30 rounds a year has won his court case.

John Cawood, 72, a retired Australian lawyer, has been reinstated after suing the club, reports The Times.

His discounted £975 ‘overseas membership’ – compared with £3,245 for full membership – meant he could play only 30 days a year, but records showed him present in the club itself up to 94 days in a single year, a court heard.

One senior member complained of Mr Cawood using Sunningdale as ‘his country club’.

The club claimed his membership was cancelled because his regular attendance suggested he was not in fact resident overseas – and should have been paying nearly four times as much for a full membership.

But Mr Cawood, who said he did not break the 30 days play rule, claimed the cancellation in 2015 was a ‘stitch-up’, motivated by ‘dislike’ of him amongst certain members of the club’s committee.

At Central London County Court, Judge David Saunders said the decision to remove him had been influenced by feeling that Mr Cawood ‘was not the kind of person that the club wishes to have as a member’.

The judge found that the club was wrong to terminate his membership and ordered his reinstatement.

The judge said the club’s committee was wrong to find that Mr Cawood was not ‘resident overseas’ adding that there had been an element of a ‘clash of personalities’ with some other members.

‘It is very difficult not to accept that there was some strong element of dislike and a view that Mr Cawood was not the kind of person that the club wishes to have as a member,’ he said.

‘The problem, I consider, is that these issues became conflated. The residency issue was a convenient method of terminating his membership.’

Overseas members had all of the same rights as full members, although their use of the golf course was limited to only 30 days’ play per year, said the judge.

The club said his membership was terminated after years of concern about the amount of time he was spending at Sunningdale, as shown by his use of a payment card.

In the 11 months before his membership was ended, he had been physically present on 94 days, strongly suggesting to the committee that he was resident in the UK.

The club said the termination of his overseas membership did not mean he was prevented from being a member, as he could apply for full membership, but didn’t.

Taking the case to court, Mr Cawood applied for an injunction and damages payment, claiming that the club committee was wrong in saying he was not resident abroad.

Despite having lived in accommodation close to Sunningdale, he insisted that he is an Australian with no intention of changing his permanent home to any other country.

‘Australia is my real home for all the obvious reasons,’ he told the judge. ‘Much as I like the US and love the UK, my emotional and historic ties are to Australia.’

The judge said Mr Cawood and his partner live a ‘peripatetic’ lifestyle, dividing their time between three different countries.

‘I find that the time they spend in one country will often depend on their personal circumstances at any particular time,’ he said.

‘I am therefore satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, and upon the evidence, that he is not permanently resident in the UK.

‘On balance, I do not believe that he has any intention of setting up home here.

‘The fact that he used the club whilst he was in the UK is just a natural consequence of his lifestyle at that time.’

The judge made an injunction, reinstating Mr Cawood’s membership, and awarded him £250 damages for the ’embarrassment’ caused.

‘This is an emotive type of case,’ he said.

‘Membership of any sports club – particularly where one is a longstanding member and where sport is a love of one’s life – is extremely important.

‘To certain people, where golf is concerned, such a membership is more than simply playing golf – to many it is a lifestyle choice and with a significant social element.

‘Mr Cawood is a longstanding member, enjoys playing golf and having use of the facilities.

‘Sunningdale Golf Club is a top prestigious club and if he were, for example, to seek membership at another club then it would be very difficult for him to find an equivalent alternative – if at all.

‘He has many of his closest friends there.’

He added: ‘I accept that there will inevitably be some difficulty due to the clash of personalities evident in the oral evidence I heard but, in such a large club, I am satisfied that the risk of that would be small, that the parties as a whole are sensible, and that any tension or conflict could easily be managed and avoided.’

Mr Cawood brought his case against several individual members as representatives of the whole membership, but the judge said effectively the case was against the club itself.

 

Tania Longmire
By Tania Longmire January 1, 2020 12:05
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