Sacked golf club executive loses case

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A high-flying executive hired to run an exclusive golf club for the Earl of Shelburne, a former president of the Historic Houses Association and close friend of the Prince of Wales, yesterday lost her claim that she had been unfairly dismissed for incompetence.

But Sally-Jane Coode, 51, the pounds 45,000-a-year chief executive of Bowood golf club in Wiltshire until last year, was awarded pounds 20,000 by the Bristol industrial tribunal because the poor budgeting which led to her sacking was only a small part of her duties.

A former Businesswoman of the Year, Mrs Coode, 51, of Farleigh Wick, Bradford-on-Avon, near Bath, must pay her own legal costs for her action, which led to separate hearings in April and July this year.

She was sacked from her post at the club on the historic 22,000-acre Bowood estate at Calne, after the Earl, Charles Maurice Petty-Fitzmaurice, 54, became concerned that revenue was little more than half of what he had expected.

After raising his concerns with Mrs Coode, he sacked her in June 1994, accusing her of being "ill-prepared" and "over-optimistic" in her forecasting.

The tribunal held that the Earl "honestly believed the applicant was incapable of performing" the role of chief executive of the golf club.

However, in rejecting Mrs Coode's unfair dismissal claim, the tribunal noted that the club had, according figures from the Golf Research Group, performed substantially better than other new clubs.

It also noted that the Earl's expectations of the course's financial performance, which he encouraged Mrs Coode to build into her forecasts, were "unsustainably high", which was why it awarded her pounds 20,000 as stipulated for termination of her contract. She said yesterday: "I am of course delighted with the result and feel that my stance has been vindicated."

Lord Shelburne said he believed that the tribunal's decision confirmed he behaved with propriety and that he was acting entirely properly when he dismissed Mrs Coode.