Golfer sues players over cheating claim

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The Independent Online
AN AMATEUR golfer suing two fellow players for damages told a court yesterday that they had wrongly accused him of cheating.

John Buckingham, 57, a retired businessman, was cleared by a club committee of a claim that he kicked his ball into a better position during a competition and twice dropped a ball from his pocket when his was lost in trees.

Mr Buckingham, of Elmton, Derbyshire, is claiming damages from Reginald Dove, 50, and Graham Rusk, 33, both from the Mansfield area.

Patrick Milmo QC, for Mr Buckingham, told a jury at Nottingham County Court that Mr Buckingham, a 10 handicap golfer, was accused of cheating during a competition at Sherwood Forest Golf Club, near Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in August, 1990.

'This was not an accusation made informally over the course of a pint of beer or a cup of tea after the game,' he said.

Letters signed by Mr Dove and Mr Rusk, making the allegations, were sent to the club secretary but a meeting of the management committee found the claims were not proved, the court was told. The pair claimed Mr Buckingham cheated by moving his ball to a place where it did not finish after a shot, and then by dropping a ball from his pocket.

During the competition in question Mr Buckingham carded an 'undistinguished' round of 86, reduced to 76 by his handicap, the court was told.

Mr Milmo said Mr Buckingham, who could have been expelled from the club if the charges had been proved, was seeking damages for injury to his reputation.

'Golf is a game which is based on honour and trust,' he said. 'Cheating is not only outlawed by the rules of the game - it is repugnant to the whole spirit and ethos of the game.

'The first Mr Buckingham knew that complaints had been made about his conduct was while he was abroad when his son read a letter to him over the phone.'

'A hearing with 14 members of the management committee took place on 11 December that year. It was quite similar to a trial. The accused gave evidence and Mr Buckingham was represented by a barrister.

'The two defendants' letters led to this unpleasant and anxious ordeal. Mr Buckingham wrote to their solicitors asking for an apology and a reasonable payment to cover the significant expenses incurred in procuring legal defence.

'They were not prepared to make an apology,' he said.

Mr Rusk and Mr Dove are relying on the defence of privilege and justification for their actions during the hearing, which is expected to last three days.

Mr Buckingham later told the jury that golf was his life. The former insurance company boss said: 'I enjoy my golf very much. It is a very important part of my social life. My life revolves around it.'

He said he had played the game for 15 years and had played golf with his two accusers at the Sherwood Forest club, one of the premier clubs in the Midlands with a closed membership of 750 and annual membership fees of pounds 426.

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