How to Discipline a Member (or Visitor).
This is something that I hope Golf Club’s will not need too often, but given today’s climate any acts of misconduct must be dealt with promptly, professionally, thoroughly and with sensitivity.
Having a correct procedure in place can only enhance a Club’s reputation and prevents any unpleasantness or concerns over Legal Proceedings from aggrieved parties.
I will mention one or two points before giving my suggested recommendations on a sound Disciplinary Procedure that Clubs may use as a basis for there own Disciplinary Process.
- A disciplinary procedure must apply to both Club Members and Visitors; it would be considered unfair to only apply disciplinary action to Club Members.
- There needs to be a comprehensive list as to what would constitute misconduct, a time limit on a complaint being received, a decision being made and a period in which an appeal may be made.
- There is also the question of impartiality, the disciplinary committee should not have any prior knowledge of the complaint or personal interest or connection with the complainee/respondent and should conduct the hearing solely on the facts received from the investigating committee.
- When dealing with member or visitor discipline, it is important to follow a correct procedure and both members and visitors are afforded the opportunity to defend any allegations made against them.
- Central to the operation of a proper disciplinary procedure is the idea of natural justice.
- Every case must be handled promptly and thoroughly with sensitivity and professionalism.
- Any discussion of a complaint must be kept to a minimum, once in the public domain comments could be made that could reflect upon a person’s reputation and cases of libel pursued.
- In some cases where Rules of Golf have been breached, there is always the ‘gut’ reaction to label a person as a ‘cheat’ and wish to ‘kick them out of the club’. This must be avoided at all costs.
- If there is any doubt about any of the facts regarding a complaint, the hearing can do nothing but give the complainee/respondent the benefit of the doubt and find in his/her favour.
In order to have a proper disciplinary procedure, there should be a non-exhaustive list in the public domain, of what can constitute misconduct which would include a breach of club rules, rules of golf, regulations and bye-laws as well as breaches of Club Policies and Procedures such as Pace-of-play, equal opportunities and, especially these days, the use of social media.
Without such a list in the form of a Club Policy, that members or visitors can refer to or be referred to, then it is in my opinion difficult to discipline anyone.
There should also be a general clause for any misconduct which is considered to be detrimental to the interests of the club, its members or any action of the club’s membership or otherwise could affect the club’s reputation.
For several years Clubs have been recommended to draw up Pace of Play and Code of Conduct Policies; the Rules of Golf 2019 now stress that all Clubs should follow these recommendations. See Rules of Golf 1.2. and Interpretations 1.2a/1
If you click on the links below you will be able to read and download my comments and documents on a Sample Code of Conduct and Pace of Play Policy.
Code of Conduct Policy
Pace of Play Policy
My advice to Golf Club Committees on disciplinary procedures
There should be three stages to a disciplinary process:
- The Investigation
- The Disciplinary Hearing and
- The Appeal Hearing
The procedure should allow for different people to conduct those three different stages. For example, the golf club Captain or secretary carries out the investigation, with Vice-Captain and a committee member conducting the disciplinary hearing and two separate committee members hearing any appeal.
The people who conduct each of those stages should be impartial and have had no prior involvement in the case or be a witness to any of the events or have any conflict or bias. It is important, for example, to exclude certain members of committee from discussions about ongoing disciplinary cases in order to preserve their impartiality so that they can be called upon later to hear any appeal.
It may be possible for a disciplinary procedure to provide for the disciplinary and appeal panel to be drawn from the general membership, with their powers delegated from the Club committee or board of directors. This can very often provide the most flexibility for a club, since clubs can sometimes ‘run out of people’ once committee members’ conflicts or prior knowledge or involvement in the case have ruled them out of participation.
The investigating officer should carry out a reasonable and full investigation into the case. That may involve gathering documentary evidence and taking statements from relevant witnesses. One of the keys to a good procedure is that the matter should be dealt with promptly.
Once evidence is gathered, it should be submitted to the disciplinary panel. The investigating officer should not express any opinion or make any recommendation when he submits evidence to the panel.
The disciplinary panel should review the evidence and if there is a case to answer they should invite the accused member or visitor, by letter or email, to a hearing. The invitation should set out the detail of the allegations, provide a right to be accompanied by a fellow member and should enclose the relevant evidence. The member should be given a reasonable opportunity in advance of the hearing to prepare and to perhaps gather their own evidence for a defence.
At the hearing itself, the member or visitor should be afforded an opportunity to have their say. They may challenge the evidence, cross-examine witnesses and make representations about the case being put against them. The may also submit evidence in mitigation in an effort to reduce any sanction against them.
At the end of the hearing, the panel should adjourn whilst they make a decision. That may be a decision which they can reach on the same day which can be communicated verbally (initially) or it could be something which takes longer. Whenever it is decided, the outcome should be confirmed to the member in writing, as well as informing them of their right of appeal.
It would be sensible to put a time limit upon an appeal being lodged, if only to assist the parties in being able to get some closure and to move on. However, it is advisable to allow an appeal even when it is received outside of the strict time limit, since the failure to do so may be viewed as being a denial of the access to justice.
If an appeal is received by the club from the member, then an appeal panel should be convened. They would then follow a similar process to the disciplinary panel, allowing the member the opportunity to attend the hearing, accompanied again; the member may submit fresh evidence, produce new arguments or they may be looking, simply, for a fresh set of eyes and ears to look over and listen to their case. There should be consideration given to the way in which the appeal is run. Is it one which will be a full re-hearing of the original disciplinary, or will it be one which is a review of the process adopted by the disciplinary panel? Very often it is wise to have a full re-hearing, since that will allow the club an opportunity to put right any defect in its procedure from the original disciplinary hearing.
At the end of the appeal hearing, the panel should make its decision in a similar way to the process for the disciplinary panel, which should be confirmed in writing to the member.
You can download three documents that England Golf issue as guidance for Clubs on Disciplinary Procedures by clicking on the Download Buttons below: