Scott Holmes of Blacklick was awarded $800 as the first place prize due to him from The Medalist Tour LLC by a magistrate in Canton Municipal Court today, after the magistrate surprisingly cited the Dustin Johnson episode at last weekend’s PGA Championship as one reason for the decision.
Medalist Tour director Mike Hastings testified that Mark Beneke, an amateur player from Indiana, called him the day after the July 2nd tournament at The Quarry Golf Club in Canton to state that the scores listed on the tour’s website for Scott Holmes were not correct, and that the total score listed for Holmes was off by a significant amount.
Beneke played in the same group as Holmes, but was not in charge of Holmes’ card; it was amateur Brent Whitaker who kept and signed Holmes’ scorecard that day.
Beneke, a college golfer from Indiana, drove from Indiana to Canton with his mother at his own expense to appear at the hearing.
Beneke testified that Hastings asked him about four holes in specific in their phone exchange, as Holmes’ scorecard had several changes and eraser marks in different locations. Beneke reiterate his recollection of Holmes’ play on those holes on the witness stand, and those recollections did not square with Holmes’ card or his testimony.
Brent Whitaker, the player who kept and signed Holmes’ scorecard after the round at The Quarry, was not in attendance at the hearing.
A review of regional tournament results shows that Holmes and Whitaker have played together as partners in pro-am events throughout the region. One of those events includes a high-dollar pro-am charity tournament that was played just this past August 6th at River Greens Golf Course in Coshocton, an event that both Holmes (playing his own ball) and his amateur scramble team won. There were no third-party scorekeepers at the Coshocton event; it was left to the pro and his amateur team to submit their own results after the completion of play. Holmes’ amateur scramble team included Whitaker. Holmes turned in a score of 9-under par 63 to win the $5,000 first place prize. Whitaker’s amateur scramble team tied for first place at 17-under, good for $1,875 in merchandise. The group also won skins money on the day. More about that event here.
Holmes testified that he made no changes to his card at The Quarry, and that he presented an accurate score for his victory.
When testifying on behalf of the defense, Northern Ohio PGA Executive Director Dominic Antenucci was asked by the magistrate a hypothetical question: if the PGA of America would not have given Dustin Johnson a penalty for grounding his club in the bunker immediately following his round at Whistling Straits last week, would the PGA have taken away a victory a day after the event? Antenucci said no, stating that once an event is completed the results usually stand, right or wrong. But Antenucci also stated that the scope of the two events, with the huge difference in media coverage and on-site spectators, are not similar.
Later, one of the attorneys asked Antenucci if in his professional opinion The Medalist Tour handled properly the situation with Holmes, given the facts presented and the policies stated in The Medalist Tour’s player information. Antenucci stated that he felt the tour did indeed handle the matter properly in withholding the prize payment to Holmes, as the issue was not a simple rules infraction but something greater.
But the magistrate cited the PGA Championship’s handling of a Dustin Johnson’s rules infraction during that competition as a basis in part for the decision, stating a need to protect the sport and its players from rulings after-the-fact. Since Whitaker was not present at the hearing and did not have to account for his signature of the scorecard in question, the magistrate chose not focus on any possible collusion by two players to take advantage of the tour.
During the financial portion of the hearing, Holmes stated that his request for $1,296 included the first place prize amount, a refund of his entry fee, some expenses, and payment for the skin amount that he had won on the day. When Hastings provided confirmation from another tour administrator in the courtroom that the skin money was paid to Holmes that day (a skin earned on one of the scoring holes in question), the magistrate disallowed all parts of the monetary claim except for payment of the first place prize.
Because the suit was heard in small claims court due to the dollar amount involved, the hearing had several rules for the presentation of evidence that are different than what is normally found in common pleas or municipal court, a distinction that may have hurt the tour’s case. The ruling of the magistrate will be reviewed by the sitting Canton Municipal Court judge within 14 days, meaning that the ruling of the magistrate is not yet final. The judge has the discretion to let the magistrate’s ruling stand, to disallow the ruling altogether, or to call for a full trial in Municipal Court.
Hastings has not ruled out an appeal should the magistrate’s ruling stand.
Even though attorney fees and court costs are much greater than the $800 prize amount won by Holmes in the dispute, Hastings feels the expense of the courtroom challenge to Holmes’ lawsuit was necessary. “By taking this issue to court, it shines a light on some players who may be taking advantage of a number of tournament golfers in our area,” Hastings said. “Unfortunately, The Medalist Tour will be forced to change some of its operational policies to prevent pre-set groups of players from entering together. It’s unfortunate for those who play honorably, as it makes the game a bit less friendly for all. But it’s obviously something we need to do going forward.”
Northeast Ohio Golf has no contact information for Holmes, but would welcome and publish his response to the ruling.