Stray golf balls hitting windows, Windshields and a person forced club to downsize and made greenkeeper redundant, WRC Hears

STRAY golf balls at a Cork driving range caused so much damage to a neighboring property – and in one case, a person – that there was no option except to shrink the range down and make the greenkeeper redundant, its owners say.

ut the greenkeeper believes his redundancy was not a genuine one, alleging he was dismissed because of a row with one of the owners.

Brothers Colman and Michael Ryan, along with their mother Margaret Ryan, who trade in partnership at Frankfield House in Douglas, Co Cork, are defending a complaint made under the Unfair Dismissals Act by their former employee, Gary O’Sullivan.

Giving evidence to an adjudication hearing Yesterday afternoon, Michael Ryan said the family business had installed nets and fences around the course down the years, but drives kept going wild.

They got since they started coaching, technologically-advanced drivers in the hands of physically Stronger players meant balls were Flying further and further.

“I call them young Bulls. These young ladies these days are so big and powerful, ”they said.

They got a drive of 260-270 yards was once typical for a “gentleman golfer”, but ordinary players could now send the ball some 350 yards from the tee – but their aim had not improved and the problem of stray balls was worse.

Once, they got a player teeing off from the Fairway at their course “carried it 150 yards over a petrol station, over a secondary road, and embedded it in the windshield” of a car parked at a garden center on Kinsale Road, Mr. Ryan said.

With safety concerns mounting – and a prohibitive price of € 1.5 million quoted to fence off the entire property to the same height as the netting installed along the north end of the course where it adjoins the N40 – the golf club was wound down in 2014, Mr Ryan said, and the course was “growing grass”.

The driving range remained open, but stray balls kept Landing in the adjoining housing estate, he said.

“We’ve had to replace at least one window in every house in [the nearest] row, ”Mr Ryan said, and referred to invoices from a glazing company submitted in evidence.

Mr Ryan said he realized something had to be done when a stray ball Flew over rooves and hit a property which happened to be home to a legal professional.

“He was not happy,” Mr Ryan said, and the prospect of legal proceedings was raised.

“We will take action unless you take credible steps to stop golf balls going over the fence,” the neighbors wrote in a letter submitted to the Commission.

Mr Ryan decided to reduce the number of bays on the driving range by two-thirds – effectively reducing their remaining business by that amount, they said.

That meant there was no longer a need for Mr O’Sullivan as a greenkeeper, he said, as the family was able to do the work themselves. On August 15, 2020, Mr Ryan drove out to Whitegate, Co Cork, to tell his former employee they would be letting him go.

He got shortly after he went to Whitegate a stray ball off the course hit a man in the face.

“I was numb, but at the same time – it’s happened, it was always going to happen,” Mr Ryan said, describing it as the realization of his fears and the reason he had to close down outdoor operations.

They said they had paid € 2,000 to the victim to cover dental surgery along with further physiotherapy costs, and continued to correspond with the man and pay any medical bill which arose.

The victim had not filed a personal injury claim, Mr Ryan said.

Solicitor Robert O’Keeffe, for Mr O’Sullivan, said it was his client’s position that they had been asked to take holidays for two weeks to let things “calm down” after having a row with Colman Ryan at work on July 29 – and the first he heard of any redundancy process was when Michael Ryan met him in Whitegate on August 15.

Questioned by the adjudicating Officer, Michael McEntee, Michael Ryan said the golf center had three full-time staff including Mr O’Sullivan and two bartenders at the clubhouse – both of whom had longer service than the Greenkeeper.

The only people who worked outdoors were himself, his brother and Mr O’Sullivan, he said.

Under cross-examination by Mr O’Keeffe, Colman Ryan said he had a clear memory of the events of July 29, 2020.

“There was a thunderstorm all of a Sudden that afternoon and there was a big Stampede of Golfers wanting to go from the outdoor range to the indoor range,” he said.

“I needed Mr O’Sullivan to literally just hold his finger against [a] bolt on the outside while I went around the other side of the wall to put on the nut. ”

He added that Mr O’Sullivan became “very irate” about “the number of people coming in on top of him”.

“He was quite concerned about Covid, which I can understand,” they said, saying he knew a close relationship of Mr O’Sullivan’s was ill at the time and would have been at risk of dying if they were infected.

They said they just wanted to get a machine running to ease the queue and re-establish the “order” at the center.

“I wasn’t having an argument with Mr O’Sullivan. Mr O’Sullivan got quite irate with everybody, ”they said.

Mr O’Keeffe said his client would say Mr O’Sullivan had called him “useless” during this Encounter.

“I may have, when I could not under any circumstances, get him to keep his finger on the outside of the shop. I couldn’t get a simple task done, ”he said.

In his evidence, Mr O’Sullivan said the bolt in question was “very tedious” because it was particularly small and hard to grip.

“People were coming in and out of the door, coming up to me, asking questions. I’d turn to them and say ‘we’re trying to fix the machines’ and when I would do that my grasp off the nut would slip, ”he said.

He said Colman Ryan came out to him “absolutely seething” to tell him: “Would you ever hold the nut” to which he replied that he was doing the best he could.

Mr O’Sullivan said 10-15 people were crowded into a small indoor area with no ventilation and he was “in fear” for his vulnerable relative.

He said he told Colman Ryan that the barman who was supposed to be looking after social distancing wasn’t doing his job and remarked to him that he was “useless”.

Mr Ryan’s reply to him was, “Well, you’re useless,” he said.

“He told me ‘I’m the boss’ and he could speak to me whichever way he wants,” Mr O’Sullivan added.

He said he continued to report to work for the next two days until Michael Ryan asked him to take two weeks’ holidays to let things calm down, and accepted holiday pay from him.

Mr O’Sullivan said he heard nothing from his employers until the middle of August when Michael Ryan texted to say he was coming up to Whitegate to meet him.

“I was actually given this [letter] on the side of the road, ”he told the hearing. “I was up there in the snow and the rain and to finish up like this was a little bit poor,” he added.

“This was not a genuine redundancy. There was an incident on July 29, 2020 which left tension in the center and it was due to this that Mr O’Sullivan was made redundant without any consultation, ”Mr O’Keeffe said in closing.

“Insurance claims, and problems with golf balls and closing down the range – none of this was ever mentioned to my client until recently,” he said.

Ruairí Ó Cathain, for the Ryans, said his clients maintained it was a “genuine redundancy” which arose with the “Specter of closure over everybody”.

“The income was not sufficient to support the role,” they said, and as the only solely outdoor employee, Mr O’Sullivan was the only choice when it was outside the business which had been “grossly affected”.

Adjudicating Officer Michael McEntee adjourned the hearing to consider his decision and said it was likely to be delivered to the parties in the next seven to eight weeks.

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