Golf club locked in alleged racial row

WOODBRIDGE Golf Club is locked in a £100,000 alleged racial dispute with a woman who was refused membership.The costs of the row could escalate to nearly £200,000 and members of the club could be asked to donate to the club's legal fund to fight the woman's claims of racial discrimination.

WOODBRIDGE Golf Club is locked in a £100,000 alleged racial dispute with a woman who was refused membership.

The costs of the row could escalate to nearly £200,000 and members of the club could be asked to donate to the club's legal fund to fight the woman's claims of racial discrimination.

Now the club is to hold a Special General Meeting in the clubhouse on March 26 where the management committee will ask members for their views on funding a solution to the dispute.

The sensitive issue concerns an application from a woman golfer at Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club who wants to become a member at the private club in Woodbridge.

Sheila Williams had her application opposed by officers within the club or county, long established and respected members and some female golfers - but there are also players who support her claim to be a full playing member.

Mrs Williams is prepared to discontinue her claim that she had "suffered racial prejudice" if the club's decision to reject her application is analysed by an independent third party.

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The dispute has been dragging on for several months and it was reported at the annual general meeting in November.

A mediation hearing was held in Ipswich in January attended by eight representatives of the club, the club's solicitor, Mrs Williams and her husband, her solicitor Richard Hemmings and her barrister. A settlement was not reached.

Mr Hemmings said they were not making a comment while discussions were still ongoing and the club also declined to comment yesterday.

There are three options to be discussed by club members. The first is to admit Mrs Williams as a full playing member and that is her preferred option. The second option, favoured by the club, is to allow a neutral third party to determine her application in private. The third possibility is for the row to be settled in a court case.

Geoff Henney, chairman of the club's management committee, said in the briefing notes that the club had already spent £42,000 excluding VAT and it was believed Mrs Williams had spent a similar amount - but she would pay her own costs if she was admitted.

The costs, if a third party makes an adjudication, would add an estimated £20,000 for each side. The club believes it could be given another bill of £55,000 to £65,000 if the ruling was against it.

A court case would probably cost each party £100,000 and the club could have a total costs liability of up to £170,000 if it lost.

Mr Henney said: "While the committee and the club's legal advisers continue to believe that the allegation of racial discrimination would be successfully defended at trial, there can be no guarantee as to that outcome."

He said some members had already agreed to give "very generous" donations for the club's legal fees but in a "worst case scenario" each member would pay a £95 levy.

Mr Henney said the objections made when Mrs Williams had submitted her application had been reviewed and nothing had been found to reverse the decision.

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