Golf parables in legal circles

Golf parables in legal circles

Mahesh Grover

IN an anthology of legal humour, there appears a fictional account of a case where its author AP Herbert delves into the issue ‘whether a golfer is a gentleman’. One Albert Haddock was charged under the now repealed Profane Oaths Act, 1745, classifying a higher fine for a gentleman and a lesser one for those outside, for each uttered profanity. Haddock (a gentleman) had 400 offensive utterances, recorded by an assiduous caddie, while playing a difficult hole on a Cornish golf course, where a player is required to drive over an inlet (chasm) of the sea, enclosed by cliffs. Normally, a player would take a second shot if failing to clear the chasm with the first one, and if resulting similarly, on the second shot, would abandon the hole.

Haddock admitted his guilt and said he recalled using those expressions with shame and it was a shock even to him, as he had never uttered them before and conceded no gentleman would use such a language, but he was not a gentleman while playing golf.

The judge who tried him was himself a golfer and ‘was aware of the subversive effect of this exercise (golf) upon the ethical and moral systems of the mildest of mankind’. Thorough gentlemen ‘are found in lonely corners of the downshacking at sandpits or tussocks of grass and muttering in a blend, ungovernable fury, elaborated maledictions which could not be extracted from them by robbery or murder’ — ‘and that golf may well be included in the category of intolerable provocations which may legally excuse or mitigate behaviour not otherwise excusable’ and compel one to ‘act like a lunatic or a lout’.

The judge then observed that ‘just as the reasonable man who discovers his consort in the embrace of the supplanter becomes for the moment a raving maniac, so the habitually gentleman may become, in a bunker a violent unmannerly oaf’ and hence ‘he must not be judged by the standards of the gentle, in such special circumstance as provoked the defendant’ (i.e. Haddock).

Discharging the accused under the Act and ‘not responsible for his actions or his speech’, he held him culpable of attempted suicide.

All this, on the lighter side, but judges while tackling serious issues have found parables with golf and often used the game’s tyranny to hone a point. Jurist Benjamin Cardozo refers to hazards of a golf course in his noted pronouncements. His quote has found its way in the judgments of our Supreme Court as well.

During my stint as a judge, I was called upon to decide some issues relating to the welfare of a Golf Club, but mercifully, never did an opportunity arise to test the virtues of a gentleman against the villainy of golf. But had such an occasion ever arisen, I would have gladly concurred with the reasoning of the judge in the Haddock’s case.

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