There are a pair of recently-filed lawsuits involving an area golf course and pro golf tour based on the Grand Strand.
Former Black Bear Golf Club head professional and general manager Patrick Wilkinson is suing the owners and operators of his former course, and former 12-year Swing Thought Tour executive Ryan Waters of Loris is suing the tour’s parent company, its former parent company and tour president Robin Waters, who is also his older brother.
Ryan Waters worked for the Swing Thought Tour and its predecessors for 12 years in positions including tournament director, vice president of operations and marketing director, and is suing for $9,200 claiming unpaid work performed and resulting commissions. Waters’ suit claims he should be eligible to receive $27,600 for the delay in payments and additional awards for attorney fees, costs and punitive damages for alleged fraud.
Ryan Waters worked for the tour through name changes from the National Golf Association Hooters Tour to the NGA Tour to the now Swing Thought Tour. He claims in his filed suit that he hasn’t been fully paid for work done for four tournaments from March to May 2014, when a commission system was in place.
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Ryan Waters states in his suit that he was informed his VP position was being eliminated. In a letter included in his suit, he was offered a Regional Tournament Director position in Florida with a similar salary, and an administrative office position with a reduced salary. After being told no past commissions were due, Ryan Waters states he resigned on Nov. 20, 2015.
In a response and countersuit filed in April through attorney Robert Buffington of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd in Charleston, the defendants rebut that the Swing Thought purchase of NGA LLC assets did not officially take place until Aug. 2015 so NGA LLC should be the only defendant, and Golf Interact LLC should not be a party in the suit.
The acquisition was announced in a press release from Golf Interact LLC in September 2014, but the response filing and a letter from Robin Waters claim that a letter of intent was in place at that time but the sale did not become final until Aug. 2015.
The response also claims that following the four tournaments in question, Ryan Waters was informed “and understood that commissions would not be paid due to the financial condition of NGA LLC in order for NGA LLC to operate further without firing someone or reducing salaries or changing the compensation system or contractual compensation of plaintiff and others at NGA LLC.”
While Ryan Waters claims he was told commissions would eventually be paid, the response states Robin Waters “had discussions with plaintiff where it was agreed that payment and commission would be relinquished in exchange for continued compensation for services.”
Ryan Waters’ suit claims Golf Interact LLC owner Michael Rush stated in an email that Golf Interact had no record of past due commissions and they were not included in the acquisition terms between NGA LLC and Golf Interact LLC.
The countersuit accuses Ryan Waters of sabotaging the business at about the time he resigned by changing passwords on social media accounts, changing names of accounts to “Ryan Waters Golf” and erasing data, documents and marketing efforts from a computer belonging to the defendants.
Both Ryan Waters and Wilkinson are represented by Jarrod Ownbey of the Mullins Law Firm in North Myrtle Beach.
Wilkinson, who is now the head pro at Diamondback Golf Club at Woodland Valley, is asking the owners and operators of Black Bear for more than $14,000, claiming he is owed for three days of past wages, pro shop merchandise and unpaid revenue from pro shop sales.
Wilkinson’s lawsuit filed April 13 names as defendants Black Bear Global LLC – which is believed to be owned by Grand Strand resident Kang Zou and his parents, Chun Lan Li and Shi Lin Zou, who are still residents of China – and Jun “Judy” Tang, who the suit claims is an operator and has represented herself as an owner of the course. Wilkinson says he owned and operated the course’s pro shop before resigning last Oct. 23 over payroll issues and other disagreements.
Black Bear and Tang have filed a response and countersuit through attorney Gene Connell of the Kelaher Connell & Conner law firm in Surfside Beach. “We dispute he is owed any money,” Connell said Monday. “We think he was overpaid. Our countersuit is for money we believe is owed to us by him.”
The Zou family purchased the course in May 2014 for $1.5 million and was forced to endure the expense of regrassing the greens last summer after the putting surfaces were struck by winterkill.
Both cases in the court of common pleas are subject to mediation before reaching a jury trial.
Will we see a de facto national girls junior team championship next year when the third annual U.S. Women’s Four-Ball Championship is played at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club?
In each of the first two years of the tournament, some of the nation’s top teenagers have won the title. A pair of American Junior Golf Association All-Americans in Haille Cooper and Kaitlyn Papp of Texas took this year’s title on May 25. They won the championship match at Florida’s Streamsong Resort in 19 holes over adolescent 13-year-old Californians Angelina Kim and Brianna Navarrosa, who had to cancel a trip to Disney World after they reached the semifinals.
The inaugural women’s four-ball was won by Mika Liu, 16, of California and Rinko Mitsunaga, 18, of Georgia, who defeated girls ages 17 and 18. There are older women in the tournament, but no one over the age of 18 has reached the final match.
The average age of competitors overall dropped this year to 24.6 from 33.7 in 2015. The four-ball replaced the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, which had also become a tournament dominated by young women, with the winner in its final 37 years no older than 23.
Next year’s event will again be in late May, from May 27-31, but the 2018 championship moves to April 28-May 2, which could lead to more mid-amateur and senior players because younger players will still be in school – be it college, high school or middle school.
GAA partners with TPCs
The Golf Academy of America, which has five campuses across the country including one in Myrtle Beach, has entered into an employment partnership with PGA Tour Golf Course Properties Inc., parent company of the TPC network of courses.
Graduates of the two-year golf college that prepares adults for careers in the golf industry will now have improved access to industry jobs at all TPC courses.
Twelve TPC courses host PGA Tour events and another three host Web.com Tour events, so employees get the experience of hosting significant tournaments.
Other school locations are in San Diego, Dallas, Orlando and Phoenix, and the school also has a first-semester online program.
First Tee active
With The First Tee of the Grand Strand’s spring after-school and Saturday programs complete, with about 150 participants and 40 volunteer coaches at eight locations, the youth development organization turns its focus to its summer series at Midway Par 3 and a primary fundraiser.
The summer series consists of two playing lessons – the next on July 2 – and team scrambles on June 18 and July 30. Each is up to three hours beginning at 10 a.m. and costs $20.
For the fourth consecutive year, Golf Channel personalities and South Carolina natives Kelly Tilghman and Charlie Rymer are participating in The First Tee’s Future Generations Tournament at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club at 1 p.m. on July 19.
Entry fees are $250 per player for the scramble, and team sponsorships begin at $1,000. Each foursome will consist of three paid participants and a First Tee junior. The 18-hole scramble tournament includes a box lunch, post-round party with cocktails, dinner and awards, and a gift bag with a logo shirt and hat.
Raffle tickets will be available for purchase and a silent auction with items including fishing charters, sports memorabilia, golf packages and equipment will commence online on June 20. Call First Tee executive director Rich Abraham at 843-325-6787 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the organization’s website to register.
Byrd fails to advance
Zack Byrd will not be joining former Coastal Carolina University teammate Dustin Johnson in the U.S. Open next week at Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh.
In sectional qualifying Monday at Canoe Brook Country Club’s North and South courses in Summit, N.J., Byrd tied for 65th out of 98 players vying for six spots in the $10 million major.
The Murrells Inlet resident shot a 2-under 70 on the South Course and was tied for 10th following a morning round that included three birdies and a bogey. But he bogeyed his first three holes on the North Course in the afternoon en route to a 7-over 79 and 5-over 149 total.
Canoe Brook was the regional site where Byrd qualified for his lone U.S. Open – in 2011 at Congressional Country Club.
Fifty-five U.S. Open spots were determined at 10 sectional sites in the U.S. on Monday.