Manufacturer of greens mower brushes claims defamation, although company was never identified by name as problems were explained.
GreensPerfection LLC, a Mississippi-based manufacturer of greens mower brushes, filed a complaint on August 31 in the Circuit Court of DeSoto County, Mississippi which claimed that the company and its principal, Rodney Lingle, were defamed through explanations given during the 2011 PGA Championship about damage to greens that occurred while that tournament was being held at the Atlanta Athletic Club (AAC) in Johns Creek, Ga.
The complaint named the Atlanta Athletic Club, its Director of Courses and Grounds, Ken Mangum, CGCS, and the PGA of America as defendants, and requested a jury trial to consider actual and punitive damages.
The issue resolves around damage that occurred to the 14th and 17th greens of AAC’s Highlands Course while they were being mowed on Wednesday evening, August 10, as part of final preparations for the first round of the PGA Championship on that course on Thursday, August 11.
In a press release about the situation that was issued later on August 10, PGA officials termed the damage “minor” and said it had been fully repaired and would not affect the start of play the next morning.
In that press release, which as cited as “Exhibit A” evidence in the complaint filed by GreensPerfection, the PGA provided this explanation of what occurred: “There was minor damage caused to the edges of both the 14th and 17th greens. This damage is believed to be the result of a significant rise in the dew point at approximately 7:00 PM, which caused the brushes on the mowers on those greens to stick in the grass and damage the turf.”
The GreensPerfection complaint also included, as “Exhibit B,” the transcript of a press conference held by AAC’s Ken Mangum on August 11. In that press conference, Mangum was asked several questions about the damage, and subsequent repair efforts, to the two greens.
In describing the situation and answering questions about it, Mangum never named any manufacturers or individuals in relation to the equipment that was used.
“Something occurred that I’ve never seen before and I can only speculate what happened,” Mangum said in the press conference. “Nothing mechanical. No operator error. It occurred almost simultaneously to two mowers and we’ve checked the mowers, we’ve checked the people, we’ve checked everything. They’ve already mowed the rest of the golf course, so it’s a little mystery to me why it happened.
“We went back and looked at the rest of the weather because some guys noticed it got really hot and sticky after such a dry day we had, and the wind [was] blowing,” Mangum added. “So the only answer I could come up with was that the humidity changed and the brush grabbed and dug into the green and caused the problem.”
Mangum went on to say that as part of addressing the problem, the mower brushes were taken off as the greens were cut the next morning, and there were “no issues whatsoever, and I think we’ll be fine the rest of the week.”
In answering follow-up questions about the situation, Mangum described the equipment identified as causing the problem as “a rotating brush in the front of the mower…for this type grass [Champion ultradwarf bermudagrass], brushes and groomers are typically used to keep the grass standing upright. It’s a part of our routine we do every week, practically every day we mow. So it’s not something we just did for this event.”
Asked if cutting the greens without the brushes would “fundamentally change anything about the greens [and] the way they roll, Mangum responded, “No, I don’t think it will. We’re still maintaining the same speed we had.”
In answering another question, Mangum noted that the mower had already been used to make “several passes” on the 14th green before the damage occurred.
The complaint filed by GreensPerfection noted that AAC had purchased brushes from the company in September 2010 and additional brushes “at a later date,” and that Mangum “had a specific understanding of not only how greens, tees, fairways and approaches to greens were maintained and mowed at his golf courses, but golf courses generally, and…how Plaintiff’s GreensPerfection Brushes were to be attached to and used on mowers.”
The complaint went on to state that the PGA press release issued about the damage to the two greens “defamed Plaintiffs by falsely reporting that Plaintiffs’ brushes damaged the turf.” The same claim was made about Mangum’s comments during the press conference held the next day.
“These statements concerning the brushes manufactured and owned by Plaintiffs were calculated to be disseminated all over the world in relating to the intense interest of the viewing and reading public in the 2011 Professional Golf Association Championship, including but not limited to audiences within the State of Mississippi,” the complaint stated. “[The statements] are false and defamatory and constitute product disparagement.”
The complaint contented that the brushes “did not damage any part of Atlanta Athletic Club’s golf course and specifically did not damage the 14th and 17th greens as reported by Defendants. In fact, the damage was directly caused by some other part of Defendant Atlanta Athletic Club’s mowers, or some negligent act of someone other than Plaintiffs, since Plaintiff’s brushes when used properly are incapable of inflicting damage similar to or anything like the damage to the 14th and 17th greens at Atlanta Athletic Club as the Defendants reported to the world, including audiences in Mississippi.
“The defamatory statements published and broadcasted by Defendants were made in utter disregard for the truth and were so reckless that Plaintiffs are entitled to recover punitive damages against Defendants,” the complaint concluded.
The remodeling of AAC’s Highlands Course under Mangum’s direction, to use new grasses that provide greater resistance to blight and could ensure optimal conditions for the Championship, earned widespread acclaim both before and after the tournament, and has been cited as a “revolutionary breakthrough” that is expected to be followed by other warm-climate courses (“Ageless and Agile,” Club & Resort Business, September 2011).