Pilkadaris Terry and others v Asian Tour (Tournament Players Division) Pte Ltd and another and another suit

JudgeJudith Prakash J
Judgment Date27 November 2012
Neutral Citation[2012] SGHC 236
Date27 November 2012
Docket NumberSuit No 624 of 2010 and Suit 551 of 2010
Published date03 December 2012
Plaintiff CounselChristopher Anand Daniel, Ganga Avadiar and Harjean Kaur (Advocatus Law LLP)
Hearing Date22 March 2012,25 October 2011,21 March 2012,27 October 2011,24 October 2011,28 October 2011,23 March 2012,18 June 2012
Defendant CounselSimon Yuen (Legal Clinic LLC)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterRestraint of Trade,Contract
Judith Prakash J: Introduction

This case involves the interesting question of whether and how the doctrine of restraint of trade applies to a sporting association and its members. The association in question is called The Asian Tour and it is made up of professional golfers from all over the world, albeit mainly Asian, who wish to practise their trade in Asia.

Background The parties

There are two consolidated actions before me. In the first, Suit 551 of 2010 (“Suit 551”), the plaintiffs are Terry Pilkadaris (“Mr Pilkadaris”), Matthew James Griffin (“Mr Griffin”) and Guido Van Der Valk (“Mr Van Der Valk”). A fourth plaintiff is named on the writ of summons but at an early stage he decided that he did not wish to proceed with the claim and took no further part in the proceedings. In the second action, Suit 624 of 2010 (“Suit 624”), the first three plaintiffs are the same persons as in Suit 551 and in this action they have been joined by a fourth plaintiff, Anis Helmi Hassan (“Mr Anis”). All the plaintiffs are professional golfers. Mr Pilkadaris and Mr Griffin are Australians, Mr Van Der Valk is Dutch and Mr Anis is Malaysian.

The defendants in both suits are Asian Tour (Tournament Players Division) Pte Ltd (“ATTP”), a private limited company incorporated in Singapore in February 2004, and Asian Tour Ltd (“ATL”), a company limited by guarantee incorporated in Singapore in June 2004. Two of the persons who were instrumental in setting up the defendants gave evidence in this case. The first is Kyi Hla Han (“Mr Han”), a former professional golfer who is now the executive chairman of ATL and a director of ATTP. The second is Unho Park (“Mr Park”) a professional golfer who plays tournament golf for a living and is a member of The Asian Tour.

The plaintiffs have all at one time or another been members of The Asian Tour. The plaintiffs started proceedings against ATTP initially on the basis that that was the organisation that owned The Asian Tour and that they were members of. Subsequently, ATTP and ATL alleged that it was ATL which owned the Asian Tour and that the plaintiffs’ membership had been with ATL. As a consequence, the plaintiffs added ATL as second defendant to the suits. The background of the Asian Tour is therefore relevant.

Formation of the Asian Tour

Prior to 2004, Mr Han and Mr Park were members of the Asian PGA Tour (“APGAT”). Like other professional golfers on this Tour, they earned their living from participating in golf tournaments organised by APGAT. APGAT was a corporation in the business of organising golf tournaments in all of Asia apart from Japan and deriving revenue therefrom particularly from the sale of television rights. It decided on the number of tournaments that would be held each year, where they would be held and the prize money and size of the tournaments. The professional golfers had no say in any of these decisions and were only required to turn up and play. They were not owners of APGAT and had no stake of any sort in the company.

A group of professional golfers including Mr Han was dissatisfied with the situation. They considered that APGAT was driven primarily for commercial purposes that did not take into account the players’ desire to see the Tour grow and be taken care of so as to provide them with a career path. This group was attracted by the model presented by the United States PGA (“US PGA”) Tour, the European Tour and other recognised golf Tours where the professional golfer was a stakeholder in the Tour who could be the master of his own destiny by organising tournaments, getting sponsors for prize money and obtaining commercial and media income for the benefit of himself and his fellow Tour members.

In 2003, Mr Han, Mr Park and other golfers decided to set up a new golf Tour in which: Touring professionals could and would become stakeholders (hereinafter called “members”) and take charge of their own destiny by owning the business. The members would elect a Tournament Player’s Committee (“TPC”) to take charge of golfing matters. The members would elect a board of directors to manage the business of a golf Tour and the majority of the directors would be members themselves. The Tour would become a member of the International Federation of PGA Tours (“IFPGA”) (of which the US PGA Tour and European Tour are dominant members) and thereby allow members of the Tour to qualify to play in the lucrative world tournaments held under the auspices of the IFPGA. World ranking points would be given to winners of tournaments organised by the Tour and such points could make them eligible to play in the four major golf championships in the world. There would be the opportunity for members to participate in events that were co-sanctioned by other Tours. There would be a properly structured system for young professionals to learn, compete and rise in ranking within the Tour. The Tour would be a self-regulating body for its members. The features mentioned above are all features of the major golf Tours which make up the IFPGA.

In early 2004, all the professional golfers in the APGAT, including Mr Pilkadaris, left that organisation to start the Asian Tour. Mr Han explained that the Asian Tour was established in order to help the members own their own destiny. The intention was that the Asian Tour would create more playing opportunities for its members. APL was structured as a public corporation limited by guarantee just like the European Tour in order to allow for a large membership. The members of the Asian Tour would vote for those members they desired to fill the TPC (of whom two would sit on the board of directors), two more to be member directors on the board and several non-member directors. The Asian Tour would be a complete player-led organisation. Subsidiary companies would be formed to be the business units of the Asian Tour.

On 18 August 2004, a players’ meeting was held in Tianjin China. The players were told about the Asian Tour, its structure, and the rights and responsibilities of members. The inaugural AGM of ATL was held in November 2004 and both a TPC and a board of directors were elected. Mr Han was elected as chairman of the board, a position which he held right up to the date of the hearing. In 2004, a document entitled “2004 Asian Tour Members Handbook & General Regulations” (“2004 Regulations”) was published. A new edition of the handbook and regulations was brought out every year thereafter.

In 2004, its inaugural season, the Asia Tour staged a total of 22 tournaments offering prize money of US$12.3m. In 2005, the Asian Tour staged 27 tournaments with US$20m in total prize money. The Tour also had new events in Qatar, Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand. In 2006, the prize money increased to US$24m and new tournaments were held in Pakistan, India and Malaysia. The Asia Tour continued to grow and in 2008, there were 30 events and prize money of US$39m. At the time of the hearing, the Asian Tour had over 200 members.

The plaintiffs join the Asian Tour

Mr Pilkadaris became a professional golfer in Australia in October 1998 and a member of the APGAT in 2002. He joined the Asian Tour when it was set up having attended the August 2004 players’ meeting. At that time, the Asian Tour was the only body in South East Asia that provided golf tournaments catering to professionals in the region. Due to its tie up with the IFPGA, the Asian Tour was able to provide a Tour of quality tournaments. Mr Pilkadaris stated that when he signed up as a member of the Asian Tour, it was his understanding that ATTP owned and was managing and administering the Tour. On signing up, he was given a copy of the 2004 Regulations. Subsequently, Mr Pilkadaris renewed his membership of the Asian Tour annually by paying the membership fees for each subsequent year up to and including 2010.

In 2010, Mr Pilkadaris was a member of and held playing status on the European Challenge Tour, the Australasian Tour and the Asia Tour. He had been a member of all three Tours for four years.

Mr Griffin became a professional golfer in Australia in October 2008. He is a member of the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Asian Tour. He qualified to join the Asian Tour as a member in 2009. When he signed up for the Asian Tour, he was given a copy of the 2009 Regulations. He renewed his membership in 2010. Mr Griffin’s understanding was that the Asian Tour was owned and run by ATTP.

Mr Van Der Valk became a professional golfer in the Netherlands in 2002. He is a member of the Dutch PGA National Tour and the Asian Tour. He joined the Asian Tour in or about January 2005 and was given a copy of the 2005 Regulations. At that time his understanding was that ATTP was managing and administering the Asian Tour. Mr Van Der Valk subsequently renewed his membership annually including in 2010.

Mr Anis is a member of the Malaysian Professional Golf Tour, the ASEAN Tour, and the Asian Tour. He became a member of the Asian Tour in 2007. On joining, Mr Anis was given a receipt for the payment of his membership fees but no other document. Subsequently, he renewed his membership with the Asian Tour annually including in 2010.

Events leading to these actions Entry of OneAsia

In 2008, an organisation known as OneAsia Limited (“OneAsia”) announced that it wanted to hold between four and six golf tournaments in Asia in 2009 with attractive prizes. These tournaments were not expected to take place on the same dates as the Asian Tour tournaments and Asian Tour members were eligible to participate by invitation. OneAsia was a series of golf tournaments organised for commercial benefit. Professional golfers were not eligible to become members of OneAsia. A professional golfer could only play in a OneAsia tournament if invited by OneAsia to participate in that event.

The TPC discussed OneAsia’s proposed tournaments in 2008. It sought the views of members of the Asian...

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1 books & journal articles
  • Contract Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review No. 2012, December 2012
    • 1 Diciembre 2012
    ...on Trade’ in Journal of Business Law (forthcoming, 2013).) 12.96 Pilkadaris Terry v Asian Tour (Tournament Players Division) Pte Ltd[2012] SGHC 236 was another interesting decision concerning the restraint on trade doctrine. The plaintiffs were the members of the defendant, Asian Tour Limit......

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