A PROFESSIONAL golfer stole more than £50,000 from the club in green fees and kept the money raised at two charity golf days for himself, a court heard.
Steven Hunter was Head Pro at Royal Winchester Golf Club – where membership fees are £1,300 a year – when he allegedly under-declared money paid by visitors to play the course and kept the difference for himself.
The trial was told he was caught out after club staff discovered ‘consistent’ discrepancies, totaling more than £45,000 over a period of almost two years.
An investigation discovered more than £11,000 in profit from two charity golf days went into Hunter’s bank account and less than £50 was given to the charity, it was alleged.
The 54-year old is also charged with three further counts of fraud, relating to not paying tax on some of his earnings and lying about his annual salary to fraudulently obtain a remortgage of his £1.6million home.
At Salisbury Crown Court, prosecutor Tom Nicholson told jurors Hunter had been working at the golf club, which dates back to 1888, since the late 1980s and ran the club shop through his business Steven Hunter Golf Shops Ltd.
But in July 2018, concerns were raised by club manager Stuart Dubber, after he noticed the green fees takings should have been £3,710 for the previous month when Hunter had only declared £1,075.
Mr Nicholson said: “He consistently under reported the green fees paid by visitors to the Royal Winchester Golf Club, keeping the difference when his contract said it was the club’s money.
“Mr Dubber started comparing the club’s accounts to the visitor book, a laborious process, and he felt the issue repeated itself in previous months.
“Green fees were consistently and considerably lower… 2018 income should have been about £16,000 up to June when the defendant only reported just over £5,000, about 30 per cent of what had actually been paid.
“He took advantage of the trust he had built up, trust he earned as a longstanding member of the club.”
The court heard the visitor book was the only one that could be found and only went back to September 2016, however club officials pored over the accounts and cross-referenced with the book to find there had been an underpayment of £44,174 in this period.
The money was paid back to the club, but when Hunter refused to share his accounts with the club they called police. He told officers it was simply a ‘clerical error’ which led to the under-reporting of green fees.
Mr Nicholson added: “Two charity golf days were set up in the memory of a long standing member, Les Day. He died in 2014 and the golf days were set up in aid of a specific charity, something he would have liked, called Canine Partners.
“Actually, the defendant simply pocketed the money made at these golf days.”
The court heard businesses such as pub chain Greene King and golf brand Mizuno sponsored the pro-am events, attended by local professional golfers, and participants paid to have a round of golf, bacon roll, coffee and a three course meal.
After costs in setting up the events in 2017 and 2018 were taken into account, a profit of £11,141 was made which allegedly should have been paid to Canine Partners.
However the court heard the only money paid to the charity was £47.75, which was made from a coin collection at the 2017 event.
Mr Nicholson also explained a charge of fraud by ‘false accounting’, in which he says the money made in the pro shop by Hunter would first go into his personal account and he would then need to transfer this into his business account so it could be taxed appropriately.
However, Mr Nicholson said: “He didn’t transfer all the money every time. I have kept some of it over the years – £60,000 or so.”
He added Hunter would also transfer money from his business account into his personal account with the reference ‘RWGC’ or ‘green fees’ so when accountants went through his records they would assume this was payments to the club rather than money he was taking for himself .
Hunter is also accused of ‘cheating the public revenue’ by claiming VAT on his approximate £30,000 a year retainer salary at the golf club, despite not having the right to do so.
The court also heard details of an older incident, where Hunter is said to have claimed he was earning £205,000 a year so he could afford to remortgage his then £1.6million home of Loch Avon in Shawford near Winchester.
Summing up the case, Mr Nicholson said Hunter “abused his position as head pro”, was “misleading, false and deceptive” and “cheated the tax man”.
Hunter, who now lives in Abbots Worthy, near Winchester, denies five counts of fraud.
The trial continues.
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