Plump Courses Ltd is an Irish registered company which owns and operates a championship golf course (‘the Plump Course’) in County Clare. The course is built on a 300-acre site adjoining the Atlantic Ocean which is owned by Plump Courses Ltd in fee simple.
The golf course itself occupies most of the land and the playing area is fenced off; however, Plump Courses Ltd has for many years maintained a path along the edge of the ocean which it permits the general public to access on foot or by bicycle for recreational purposes at no cost. No other recreational activities other than walking, running and cycling are permitted and there is signage to this effect at either end of the path. The path is bounded on one side by a chain link fence and is open to ocean at the opposite side. Plump Courses Ltd regards the maintenance of this pathway as an important part of its contribution to its local community.
The path crosses a small stream, known locally as Glasbrook. Glasbrook stream is a natural feature. It traverses the land owned by Plump Golf Courses Ltd over the last 2 kilometres of its length, up to and including the point at which the stream enters the Atlantic Ocean.
The Plump Course is a challenging one for players. The fourth hole is particularly notorious since it requires players to hit their ball across a wide section of Glasbrook Stream and onto the putting green. It is not uncommon for golf balls to be lost when they fall into the water and are swept away by the current. This typically occurs at the rate of several dozen balls per day. The Plump Course sells golf balls to players who attend their course.
In June 2019, the groundskeepers at the Plump Course reported that a net had been placed under the footbridge where the coastal path crosses the mouth of Glasbrook stream. The management of the Plump Course initially assumed that this had been done by an unknown member of the public for the purposes of catching fish from the stream. They ordered its removal. Similar nets appeared at regular intervals over the summer of 2019. Concerned at this activity, the management of the Plump Course arranged for the installation of a CCTV camera to observe the bridge.
In September 2019, the CCTV camera captured footage of a local man, Paul Murphy, installing a net under the bridge. Further observation demonstrated that Mr Murphy was using the net to recover lost golf balls from Glasbrook stream. Investigations have determined that Mr Murphy has been selling used golf balls through his website. CCTV footage shows that in the month of September, Mr Murphy retrieved about 300 golf balls from the stream.
Plump Courses Ltd contacted Mr Murphy and sought the return of the golf balls he recovered arguing that these balls had been lost by its customers in the course of play and had thus become property of Plump Courses Ltd. Mr Murphy refused to return the golf balls.
The Plump Course is famous throughout the world and attracts high profile golf tournaments every year. In October 2019, the course hosted a charity tournament. The tournament attracted entries from a large number of wealthy businesspeople, celebrities and political figures from the United States and elsewhere. In order to boost publicity (and fundraising) for the event, its organisers commissioned 600 gold plated golf balls. During the tournament, each player was gifted a single golden ball and was invited to use that ball when teeing off at the first hole in front of the assembled press. In order to ensure even treatment among players, all of the golden balls were identical and made to the same standard. The amount of gold used in their manufacture is relatively small, nevertheless they have a market value of approximately €800 apiece. The organisers’ intention was that each player would be permitted to keep the golden ball as a souvenir of the event.
The scheme worked just as intended and the tournament was widely publicised with photographs of various attendees appearing in newspapers and on websites around the world. From a golfing perspective however, the scheme was less successful. The golden balls were heavier than a standard golf ball, which resulted in an unpredictable flight path when played in the usual manner. 10 of the balls were lost in the rough ground adjoining the first hole. Despite a search on the day of the tournament, none of the balls were recovered before the players departed.
Three months later, Daniel Page, a groundskeeper employed by the course, found two of the golden balls whilst trimming bushes near the first hole. On the same day, a local woman, Mary Ryan, found a third such ball while playing golf on the course. Ms Ryan handed her find over to the course management. Ms Ryan stated that the ball should be returned to her if its true owner could not be found. It has proved impossible to trace the owner of the ball in question. Mr Page kept the two balls he had found and resigned from his post at the end of the week. Plump Management Ltd only learnt of his find when he offered the two balls for sale in a golfing magazine.
In the winter of 2019, the management of the Plump Course began to carry out works to refurbish the course driving range. This involved clearing a small area of land close to the club house followed by extensive excavations and relandscaping works. On the day before the work was due to commence, a member of the public, Pauline Walsh, found a small silver coin on this area of land. Ms Walsh is a well-known historian and immediately realised that the coin was of Viking origin. She sent the coin to the National Museum without having notified the management of the Plump Course. The following day, during the excavation work, John O’Connor, a local contractor found a wooden boat buried in the soil approximately 1.5m below the surface of the driving range. The boat was excavated by archaeologists from the University of West Clare and is said to be 750-800 years old.
You are asked to advise Plump Courses Ltd on the following matters, citing appropriate authorities:
Whether Plump Courses Ltd has any property claim to the golf balls recovered by Paul Murphy from the mouth of Glasbrook stream?