Roddy L’Estrange: Whole new ball game for furious Dial-A-Smile

Photographic evidence turns the tables on Vinny’s cheating golf rival

When Vinny Fitzpatrick was feeling jittery he was prone to sweating in all the usual places, and a few unusual ones too, like his upper lip.

His glands were seeping surreptitiously as he arrived at Foley’s at high noon on the Bank Holiday Monday for an emergency disciplinary hearing of the Soiled And Ancient Golf Society.

Heading upstairs to the old function room, where he had celebrated his 21st donkey’s years ago, and which was now a playhouse, Vinny kept telling himself he had done nothing wrong; that he held the high moral ground.

And yet, with each heavy lift of his ham-sized hocks, he felt like he was ascending the gallows. “Why didn’t I let the bloody hare sit?” he thought.

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Inside the dimly-lit theatre, Toby Tillinghast sat on stage, complete with robe and wig. They weren't props, for 'Tiller' was a retired ruby-cheeked senior counsel, who sipped vintage port in the bar, where he read his daily newspaper and pinched snuff.

Tiller didn’t play golf any more, as his arthritic pins wouldn’t allow it, but he paid his subscription and checked the scorecards at each outing.

Tiller also knew the rules of golf inside out, so his view was called upon in the event of any disputes. He was dealing with one such dispute now, like no other in the society’s history.

It followed a written complaint by Vinny about the behaviour of Dial-A-Smile, in the society's matchplay final at Portmarnock Links. Vinny alleged that Dial-A-Smile – real name Norman Moreton – sought to create an unfair advantage on the 17th hole.

“This advantage,” he wrote, “proved decisive in the outcome of the hole, and the match.”

Vinny’s remarks were tantamount to an accusation of cheating, the worst slur on any golfer’s character. Within hours of being informed by society secretary Trousers Thornton of Vinny’s allegations, Dial-A-Smile had gone on the offensive. In a letter of reply, signed by solicitors, he said unless his good reputation was restored, and an unreserved apology received, he would seek “damages from Mr Fitzpatrick, as well as the Society”.

Shaken, Vinny tried to avert the hearing, protesting to Fran and Macker that he felt as if he was the one on trial. The night before, over a comforting pint, Fran painted a grim picture of things.

“In your haste to knock Dial-A-Smile for six, you left your stumps exposed,” he said. “I believe you that he pulled a fast one and I suspect most of the society crew do too, but it’s your word against his, and you haven’t got any witnesses. You may have to throw yourself at the mercy of ‘Tiller’ and accept the consequences.”

At that, Vinny felt his blood chill. To admit he was in error, when he had done nothing wrong, grated with his conscience. It wasn’t fair.

The thought of ‘consequences’ unnerved him as he entered the court. Inside, ‘Tiller’ Tillinghast sat on a high chair. To one side was Dial-A-Smile, armed with a sneer, and a smartly-dressed barrister.

Little encouragement

Acting for Vinny was Charlie St John Vernon, who had offered encouragement over their breakfast briefing. “Leave it with me,” he said.

In one corner, taking notes was a fretful Trousers Thornton, while Fran, Macker and Brennie were on hand to offer moral support.

“Ah, Vinny, do come in,” said Tiller in honeyed tones. “Take a seat, please. Let’s get straight down to business.”

After Tiller read out Vinny’s claim, Dial-A-Smile’s lawyer was on his feet, protesting the allegation was “wholly unsubstantiated”, and about the “lasting damage done to my client’s unblemished reputation”.

He wanted the claim thrown out, “Mr Fitzpatrick expelled from the society for life” and a substantial donation made to the Red Cross.

“There is also, ahem, the not inconsequential matter of costs,” he added sniffily.

Vinny felt lower than a serpent’s belly. He was about to throw himself at the mercy of the court when Charlie St John Vernon got to his feet.

“If I may,” he said, walking to the stage, where he pulled down a screen, which was used by the local cinema club.

Unofficial photographer

Charlie then opened a wall-mounted cabinet, took out a projector and placed it on a table.

“For many years, I’ve been the society’s unofficial photographer, capturing moments in time from various outings. I’ve a few shots set up which I’d like to share with you. The projector allows for some fine close-ups, as you’ll see.”

One by one, still by still, images appeared on the screen, which Vinny recognised from past outings.

“I’ve filtered them so that Mr Moreton appears in all the shots. I always liked to capture a moment in time, usually before battle commenced.

“Here is Mr Moreton at Howth on Captain’s Day, which I think he won; here he is at Corballis and Forrest Little. If we zoom in, you can even see the make of his ball, a Titleist. He has always preferred that make of ball, if I’m not mistaken.”

Vinny glanced across at Dial-A-Smile who suddenly looked like he’d seen a ghost. What was going on?

“I took a picture of Mr Morton and Mr Fitzpatrick before they teed off in the final at Portmarnock Links last week. As you can just make out, as I close in, Mr Moreton used a Titleist on the opening hole,” Vernon continued.

“At the specific request of Mr Moreton, I steered clear of the finalists and didn’t see them again until they came down the 18th. Out of curiosity, I took a picture of Mr Moreton finishing out. I think you’ll agree you can just make out the Nike swoosh on his ball, if not the number.

“Based on the evidence before us, I have one question for Mr Moreton. At what point in the match did you inform Mr Fitzpatrick you were changing your ball?’

The ensuing silence in court was eventually broken by the sound of a chair being pushed back in anger.

As it crashed to the floor, Dial-A-Smile stormed out, his narrow face purple with fury.