It’s Still Five O’Clock Somewhere, Even on the Golf Course

August 3, 2012

On July 5, 2012, Wisconsin golfers and golf course operators breathed a collective sigh of relief. In a rare unanimous decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court clarified the state’s law on liquor licensing and, in doing so, eased concerns that Wisconsin golf courses were committing a crime by selling golfers alcoholic beverages to consume while they played a round of golf.

In Wisconsin Dolls v. Dell Prairie, the Supreme Court reversed an appellate court decision that held Wisconsin Dolls’ liquor license did not particularly describe the premises, and the license was therefore void. Wisconsin Dolls is an “adult-oriented resort” near Wisconsin Dells that had been issued a liquor license for the premises described as “all 8 acres of the resort” for the years of 2005-2008. When it applied for its license in 2009, the town clerk of Dell Prairie, a small town outside of Wisconsin Dells, told Wisconsin Dolls that its description did not “particularly describe” the premises. The Town Board subsequently voted to issue an amended license that limited the premises to the “Main Bar/Entertainment Building.” Wisconsin Dolls sued the Town; however, the circuit court and court of appeals agreed with the Town that “all 8 acres of the resort” did not particularly describe the premises as required by Wisconsin Statute. The appellate court held not only that the property description was insufficient, but that the previous renewals and license were void, and Wisconsin Dolls was required to submit a new original license application.

That appellate decision was concerning to many business owners because the “premises” of an establishment for the purposes of a liquor license dictates not only where alcoholic beverages can be sold, but also where they can be possessed and consumed. Further, the appellate decision left open the question of how large an area a license can cover and what type of description is necessary. Business owners were left to guess whether their licenses were potentially void. Clearly a description consisting of “all 8 acres” was insufficient, but what would qualify as sufficient remained unclear.

Golf course operators in particular were left with the concern that their licenses were void, and that they might be committing a misdemeanor punishable by 9 months in jail, a $10,000 fine, or both. Golf courses often sell alcohol in their clubhouses and allow players to carry their drinks along as they golf. Because the premises of a liquor license must describe where alcohol is sold, possessed, and consumed, a license for a golf course necessarily covers not only the clubhouse but the course itself. Because a typical 18-hole golf course can cover more than 100 acres, the Wisconsin Dolls appellate decision seemed to mean that a golf course could not possibly hold a liquor license for its entire premises.

The Supreme Court’s decision, then, was a welcome one for Wisconsin golfers and golf course operators. The court held that Wisconsin Dolls’ license was not void due to an insufficient description of the premises. Although a municipality was not required to issue a license for activity in a broad area, there was no law prohibiting it from doing so. Because the Town of Dell Prairie had issued the original license for “all 8 acres of the resort,” Wisconsin Dolls’ license remained valid and could not be reduced in a subsequent renewal for failure to particularly describe the premises. The decision means that a golf course operator with an existing license for its entire property is safe from the possibility that its license could be voided for an insufficient description of the premises.

This article was originally drafted by Axley’s summer law clerk, Kyle Foust. 

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