In 1998, a 45-year-old golfer was struck in the neck by an errant golf ball as he practiced his putting before a charity tournament at The Golf Club at Lansdowne. After suffering a stroke shortly thereafter that confined him to a wheelchair, a settlement was made in favor of the golfer for $7.5 million.
As the number of people seeking litigation for accidents increases, golf courses become more and more aware of their liability exposures—and one major exposure for any golf course is the possibility of damage or injury from an errant golf ball.
In order to mitigate these types of claims, golf courses should complete a site analysis, review risk transfer procedures, and provide golf course education. Below are a few suggestions to tackle each of these areas.
Conduct a Thorough Site Analysis
Assess course property and determine any and all opportunities to make the area as safe as possible:
- Plant thicker trees between fairways and behind greens.
- Place nets along roadways for the first 150 yards of holes. The majority of errant tee shots can be stopped before this distance.
- Have the parking lot located away from the golf course.
- Move tee boxes and greens away from houses and roadways.
- Place nets around the driving range.
- Direct the driving range away from the course.
- Eliminate landscaping that causes “blind shots” which prevent golfers from seeing where they are hitting.
Review Risk Transfer Procedures
As an additional precaution, consider formal documentation to ensure coverage:
- Place waivers/releases on the back of tickets for tournaments and outings.
- Have surrounding homeowners sign agreements stating their awareness and acceptance of errant golf ball risks.
Provide Golfer Education
Continue the spread of knowledge on errant golf ball safety:
- Develop a safety awareness program that reminds golfers to wait until the players in front of them have enough distance before hitting.
- Provide local community members with important information to help them remain cautious and prepared.
By partnering with golf courses and risk managers, golf courses can eliminate some of these risks. Ask your independent agent about available property and liability coverage to help protect you against these exposures.
This article was co- authored by Tom Milewski, a Middle Market underwriter. He is a member of the 2013 Graduate Development Program and has a strong passion for golf.
Monica Mamer is a Sector Manager for Westfield Insurance and is responsible for product development, underwriting criteria and book analysis within the hospitality and healthcare sectors.