We’re well into summer, and that means we’re accustomed to its rituals of relaxation: backyard barbeques, poolside lounging, and—for many—the game of golf. Whether you’re the next Tiger Woods or don’t know the difference between your woods and your irons, you should keep in mind that playing a round isn’t without its risks.
When you think about sports injuries, it’s likely that something like football or basketball comes to mind. And when you think about spectator safety concerns, my guess is you’re thinking about hockey or maybe baseball. We often underestimate the danger of the golf ball gone astray.
Sure, we’d all like to believe that our drives go straight down the middle, but the reality is that everyone shanks it now and then. And while the chorus of “FORE!” around the course might assure you that you’re not alone in your errors, it doesn’t ensure your safety. I’m not necessarily advocating the advent of the golf helmet, but I am suggesting that you be aware of your surroundings next time you play a round. Because it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Then it’s a lawsuit.
And while you should fare pretty well if you’re the golfer who made the gaffe, thanks to the assumption of risk doctrine, you’ll probably get the short end of the stick if you’re the one who takes a shot to the head. It makes sense that you can’t really be held liable for hitting a bad shot. If that were the case, there would be a lot fewer golfers out there! But someone may be liable for that golf ball gone awry: the course.
Some injured golfers (and spectators) have had recent legal successes suing the golf course for design defect. In other words, the course may be held liable for your injury if a court thinks that the injury was made likely by the layout of the various greens and fairways. The distance between tees is particularly important. Another primary concern is the proximity of the course to the driving range. As with most cases, lawsuits involving golf courses are highly fact intensive, so there’s no general rule.
The main thing you can do to protect yourself on the course is to own up to your own bad shots by yelling, “FORE!” and to heed the same warning by others, not by craning your neck to see who shanked their shot, but by turning away and ducking. Remember that both you and any ride-along companions are usually assuming the risk of those errant shots by taking part in the golf game. And without taking the proper safety precautions, your golf game will always be under par.