Fore-Warned: Negligence on the Golf Course

Teeing up a golf ball before hitting should require thought around negligence

Chilliwack is blessed with some of the most beautiful and playable golf-courses around, and may have more golf per capita than anywhere else. When you factor in one of the best climates in the country, not to mention spectacular mountain views, you have a great activity for the whole family.

However, not every golfer is a pro, and most of us will admit to having sliced one or two tee shots in our time. So what happens in the worst case scenario, when that mulligan actually hits another golfer? Or worse still, causes them a serious injury?

We have all heard the shout of “fore” and covered our heads. (You can tell the really new golfers by the way they turn and look in the direction of the shout). You may not realize that in some situations you have a legal obligation to provide that warning.

The Courts have stated that while there is an inherent risk in playing golf, by the very nature of the activity, golfers must still take care not to hit anyone because of the obvious danger of injury. The standard is what a “reasonable competitor” would do. This statement of the law leaves a lot of room for argument, as to what is “reasonable” in a given situation.

Expert evidence will often be required on what a reasonable competitor would or would not have done. In addition, the specific golfer’s style of play and tendency to slice will also be considered.

In a decision which made its way up to the British Columbia Court of Appeal, a golfer’s tee shot on the 18th hole was struck low, and took a deflection. Unfortunately, the ball then somehow passed through a row of trees, striking another golfer on the adjacent 10th. The golfer taking the shot had lost track of it and did not yell “fore”.

Even more unfortunately, the golfer standing in the 10th tee box was badly hurt, suffering a serious eye injury. He then commenced a lawsuit for damages against both the golfer and the golf-course.

The Court of Appeal noted that no-one had yelled “fore”, which would have caused the injured party to have ducked and covered his head.

However, on the facts of the case, the ball had not veered off course, but rather had been lost track of. There was no reason to think the ball could have made it over to the 10th, or could have caused injury.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial judge’s ruling as follows:

“[The golfer] lost sight of the ball very shortly after hitting it. As he knew that it went in the intended direction, and the course was clear of people in that direction, there was no reason why he should call out a warning, unless it was reasonably foreseeable that the ball might alter direction so as to present a risk to others on the course.”

The Court of Appeal also ruled that the golf-course’s actions in planting a row of trees and a dense hedge between the 10th and 18th holes was reasonable, and had been done on the basis of professional advice. In the result, the action was dismissed, despite the golfer’s significant injuries.

Nonetheless, the very clear implication is that if a ball had been struck towards a group of people, the golfer would have been held negligent for failing to yell “fore”. In addition, had the golf course not taken proper steps to ensure the reasonable safety of its players, it too would have been liable.

As with any legal claim, there may be strict time limitations at play within which a person must act or be barred from bringing forward a claim. You should consult a lawyer for specific legal advice.

This is all to say to take care out there, and work on that slice. And don’t forget to shout “fore”.