It is officially spring and that means that golf season is here. For golfers, there are few things better than their first time back on a golf course after the snow melts and the weather gets warm.
The last thing you are thinking about as you are breathing in the fresh spring air and teeing up for the first time this season is “what is my liability if this tee shot ends up hitting someone?”
Nevertheless, while it is something seldom thought about, every golfer should be aware of their liability as they head out to the golf course. The best piece of advice I could give to New York golfers while preparing for the 2017 golf season is: when in doubt, yell “fore!” Although yelling “fore!” will in no way improve your score, it could save you from an unwanted lawsuit.
You have probably heard shouts of “fore!” during a round of golf, but most golfers do not realize that yelling “fore!” has legal implications and can shield a golfer from liability. While not every bad shot you hit requires you to give warning to your fellow golfers, which is commonly done by shouting “fore!”, you must give warning if you hit a shot and someone is in the intended line of flight of your golf ball.
For example, if the golf course is crowded and you have a fast-playing foursome right behind you, you might be tempted to tee off, even if the foursome in front of you might still be in range. If you choose to tee off and your shot might hit the golfer in front of you, you are required to give that golfer warning (yell “fore!”), so that she can get out of the way of your golf ball. Keep in mind, though, that if the golfer in front of you is so close that a reasonable golfer would find your actions reckless and negligent by teeing off prematurely, you could still be held liable if the golfer is injured, regardless of how many times you yell “fore!”
However, there are also situations where warnings are not required because even if you shouted “fore!” after your shot it would not prevent an injury. For example, if you hit a bad shot that slices so far to the left that it seems to defy the laws of science and soars over three fairways, you are not legally required to give warning (although you should still yell “fore” to be courteous to your fellow golfers). In that scenario, if someone is unfortunate enough to be hit by your science-defying golf ball, you will not be responsible for any injuries sustained, whether you yelled out a warning or not. The thought behind it is that golf is a sport and, like most sports, there is an assumption of risk that a golfer takes when he or she steps out on to the golf course. All golfers are aware that no matter the skill of a player, every golfer is prone to hit bad shots, and as such, golfers need to be cognizant of their surroundings while on the course.
In the same vein, in New York a golfer is not generally liable to individuals or property located entirely outside the boundaries of a golf course that are hit by a stray ball or a poor shot. So if you hit a ball that bounces off a tree in the wrong direction, or misses the fairway completely and hits a nearby house, the windshield of a car on a roadway, or maybe even a person relaxing in their backyard, you are not required to give a warning.
So while you are out on the golf course this season, remember that even though you only have to warn your fellow golfers if they will actually benefit from your warning, it does not hurt to yell out “fore!” when you hit your ball in an unintended location. Also, be sure to always read and familiarize yourself with the individual golf course’s rules, because while you might not end up legally liable, you could be kicked off the course for violating the course rules. Above all, remember to have fun and enjoy yourself on the golf course and, in the words of the fictional late-great Chubbs, “it’s all in the hips.”