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Liability for injury on the golf course

In typical Australian fashion, we all love to emulate our sporting heroes.

In 2011, there was an increase in middle aged men in lycra cycling down the street because of a victory by Cadel Evans in the Tour de France. Similarly, the golf course is just that little bit more crowded since Jason Day won the US PGA.

But what happens when that tee shot down the fairway is a little off target, or the golfer playing behind you is not that conversant with golfing etiquette and is playing just a bit too close?

These are interesting issues of which the amateur weekend golfer may not truly understand the magnitude of.

If you are injured on the golf course or you cause injury to another, who is liable? Can you sue? Or worse, can you be sued?

This was the dilemma faced by the Supreme Court in Queensland in a case involving two golfers Dr Pollard and Mr Trude.

The facts

Both players were in the same foursome playing in a tournament. All players had teed off at the second hole and Mr Trude was the last player to take his second shot.

Unfortunately, Mr Trude’s shot hooked to the left and was heading for trees further up the fairway near where Dr Pollard was standing. Mr Trude called out words to the effect of “Watch out Erroll” but as Dr Pollard turned the ball struck him in the eye causing serious injury and vision impairment.

Dr Pollard sued Mr Trude. 

“Fore!” – is this warning enough?

The case established that the traditional warning of ‘fore’ was not required prior to a competent golfer hitting their shot.

However, if the shot was to go awry and there was the possibility of being hit, then a verbal warning of ‘fore’ or some other audible warning is expected.

This is in keeping with the ‘Rules of Golf’ approved by St Andrews and The United States Golf Association which include the ‘Fore Rule’:

“If a player plays a ball in a direction where there is a danger of hitting someone, he should immediately shout a warning. The traditional word of warning in such situations is ‘fore’.”

Of interest, however, is a comment by one of the Judges who was of the opinion that the position may had been different had Mr Trude been an inexperienced or incompetent golfer.

In such circumstances, a warning before they hit the ball may be a minimal requirement in discharging a duty of care to someone playing in front. 

Acceptance of risk

The Court also took into consideration that Dr Pollard had moved down the fairway in front of Mr Trude and was aware that Mr Trude was going to take his second shot. In doing so, Dr Pollard had ‘voluntarily accepted the risk of injury.’

The Court ultimately found that Mr Trude was not liable for the injury to Dr Pollard as he had given a verbal warning of the mishit shot.

What does this mean?

What this means for the weekend golfer is that it is important to be acquainted with the rules of golf and golfing etiquette before you begin to play.

If you are a competent golfer and you mishit a shot which is in the vicinity of other golfers, you must shout a verbal warning. If you are a beginner or inexperienced golfer, it may also be of assistance to shout a warning before you take the shot and then a further warning if your shot is heading in the vicinity of other golfers.

It is also practical to be aware of the other golfers on the course. Be aware of the golfers in front of you so you do not cause any incidents and be aware of those playing in the group behind so you can take evasive action if necessary.

“Golf is a good walk spoiled” – a quote attributed to Mark Twain. Make sure that the next time you play golf it is only the walk which is spoiled.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 08 8210 5400 or email lawyers@georgiadis.com.au.

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