Hit a tee shot out of bounds and it will cost you strokes. But the penalties might not stop there.
A reminder came this week from Massachusetts, where a couple won a nearly $5 million verdict for their suffering after hundreds of golf balls hit their home by the course.
In that case, the jury found the neighboring country club liable for failing to protect the couple’s property.
But beware, fellow golfer: laws vary from country to country and depending on where you are, you, the individual player, could be held liable for damage to off-course property caused by your slice.
As if golf wasn’t rushed enough already.
Not being a lawyer, the Etiquetteist is not equipped to offer other legal advice.
But it may weigh in on another question: what are your ethical obligations if you destroy someone’s property with a cowardly blow?
Your knee-jerk reaction might be to dismiss all responsibility with a buyer-beware rationalization: “Hey, they’re the ones who decided to live next to a golf course. They should have known what they were getting into?
But are you sure?
Maybe they moved in before the course was built? Or maybe the layout was reworked after they purchased their property, putting their home more directly in the line of sight?
Either way, that’s beside the point.
Driving a golf ball is like driving a car. If you bump into someone’s wing in the parking lot, it’s up to you to leave a note with your contact information. The same applies if you send your Titleist screaming through the living room window with a poor sap. It is your ethical duty to inform the owner of what happened and how to reach you.
Does that mean you stick to the full cost of repairs? Unlikely. The owner probably has insurance. The course probably has a blanket, which would only leave a candor. As with a note left after a fender bender, you show that you are an honest person who is willing to have a conversation and come to a reasonable agreement.
Could you get away with your offense without being noticed?
Without a doubt. Based on anecdotal evidence (and human nature), that’s what most golfers would do. But that doesn’t help matters!
And you don’t want that on your conscience.
You also don’t want to attract bad karma.
As a cautionary tale, consider the case of the New Jersey golfer who smashed a window with his banana ball and rushed into his golf cart without alerting the owner (a hit-and-run, if you will), only to be convicted by the evidence that he had left behind: his balloon bore his name.
Who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind.
The Etiquetteist learned this rule firsthand many years ago when, on the close hole of a Boston-area muni, he sent a high-altitude tee shot toward a parking lot filled with dozens of cars.
“Well, here’s someone’s windshield,” the tagger told her playing partner, sounding too cavalier for the golf gods’ taste.
Some 30 minutes later, when he went to load his poles into the trunk of his Chevy, the Etiquettiest discovered that his front windshield was shattered. On the passenger seat lay his own ball.
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