I’m a (sadly, very inactive) member of Moray Golf Club (Lossiemouth), which has two fantastic links courses.
An appeal decision of the Court of Session from March 2013 has health and safety implications for golfers and golf clubs all over Scotland.
The Facts of the Case
The case of Phee –v- Gordon concerned an inexperienced golfer (Mr Phee) who sued Niddry Castle Golf Club in West Lothian and a member of the golf club (Mr Gordon) as the result Mr Phee losing his left eye after being struck by a golf ball from a wayward tee shot hit by Mr Gordon.
Arguments that Mr Phee was partly to blame for his injury were rejected by the court. However, the appeal was successful in that Mr Gordon convinced the court that the blame which had been apportioned as 30% to the golf club and 70% to Mr Gordon following the initial hearing of evidence should be reversed – and more – on appeal. In other words, though the golf ball was struck by Mr Gordon, it was the golf club and its members which ended up bearing most of the responsibility (80%) for paying Mr Phee his compensation – the level of which had been agreed at almost £400,000. Mr Gordon was ultimately held to be only 20% to blame.
At the time, Mr Gordon had been driving from the 18th tee. Mr Phee and his playing partners had just completed the 6th hole and were walking from the green to the 7th tee. Mr Gordon had shouted “fore” on realising that his shot was a poor one.
The Knowledge the Golf Club Had About Risks
The court had heard evidence about the practice of some members of the club at that part of the course if golfers were teeing off at the 18th. In those circumstances, it was common for players who had completed the 6th hole either to remain in the shelter of a tree close to the 6th green or walk along the path towards the 7th tee but keeping a special look-out. The appeal court took it from this that club members were aware of the risk created by the course layout at this point. As some of the club’s committee members also played golf, the club itself could also be taken to be aware of the potential danger.
The golf club had taken no measures to warn players of the risks – which included inexperienced visitors such as Mr Phee. The appeal court considered both the club and Mr Gordon to be at fault but the overwhelming blame lay with the club.
Action Points for Golf Clubs
This decision indicates that all golf clubs will need to carry out an audit of the “local knowledge” their members have from a safety point of view in using the course. Precautions which members know implicitly from experience they should take for their safety will have to be made explicit for the benefit of all by use, for example, of appropriate warning signs.
It is unusual for there to be no “crossing points” of holes on golf courses and any informal practices regarding priority of play will have to be identified and flagged up.
Golf clubs rely for income on members bringing visitors onto their courses and on the general public paying to play. It cannot be taken as read that these visiting, non-member players will be knowledgeable about local rules or even about the Rules of Golf generally. They will also not necessarily be proficient players.
It is very common for score cards provided to players by golf clubs to have a plan of the particular course on them – primarily to help anyone not familiar with the course find their way round. The appeal court’s judgement in Phee indicates that a review of this practice will be required in many instances because such diagrams will need to include warnings about particular danger points on the course where you might yourself unexpectedly in the line of someone else’s shot.