Court Rules Lack of “Fore” Call Not Reckless

When you hit an errant shot—a very common occurrence for most golfers–that might have a chance of hitting another player in its expected path, it’s still considered a good practice to yell “fore” as a warning.

However, a Court of Appeals in New York recently ruled by 3-1 margin that a golfer can’t expect to get such a warning every time, saying a failure to do it in advance didn’t amount to intentional or reckless conduct.

At issue was the case where Dr. Anoop Kapoor’s shanked shot resulted in the loss of an eye by Dr. Azod Anand while the pair was playing on a Long Island golf course in 2002. Kapoor claimed he shouted “fore”, but neither Anand or the third golfer in the group testified they heard such a warning.

The court upheld an earlier judge’s finding that Anand was not in the foreseeable zone of danger and, as a golfer, consented to the inherent risks of playing the game.

‘The manner in which Anand was injured–being hit without warning by a ‘shanked’ shot while one searches for one’s own ball–reflects a commonly appreciated risk of golf,” the appeals judges wrote.

The word “fore” is thought to be Scottish in origin, and is a shortened version of the word “before” or “afore.” The old Scottish warning, essentially meaning “look out ahead,” probably originated in military circles, where it was used by artillery men as a warning to infantry troops to drop to the ground to avoid the shells. Golfers as early as the 18th century simply adopted this military warning cry for errant shots as part of the game’s etiquette. This sounded to me more likely than the British Golf Museum’s suggestion that “fore” came from forecaddie, meaning someone employed to go ahead of players to see where their balls land.

Back in Connecticut when we used caddies, I can recall that one of the caddies in our group would usually go ahead to serve in this capacity. I once had the misfortune of seeing one of my drives strike the forecaddie. I was lucky that this lad was not my caddie. If he had been, I would have been penalized.

Golf courses are not liable for injuries either based on an earlier New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling against a golfer who sued a golf course after he was struck in the eye. The court said the golf course had no duty to protect the golfer against the inherit risks of playing the game.

It’s my feeling that the same ruling would not have been handed down if a golf course failed to provide some kind of warning system for lightning and a player happened to be injured or killed. I used to go out on the course in Costa Rica to make sure that all golfers had come in or found shelter. Thank goodness, I had a covered golf cart and did not get soaked when this happened.

It seems from what I’ve read that a golfer might be held responsible for damage to a nearby house, such as a broken window, by one of his sliced drives. Golf courses post such warnings to that effect. Most golfers seem to accept the fact that this is the correct thing to do and offer to pay the homeowners. A few might dispute it or do not even go over to see if there is any damage, thinking that the home owner’s insurance will pay for the damage.

I don’t think, however, that a golfer would be liable for damage to a car parked on a par 3 as a hole-in-one prize, citing the fact that even calling out ‘fore” is going to move the vehicle.

In the event of multiple broken windows on nearby homes, local property owners have been known to bring nuisance suits against a golf course. I know this became a problem on the dogleg right par 5 10th at Chase Oaks Golf Club in Plano even when large fencing was added as protection for the home down the right side of the fairway. The homeowners thought the fencing was a eyesore and it came down. Finally, as a way of correcting the problem, the tee was moved up to turn the hole into a par 3, creating complaints from regulars.

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