Yikes! My Tee Shot Smashed A Window! Now What?

Golf ball and broken glass

Who is liable for damage caused by an errant golf ball? Batsun/iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption Batsun/iStockphoto.com

Even the world's best golfers sometimes have trouble hitting the ball down the fairway, so if you're a recreational golfer, you know it's pretty inevitable that you'll shank one in the wrong direction. Most of the time, this means losing your ball out of bounds.

But if you happen to be playing on a course lined by homes, that one mis-hit can cost you a lot more than just replacing a lost ball.

Recreational golfer Todd Sachs relayed one such story of how, when he was 12 years old, his ball smashed into a sliding glass door. That one shot turned out to cost him (rather, his parents) more than $500 in repair costs.

It would seem that having valuable and somewhat fragile property adjacent to a field of small round projectiles is a bad idea.

Hear this story and others as part of Rob Sachs' NPR podcast, What Would Rob Do? You can also follow him here.

Not so, says 62-time PGA Tour champion and golf course designer Arnold Palmer. He says golfers usually know the risks, and most have insurance that will cover an errant shot. Furthermore, he says, the courses are designed so that it's highly unlikely a home will be hit.

"It is something that [happens on] occasion but rarely happens to the point of causing any real serious problems," Palmer says.

But for Jack Guida, who lives by the Emerald Isle Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., having his house struck is more than just an occasion. He says it gets hit "at least once a day." He takes precautions, such as fortifying his windows with metal guards. And when his grandson comes over to play in the backyard, Guida makes him "wear a bike helmet."

So who is liable for damage? That falls to the golfer, says Emerald Isle's pro, Jeff Sampson. He says it's up to the golfers to own up to their mis-hits and pay for the damages either out of pocket or through their own insurance. Sampson says he has heard of some homeowners associations where the owners themselves are liable, but this is by far the exception to the rule.

To be safe, Sampson says, anytime a golfer tees off, he or she should know the policy of that particular course. Sampson also stresses that it's important for the golfers themselves to come clean, which unfortunately doesn't always happen. Guida says he once had to chase down an 18-year-old player who had smashed his neighbor's window.

Whatever the written code may be, Guida says being struck is a "hazard of living here, but it's worth it." He continues to enjoy his scenic fairway vistas despite the continual threats from above.

As for not hitting that shot in the first place, Palmer suggests that wayward duffers "go see their local pro so they can hit it straight."

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