FORE; The gentleman’s game of golf could cost you more than just green fees

Three people were left injured after being hit in the face by stray golf balls in separate incidents on the first day of The Open at Royal Liverpool in Merseyside. 


Marshal Bill Davies, who was marshalling at the par-five 16th hole was first hit on his leg by Rickie Fowler’s ball, then on the shoulder by Charl Schwartzel’s.

Although many people think of golf as a safe, non-contact sport, statistics in the UK show that around 12,000 golfers a year require hospital treatment as a direct result of injury on the golf course. In one-year alone 3,530 head injury accidents were recorded. There has even been cases involving settlement of vet bills for treatment to a dog whose leg was broken by a wayward golf ball!

A golf ball is an extremely hard object, and when it’s travelling at high speeds can result in serious injuries if it hits another golfer, spectator or someone else’s property. Most UK household insurances do not include cover for personal accident injuries sustained while playing sports such as golf. Most people are not aware of this, and independent research has found that nine out of ten UK golfers are not properly insured on the golf course against personal injury or accident.

Over recent years personal liability claims against golfers have been on the increase, with claims tripling in the last five years after the courts ruled in favour of a claim launched by a lorry driver who lost an eye after being hit by a badly sliced drive.

The case that has led to this increase in claims was in 1998, when the high court ruled in the case of Anthony Lighting (whose faulty shot blinded a lorry driver in one eye) that ‘golfers are liable for shots that cause injury, no matter how slight the risk’. The case was upheld on appeal with the Court of Appeal ruling that golfers who mis-hit shots causing injury to other persons will be liable to pay damages even if they do shout ‘FORE!’. In 2001 the UK’s largest Public Liability claim for a golf sport injury was settled. The £87,000+ settlement (including legal costs) was made following an incident at the London Golf Club in September 1996 where a golf ball hit a fellow golfer on the right temple as she walked forwards to the ladies tee. She suffered serious head injury.

As Golf Courses are often being built close to residential areas nowadays and getting busier, the probability of injuring a fellow golfer or a passer-by is much more common (by ball or club) and the risk of doing so is greater every time you play. Add to this the compensation culture of today, where people are much more likely to prosecute, stepping out onto the golf course is an increasingly risky business, where hitting a fore could result in a costly lawsuit.

Golf members are starting to see the importance of taking out personal liability insurance, but the law does make provision for injured parties suing the club itself. As the compensation culture shows no signs of abating, clubs also need to ensure that they don’t get caught out.

People are often under the misapprehension that their household insurance policy extends cover to golf equipment and public liability needs. However, many policies exclude public liability cover for sport injury and offer only restricted cover for equipment used for golf. Some golf clubs offer ‘golf insurance’ for an extra fee on membership or green fees, some even make it mandatory. This cover is often limited to public liability on that course on that day only.

Personal liability claims can run into thousands of pounds, so the best advice to any golfer is to make sure they have adequate personal liability insurance. This won’t prevent the incident from happening, but it does mean that if the worst happens, they are protected and reduce the risk of paying out thousands in compensation.

Case Study


Player “A” had teed off and hooked his tee shot which had come to rest in a rough and condensed tree area . Player “B” approached the green making his playing partners aware that there was a golfer situated in the rough and trees behind the green which they were playing up to.

Player “B” stood to the right hand side off the hole so that we were out of the way of any danger. Player “A” was visible having practice swings, and  identify his swing was hampered by the thick wet rough and tree stumps. Player “A” decided to hit a wood even though it was thick, wet rough, and the trees were in the way of his golf swing. He decided that rather than play an iron for safety to get the ball back in play on his own hole, he attempted to hit a wood and decided to hit the ball over the green of the hole, Player “B” was playing, and play down that fairway rather than his own hole.


As he made contact with the ball, Player “A” mishit his shot. The trees that had hampered his swing, and the thick wet rough caused his club head to turn over resulting in a violent hook, sending the ball severely to his left. The ball came flying straight in my direction. Player “B” tried to move out of the way but such efforts were unsuccessful and the ball struck Player ”B” on the chin to the right of my face and  I was knocked unconscious immediately.

After regaining consciousness Player “B” was put in the recovery position and an Air Ambulance arrived to  deal with the incident and take Player “B” to hospital where X rays, and CT scans were taken because of the injury and Player “B” having other illness. Due to the laceration to the face of Player “B” where the golf ball had hit him,  plastic surgery was  needed to the cut to the players face.


The issue in question is that Player “A” should never have attempted a wood shot given the lie and there was a good chance of it not coming off/not being able to control the direction of the ball.

General consensus from the Golf Playing/Coaching Community is that stroke/club selection would be very difficult to consider as being negligent. To make an accurate decision there are many variables, lie of the ball, the type of rough, depth of the rough, wind conditions, distance the pin etc.. etc.. etc..

The general concept of using a wood in the rough is not uncommon and one coach has commented that he would frequently do so. The driver has more weight and will “get through the rough” much easier in some cases than using an iron. An iron can sometimes “snag” in the rough causing the head of the club to twist and make the stroke more difficult to control that it might have been using a wood.

So it would appear that the decision to use a wood wasn’t necessarily a poor decision and could be argued that it was actually a good decision.

In any claim for it to be successful, an insurer, as well as the plaintiff and defendants solicitors will look at all aspects to assess the intent, danger and negligence of the matter.

Paul Eales

Choix Consultant

One Choice One Team