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Stuck in the Rough! – Scottish golf club hit with huge damages claim

Appeal court judges in Scotland have stunned the golf industry by announcing that a golf club must pay a substantially higher proportion of damages than had been previously ruled, after a golfer lost his eye when he was hit by a ball.

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Niddry Castle Golf Club in Scotland was, in 2011, ordered to pay nearly £120,000 in damages because of a lack of warning signs after golfer Anthony Phee lost his eye (and subsequently his job as a railway engineering supervisor) when he was struck by a ball hit by fellow golfer James Gordon. This represented 30 per cent of the £397,000 damages awarded, with the remainder being paid by the golfer who hit the ball, and his Insurers.

However, following an appeal by both the club and Gordon, three appeal court judges have ruled that the “lion’s share of blame” for the incident rests with the club and have ordered Niddry Castle to now pay nearly £320,000 plus costs, a whopping 80 per cent of the total damages.

The ruling follows two recent high profile golf cases. The first entailed a ball spotter at Leven Links Golf Course was left blind in one eye when a ball hit by a competitor in the Scottish amateur Champion of Champions struck him.

The incident occurred in 2009, but David McMahon, 70, who is seeking £50,000 of damages against Gavin Dear, a former Walker Cup player, only had his case heard at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, last month.

The second case involved Yvonne Parker, a woman walking her dog on Waldorf Playing Fields in Manchester, which shares a border with Dukinfield Golf Club, was hit in the head by a ball, and required hospital treatment.

Industry reports suggest that there are more than 12,000 golf incidents in the UK every year in which someone is hospitalised. Golf clubs need to improve their signage and golfers need to take more care when it comes to playing the game. Above all, both parties need to deploy a more effective approach to risk management if they want to avoid cases like these happening again and again.

Although this case was decided under Scottish law we can assume the repercussions of the judgment will have an immediate impact on the golf courses of England. Clubs need to consider the following;

  • Ensuring that there are explicit warning signs, ideally on the relevant part of the course where there are foreseeable risks.
  • Carrying out a formal recorded risk assessment of the course. The recommended way to do this is to use the GCMA / BIGGA Golf Industry Standard Course Risk Assessment.
  • Encouraging golfers to have personal golf specific insurance cover.

The decision in the case of Anthony Phee v Gordon and Others [2011] CSOH 181 could prove to be the catalyst for golf clubs to require their members to have personal liability insurance before they take to the course. This won’t prevent incidents from happening, but it does mean that if the worst does happen, they are protected and reduces the risk of paying out thousands in compensation.

Paul Eales – Sports Consultant

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