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Catastrophic Injuries from Golf Balls Raising Concern Among Event Owners

17 Oct, 2018

By: Michael Popke

A woman who lost sight in one eye after being drilled by a golf ball hit by American golfer Brooks Koepka at the Ryder Cup hasn’t ruled out suing event organizers.

And in her actions, all event owners are being put on notice.

The ball, described as a “bullet,” struck 49-year-old Corine Remande at Le Golf National near Paris after other U.S. golfers had “pointed out that the fairways in Europe were much tighter than they were used to across the Atlantic, with spectators closer to the action,” reports  London’s Telegraph.

"We have been in communication with the family involved, starting with the immediate on-course treatment and thereafter to provide support, helping with the logistics of repatriation, including providing a transfer for the family from Paris to Lyon. We will continue to offer support for as long as necessary,” European Tour officials said in a statement following the incident. "It is distressing to hear that someone might suffer long-term consequences from a ball strike."

Nevertheless, Remande has threatened legal action against event organizers, and SI.com recently broke down a potential lawsuit with a primer on the law of golf course eye injuries.  

"When the ball hit my eye, all my eye exploded. And immediately my sight is finished for me. My first question is how to live now with only one eye?" Remande told NBC News, claiming there was no verbal warning from course marshals about an errant shot and citing lack of safety warnings around the course. "From the player, there is no fault. I am just angry about the organization and all the marshals."

European Tour officials confirmed that “fore” was shouted “several times but also appreciate how hard it can be to know when and where every ball is struck if you are in the crowd.” Ryder Cup officials also reportedly refuted Remande’s claims that nobody called “fore,” and added that tickets to the event warned of inherent spectator risk.

“There’s nobody that feels worse about this than I do,” Koepka later said a news conference. “It’s a tragic accident what happened. I’m heartbroken, I’m all messed up inside. Definitely in my career it’s be the one shot that I’ll definitely regret.”

“The American, 28, missed a number of shots afterwards and was described as ‘shaken’ after the incident on the short par-four sixth hole after attempting to go from tee to green in one shot” reported The Telegraph.

Koepka later tweeted that he asked Remande to keep him apprised of her condition.

Indeed, pro golfers are human, just like everyone else. “For all the years they’ve spent playing the game and practicing their million dollar swings, sometimes their golf ball disobeys,” proclaimed GolfDigest.com in 2017. “And when a shot wanders offline at a professional tournament, with spectators present (albeit not always paying attention), well, there’s a decent chance somebody will meet the working end of a Titleist.”

And that, the article added, happens more often than you might think. At the 2017 Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles, Pat Perez pegged three spectators over a four-hole stretch. One of them left on a stretcher. (For a look at six of the worst ball-meets-fan incidents, click here.)

It’s not always spectators who suffer injuries, though. An estimated 40,000 golfers seek emergency treatment every year for injuries caused by errant balls (and flying clubheads, too), according to research published earlier this year by GolfSupport.com.

Less than a week after Remande was blinded, another female spectator was struck in the head and injured by a tee shot hit by Tyrrell Hatton at the European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland. She was treated on the course and then transported to the on-site medical center, Golfweek.com reports. A photo later showed her smiling with stitches on her forehead.

"I don't want to change the rules of golf, but I just want to improve the safety rules,'' Remande told NBC News.

What can facility operators due to reduce their risk of liability generated by an errant golf ball? The National Golf Course Owners Association offers 11 guidelines, as suggested by David B. White, Esq., of the Pittsburgh-based law firm Burns White (known at the time the guidelines were posted as the Burns, White & Hickton Golf Group). Here they are:

1. If the course is part of a golf development, or will be part of a golf development, it is the duty of the course owner to design the course to reduce errant balls that would land in homeowners’ yards.

2. Any planned development should attempt to negotiate with current homeowners and create easements and restrictive covenants to reduce liability for errant balls and enable golfers to retrieve errant balls that land on adjacent property.

3. Design the course with the assistance of expert golf designers.

4. Always remember that golfers slice, hook, push and pull.

5. Any hazard should attempt to force a golfer to “aim” away from homes and roads.

6. In some cases, it may be necessary to install fencing throughout the course to block foreseeable shots from being directed at players on other holes. Although there is no general liability to golfers on the course, if an unreasonable risk is created by the design of the course, liability might follow.

7. Be vigilant in locating and remedying potential hazards, and warn patrons of ones that have not been remedied.

8. Develop policies for determining golfer eligibility, including age and experience.

9. Develop policies and procedures regarding anybody hit by an errant ball. This should include speaking with the person who hit the ball, the person injured by the ball and witnesses.

10. Keep scorecard information current and accurate.

11. Contact an attorney familiar with golf and its many liability issues.

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