Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Part I - Old Courses, Safety and Liability

The 17th green at Peterborough G&CC

I can't believe how much liability is taking over decisions in golf design, it really is depressing at times.

I was at Peterborough Golf & Country Club yesterday to review the golf course. The golf course is on 150 acres, but it has two locations there are triangles of unused land, because of this Peterborough has a series of safety issues. Some are solvable or at least can be minimized with some alteration to the golf course. Others are far more complicated since the distance between holes doesn’t meet “current” safety standards. Herein is the problem with a lot of golden age designs; they may have been fine with the equipment of the 20’s and 30’s combined with the limited amount of play (about a third the amount as compared to the present), but in today’s context many of these courses are not safe and have no flexibility to move holes to make them safe. What further complicates the issue at other courses is the housing surrounding most of these golden age layouts is way too close to the holes. At Peterborough they are fairly fortunate on this end; housing issues are fairly minor compared with the internal issues they face.

To explain how this issue has grown, when I first began working with Doug Carrick the safety set back between holes was 60 meters at Mandarin, the last project I worked on with Doug the minimum distance we used was 80 meters and Doug was often looking for 90 meters. This is how equipment has altered not only the game, but the safety of the game. When Thompson renovated Peterborough he stayed with the very common technique of keeping the tees and greens close for convenience, because they did not have the worries of safety, or more important (now) liability.

Liability in golf has changes so dramatically in the last 20 years. At one point it was understood that if you built a house next to a golf course, you have assumed the risk of getting golf balls in your backyard with your decision. The decision at Islington last year has put that assumption into question since the judge felt that the club needed to make alterations to minimize the safety issue on the 3rd hole. Now golf courses are placed in the position of becoming proactive with a safety issue to avoid liability for not addressing the issue.

Up until recent times the possibility of a player getting hit by a golf ball on the course that was considered the inherent risk of playing the game. A player who hit himself with a golf ball at Osprey Valley sued the course and architect because he blamed “them” after he hit his ball into a stacked wall of stone that was left on the hole. How many players would take a full swing from 10 feet in front of a 4 foot wall of stone? That case was settled out of court. Well now a member at Peterborough, hit by another player’s ball, has sued Peterborough Golf & Country Club suggesting that the congestion of holes on the course caused him to be hit in an adjacent fairway. This is where liability is going and it has huge implications on the courses. It will push the course and architect into making changes to the course (that they really don’t want to do) just to avoid lawsuits.

There is a chance that lawsuits and liability may become the biggest driver of changes to golf courses in the coming decade.

Tomorrow Part II – The Impossible Decision


Chris said...


Did you get a chance to pick up a copy of Ptbo's club history while you were there yesterday? It was written to celebrate the club's centennial in 1997 by Prof. Elwood Jones, Peterborough's "Mr. History", and one of my former profs at Trent. It's written in a somewhat academic style, but it does a great job of tracing the history of both the club and the course. Prof. Jones admittedly became a Thompson fan while researching this book. I think they still have copies available through the club, but if need be, you're more than welcome to borrow mine.

Anonymous said...


great picture of the 17th. the few times i played pgcc, i found the tee shot on 17 to be the most dangerous shot on the course. too many people tried to take the short route, which meant hitting on a line that brought the 16th tee into play. getting past the 16th tee unscathed was a relief.

peter woodcox
olympia, wa.

Ian Andrew said...


It helped to clear the trees, sometimes seeing what is dangerous is very helpful to improving safety.

charles edwards said...

This is a good course and I have played it a few times, I must admit it is not the best course I have been on but it is far from the worse, at the momment I am at Polaris World and have just come the course and sat having a snack and a drink while I surf around on my laptop.