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May 2017

Big Brother Watching

bigbrotherwatching.jpg‭As awful as litigation can be for course owners, legal actions have become part of life in the golf industry. Unfortunately, every month or two, a new lawsuit pops up with the potential to set a painful precedent for all operators.

Such is the case in Pennsylvania, where District Court Judge Michael Koury, Jr., found the owners of Morgan Hill Golf Course in contempt of court for not videoing every golf shot struck on one of their holes.

The order to record “all golf swings” stemmed from a case filed by Jerzy and Halina Wisniewski, who sued the course because of golf balls “whizzing” into their yard, which is right of the 13th hole. The course owners say that, because of a thick cluster of trees and the physics of a golf shot, the couple’s claims are impossible. According to Erv McLain, an attorney representing Morgan Hill: “I believe that when the entire case plays out before a jury, there’s no way they are going to find us liable to them for anything.”

Because of the suit, Judge Koury issued the unique order for the course to install video equipment and capture the path and trajectory of every shot on the hole.

But while operators were budgeting, buying and attempting to install the cameras, Pennsylvania had an unseasonably warm snap in late February. The course reopened before the cameras could be installed. The Wisniewskis went back to court on March 2, and Judge Koury fined Morgan Hill $1,000 for contempt to cover the couple’s attorney fees.

“It shouldn’t have occurred, so we’re going to pay the fine and get on with it,” McLain says.

Errant golf balls in neighboring yards have been the subjects of lawsuits for years. For decades, course owners were held harmless. People who bought or built homes on golf courses assumed the risk. It was like buying a house on a hillside in California: You might never have an earthquake, mudslide or fire, but you knew going in that the possibility existed. However, recent rulings against golf courses have changed the legal landscape, with homeowners forcing clubs to reroute or even close holes to keep errant shots from ever landing on private, residential land.

The outcome of this case remains uncertain, but one thing is for sure: court-ordered cameras on golf courses are now a precedent, one owners will need to consider for the foreseeable future.

—S.E.

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