Motorist critical after hit by golf ball

Published in the Gulf Islands Driftwood | July 2002 | Circulation: 4,200

An RCMP officer whose car window was smashed by a golf ball is concerned that the golf course is not taking responsibility for the hazard posed by stray balls.

But Salt Spring Golf Club administration says it’s the driver’s responsibility to find golfers who hit wild slices off the course, adding that the course has tried to mitigate the problem.

On July 22, off-duty Corporal Dave Voller was driving up the hill beside the Salt Spring Golf and Country Club when a ball from the #1 hole smashed into his windshield, creating a ball-sized hole and a spider web of glass shards across his window.

Voller said he’s lucky. The ball could have hit the motorcyclist behind him and caused serious injury. He paid the $200 deductible from the $800 cost of replacing his car window.

“I’m most concerned the next time it is the guy on the motorcycle behind that gets it,” Voller said. “Should I have to duck and squint every time I go by the golf course?

“No, I shouldn’t assume I’m in danger or my family or passenger is in danger simply because I’m passing a golf course where they’ve chosen to put a hole next to the road.”

According to Maxine Whorley, president of the golf club, it’s not the course’s fault that individuals sometimes hit cars.

“It’s an accident,” Whorley said. “The person who swings the golf club is responsible for the shot. I assume he will take responsibility.”

Because the par-5 hole #1 is 524 yards from the tee-off spot, golfers need to hit their balls hard, often slicing them towards Lower Ganges Road.

The number of times golf balls have actually hit cars is uncertain.

Don Irwin Collision & Repair sees two or three cases a year; Murakami Collision & Auto Repairs has had five incidents in two years; and Gulf Islands Glass reported only three in 10 years.

Ray Cadorette, a claims manager with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), said ICBC handles one or two claims of golf balls breaking windshields off this course each year – but that could mean that victims simply aren’t filing ICBC claims.

Cadorette added most golf courses are concerned about golf balls straying from the course because a significant claim “leaves them open to potential liability.”

Over the years the golf club has tried to minimize the number of balls flying into traffic, said manager Steve Marleau. The course planted tall poplar trees, but they had to be cut because of BC Hydro regulations.

Recently, a sand trap was build at the right side of the fairway to lure shots away from the road.

Marleau added that the club will help drivers track down which golfers were teeing off at the time of the accident.

Voller, however, said more responsibility should still lie with the club.

“They should have an insurance policy, or look at a net, or redesign the hole,” Voller said. “If they’re not prepared to do anything at all to physically prevent it, at least have a policy and insurance to cover the poor souls who do get hit.”

Although the course has looked into installing a tall safety net between the course and the road, Marleau said the cost could reach $400,000 – way too much, as far as he’s concerned.

Islander Bill Luker doesn’t buy the argument that drivers should find the golfer and make them pay.

About five years ago, Luker’s windshield was also smashed by a golf ball sliced off the #1 hole. That ball actually went right through his window.

Luker tracked down the golfer who hit the shot, but in the end he had to pay the entire bill.

“He actually gave me a false name and address,” Luker said. “The phone number he gave me was bogus. I ended up paying the whole cost.”

If anything good might come out of the latest golf ball incident, he added, it’s the course taking responsibility for stray golf balls.

Marleau said the golf club has $5 million general liability insurance. According to the policy, both the golfer and the course could be held liable for hazardous shots if there is serious injury or damage.

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