For golfers, the warmer weather and the longer days signal that spring has arrived and the new golfing season has begun. Whether you are a scratch golfer or a beginner to the game, undoubtedly at some point during the season you will find yourself hitting a slice or pulling a hook and yelling “fore” to alert nearby golfers of a potential golf ball coming their way. While yelling “fore” is certainly part of golfing etiquette, when is a golfer required to yell “fore” to warn unsuspecting golfers of an errant shot?
The New Jersey Supreme Court addressed this very question in Carrigan v. Roussell, 177 N.J. Super 272 (App. Div. 1981). In Carrigan, a golfer was taking a lesson in a practice area that was located to the left of the course’s first tee. On the first tee was an experienced golfer who hit a drive that veered left in the direction of the practice area. The golfer and his playing partners immediately yelled “fore”. Despite the forewarning, the hooked tee shot struck the practicing golfer directly in the forehead. Consequently, the injured golfer sued the errant driver claiming that the golfer failed to give her advance warning of the tee shot.
The Court stated that a golfer does not have an advanced duty to yell “fore” if a golfer is outside a “zone or ambit of danger.” In other words, a golfer has no duty to yell “fore” or provide a similar warning before hitting a golf shot where no person is directly in the line of play. However, when a golfer sees that their shot is deviating from its intended path, the golfer is required to provide a warning, such as yelling “fore”. In Carrigan, since the golfer had yelled “fore” loud enough for the injured golfer to hear the warning, the Court did not find that the errant driver breached any duty owed to the Plaintiff.
There are two important lessons for golfers to take away from the Carrigan case. First, if you see a golfer in an area in which you are likely to hit your drive, yell “fore” prior to striking your drive or iron shot. Second, if you do hit an errant drive that is heading in the direction of a neighboring hole, yell “fore” upon realizing the error. It is important to make sure that your warning is loud enough to be heard by the unsuspecting golfer.
Yelling “fore” is not just a matter of common golfing courtesy. Rather, yelling “fore” is about protecting yourself from personal injury liability. So when you hit your next slice or hook (as every golfer will), before slamming your club or cursing the wind, yell “fore” and yell it loud.