Yes, there is a topic in the law known as “Golf Law.” In fact the American Bar Association has published the second edition of “The Little Book of Golf Law” authored by John H. Minan, a lawyer, professor of law at the University of San Diego and an avid golfer.

Many golfers have had the same nightmare: their wicked slice sails towards a row of houses as they fear an ensuing crash of a window or worse yet a blood curdling scream resulting in a lawsuit.  The success of such a lawsuit will depend on answering several questions:  Did the homeowners assume the risk of errant golf balls because of their proximity to the course?  Did the covenants, conditions and restrictions for the developments contain a warning about the possibility of property damage or personal injury?  How aware was the golfer of his tendency to slice?

Cases involving golfers and golf courses touch most every subject within the law.  In the area of torts, such as negligence, cases have dealt with liability for failure to yell “fore” before a shot or negligent design of a golf course that creates an arguably unsafe condition. Product liability cases have been brought because of the defective design of a golf cart.  Careless driving of a golf cart has resulted in numerous negligence cases seeking recovery for personal injury. In fact, our firm has just successfully handled such a case which had resulted in serious injury.  But let’s say the driver has no insurance – can the injured rely on uninsured motorist coverage or is a golf cart not a motor vehicle under insurance law?

Thus, contract law too has been brought into the world of golf.  The sponsor of a tournament had to part with a Chevrolet Beretta when its offer of that prize neglected to advise golfers that the hole-in-one to win the car had to occur during a tournament that ended two days before the lucky golfer made a one in 20,000 shot.  Perhaps the sponsor should have purchased available hole-in-one insurance, but it or its lawyer need to make sure the contest complied with the terms of the insurance policy or the policy would not cover the loss.

There’s intellectual property in golf as well.  The USGA was successful in stopping a software company from using its formula for a handicap index in a program called Eagle Track on a theory that misappropriation and common-law unfair competition had occurred.   The software company was a free-rider on the work that the Association expended in creating the formula.  The first case to recognize that Arizona allows recovery for violation of a person’s right to publicity arose when a video produced by the National Hole-in-One Association promoting its Million Dollar Hole-in-One Shootout included a six-second clip of a professional golfer who won a shootout.  Because he did not authorize the Association to use his image to promote its Shootout and the Association used it for its commercial advantage he won a lawsuit in Arizona Federal Court for violation of his right of publicity.  Though the design of a golf course can’t be the subject of a copyright registration, it can qualify as the trade dress of the originating course and copying the design of a hole and using the name of the course and number of the hole can be the basis for a claim of common-law infringement.

Golf even comes to play in the august arena of constitutional law.  A public golf course’s conduct of a men’s only tournament subjected it to a claim that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.  And the national debate over sexual-orientation and its legal treatment has found its way to a golf course that allowed spouses of members to play for free but balked at extending that treatment to a same-sex couple.

Thus the grand game of golf can lead to a wide range of legal issues.  Competent legal help can prevent bogeys on this legal landscape with the help of a real legal eagle.

Written by Attorney David B. Goldstein,

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