RV Golfer

Golf management and the law

An off-hand remark from a golf manager about player responsibilities leads to the question—who really is responsible, according to the law?

A woman golfing with treed hillside in background.
— Photo courtesy Flickr

Checking into a pro shop recently, the general manager was explaining to a customer that if he hit another golfer with his tee shot, he would be held responsible and have to pay damages. That remark got me thinking about liability, negligence and who was really responsible. The correct answer is not that simple.

Hitting another golfer

When a golfer pays his/her green fee, they have to accept the "risk doctrine" or "voluntary assumption of risk", meaning there is an inherent danger of being hit by a stray golf ball. This principle applies to all participation sports. If a golfer tees off and slices his ball onto another fairway, hitting another golfer, he/she would not be held legally responsible. Accidents do occur with no intent to injure. Golfers are not responsible for errant shots, as the ball does not always go where intended. Refer to Supreme Court of Ohio, Thompson vs. McNeill, 1990. The injured golfer, however, can sue for damages.

Should a golfer deliberately hit another golfer with the intent to injure, that would be assault under the Criminal Code and result in litigation. Golfers cannot have a disregard for the safety of others or play in a reckless manner. Yelling "Fore!" is not a legal defense, only a common courtesy.

Golf courses are more likely to be held liable rather than individuals, as a golf course has more financial ability to pay. There are inherent dangers on any golf course, including power carts, paths, signs, yardage markers, bridges, water hazards, sand traps and flaws in design. Any of these can cause injury, making the golf course liable.

Alcohol on the course

Booze and golf seem to be synonymous, but not in the eyes of the law. In B.C., provincial law prohibits individuals from bringing their own liquor onto any golf course. Liquor, of course, is sold by the golf course for good financial reasons, but the golf course has a liquor license—individuals do not. Smuggling your own beer onto the course violates the law. This law also applies to attending professional sporting events or drinking in public parks. Try bringing your own beer to a Lions or Canucks game!

Under the Liquor Distribution Act, Licensing Regulations, Section 42(2), Policy 20.6.1, a licensee or golf course has a responsibility to ensure individuals do not bring their own liquor on the course. The licensee has the legal right to confiscate the private liquor or ask the offending individuals to leave.

Working and wages

Many public golf courses employ marshals to patrol their course. Other terms used are players’ assistants or rangers. The marshal’s job is a combination of public relations, maintaining pace of play and some kind of course maintenance. In order for some golf courses to reduce expenses, they no longer pay their marshals, but offer golfing privileges instead. These privileges can include unlimited rounds, use of a golf cart, special rates for friends and a reduction in cost of food and drinks. Not paying employees is a great deal for the golf course, but it is against the law.

The B.C. Employment Standards Branch (Act) establishes the minimum standards for wages and working conditions. A basic legal standard is that all employees must be paid in Canadian funds for any work performed. This standard applies to part-time, full-time and seasonal employees. At the very least, minimum wages must be paid. A few golf courses have designed various ways to circumvent the law by giving marshals free membership in the course or part ownership. As owners, there is nothing stopping "members" or "owners" from patrolling the course or doing maintenance. These practices are also against the law.

Recently, a public golf course in the Lower Mainland asked their marshals to work without pay; all marshals refused but one. New marshals were hired as volunteers. For numerous reasons, the former employees are entitled to financial compensation. Compensation is based on normal and average hours of work for the last eight weeks, wages per hour and the number of years employed.

The Employment Standards Branch has a step-by-step process to follow that can result in financial compensation. The idea of saving money with volunteer marshals for this golf club just got very expensive! Refer to www.gov.bc.ca/EmploymentStandards.

When it comes to the law and golf, general managers have the responsibility to understand and implement the law, not find a way around the law.

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