A colleague of mine, Josh Offutt, tried an intriguing case of golf negligence this year. The case, Cook v. McKenzie, involved a golfer getting beaned in the skull by golf ball while he was on the practice green at Willow Creek Golf Club in Knoxville. The defendant, a sixty-year-old doctor from Knoxville, was chip balls onto the practice green from 25 to 50 yards away. According to testimony, Dr. McKenzie looked at the practice green before swinging his club and did not notice Cook until after he struck his ball. At that time, he noticed Cook wondering toward the pin. Dr. McKenzie yelled “heads up!” Unfortunately, Cook look up just in time to get hit square in the forehead by the incoming ball. He was knocked unconscious and suffered a minor head injury.
At trial, the defense elected not to call a “golf etiquette” expert, and instead, simply argued that Cook had a duty to look out for other golfers. After a day of proof, the jury quickly returned with its verdict, finding both parties equally at fault for not paying attention to their surroundings. As a result, under Tennessee’s comparative fault system, a defense verdict was entered and Cook took nothing. According to Mr. Offutt, none of the jurors were golfers. Still, in the end, this Knoxville jury got it right. All golfers have an equal responsibility to pay attention on course. Coming from a rookie golfer who makes regular use of mulligans, I feel better knowing I won’t lose my house over a wayward shot.