Few people would associate golf with being dangerous and many people, myself included, transition into the sport of golf when their body can no longer withstand the rigor of contact sport.
However, injury is still a present and ongoing threat in golf, and although it is extremely rare, a stray golf ball can be a deadly projectile in certain circumstances.
Although it is possible for a golf ball to kill you, it is extremely rare, with very few cases of death by golf ball being reported. While thousands of people are injured by golf clubs and balls each year, it is very rare for fatalities to occur, although unlikely deaths do happen each year all over the world.
In 2021, an Australian man was killed by an errant shot when playing in Victoria.
The 69-year-old survived the initial blow but his condition deteriorated as the week went on, dying a few days after the initial contact.
It isn’t just the elderly that are at risk either, with a New Zealand man in his twenties being killed in 2018 by a wayward attempt from a friend to hit a practice ball off a fairway and back onto the range.
While deaths from a golf ball strike are rare, they can occur in unlucky scenarios.
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What happens if you get hit in the head by a golf ball?
If you are hit in the head by a golf ball the chances of death are extremely low – less than 1 percent – but it can still lead to serious and significant injury. Concussions, bruising and even nausea can be triggered by a golf ball strike to the head, so it’s crucial that you stop your round and seek medical attention immediately as symptoms can have a delayed onset.
A study in Scotland found that the majority of golfing injuries weren’t actually caused by golf balls, but rather golf clubs, especially in children.
Many injuries don’t actually occur on the course, more so at home when people are playing around with equipment or using gear in an unsafe way.
Luckily, golf balls are designed to compress at impact, so a strike with a ball will likely disperse energy through a wider area of your body, rather than pierce through like a bullet would.
It can still break the skin and cause severe bruising, but as long as you aren’t struck in the temple you should live to grace the fairways another day.
Can a golf ball break a bone?
While it is extremely rare, a golf ball strike can cause a broken bone. The smaller, more fragile bones, such as the fingers are more susceptible to breaks, but there have been reports of golf balls breaking bones in the legs or elsewhere on the body.
A study published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports explored the conditions behind two tibia shaft fractures in a pair of Korean men in their forties.
It is estimated that the balls struck the men with up to 5000 Newtons of force – the equivalent of about 509 kilograms.
In this circumstance the men in each scenario were quite close to the person playing the shot (about 10 metres) and on a 50 degree angle, so it is advisable to always stand well behind a player taking a swing to avoid the risk of catching a wayward shot to the body.
Are you liable if you hit someone with a golf ball?
The liability of somebody who hits another player with a golf ball isn’t necessarily clear, with duty of care resting on both the player and golf course, but it is by no means black and white. Both courses and players need to take every precaution possible to avoid causing injury to others, but often a court of law is the only place where liability of players being hit can properly be determined.
Concerning a golf course, it’s important that risks have been identified and correct signage and warnings are placed around the course to make golfers aware of danger, such as crossing one golf hole to get to another where you might walk into the path of a tee shot if not looking out for other playing groups.
Similarly, a player should always yell fore or wait for others to clearly move out of their hitting zone to ensure they have done as much as they can to play their shot in a safe manner for others on the course.
Ultimately, if another person is hit, then a legal case can only be truly settled through a court or legal process, but clubs and players taking every precaution when on course can reduce the risk of this becoming a reality.
Each year over 40,000 Americans are injured playing golf but very few of these result in litigation, which indicates that most accidents on course are simply that – accidents – and do not lead to people making complaints of a legal nature.
Can you sue if you get hit by a golf ball?
Yes, you can sue somebody for hitting a shot that strikes and injures you, but these sorts of cases are often very difficult to win. By engaging in a round of golf on course, you are generally understanding that being struck with a ball is a legitimate risk, meaning any effort to sue someone for hitting you will be challenging.
There are cases where people have successfully sued someone for hitting them with a ball despite the above conditions being met and the golfer who played the shot yelling fore.
In a case in Scotland, a golfer was deemed liable for hitting another player, even though the struck player’s two partners heard the fore call and ducked for cover.
Generally, off course instances of people being hit by a ball – such as unsafe actions like hitting balls on a private property or backyard into public areas – make up by far the largest portion of legal cases where the plaintiff is successful.
Although an extremely rare occurrence, there are a number of reports of people being injured or killed by errant golf balls.
The dangers involved in golf, both physically and financially, due to the risk involved with a hard projectile are always present, so it is important to take adequate precautions and always yell fore when having played a poor shot to protect those around you.