Christopher Michel - Wikimedia Golf Course

For golfers, the warmer weather and longer days are a signal that spring has arrived and the new golfing season has begun. Whether you are a scratch golfer or a beginner, 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 Superior Court of New Jersey 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.

Ceremonial First 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 and may pose a danger to an unsuspecting golfer, the driver 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. The Carrigan case exemplifies how many states, not just New Jersey, address the duty to provide a warning before or after a golf shot.

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" before striking your drive or iron shot.  Second, if you do hit a slice or a hook or just a poor shot that heads in the direction of a neighboring hole, yell "fore" to ensure any unsuspecting golfers have a warning for potential danger. 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 also about protecting yourself from personal-injury liability.  So the next time you hit a slice or a hook (as every golfer will), before slamming your club or cursing the wind, yell "fore" and yell it loud.

Andrew P. Bolson is an attorney with Rubenstein, Meyerson, Fox, Mancinelli, Conte & Bern, P.A. in Montvale, New Jersey. He practices business law, litigation, estate planning, real estate and privacy and Internet law. Andrew is a weekend golfer who, because of a nasty slice, has much experience yelling "fore."