Golf Course Risks and Greek Mythology
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a deceitful king who was condemned to spend eternity pushing a giant boulder up a mountain. As Sisyphus approached the peak of the mountain, the rock would elude him and roll back down to the bottom. Interminable activities are often called Sisyphean tasks or challenges. (Thanks Wikipedia for making me sound smarter than I truly am.)
First task accomplished? Still not yet, but hopefully, I have earned your attention.
Golf club operations are sophisticated ventures. Golf courses and country clubs cover a sprawling amount of real estate, with numerous mini-businesses (recreational facility with food service, retail sales, customer service, property rental and other entrepreneurial enterprises) making up the whole.
The members of the golf course management team are multi-talented, master jugglers. They move about the facility putting out fires. The hope is that they can get to “the problem” before it gets to them. With that being the case, how much time and energy does a golf course manager, professional or superintendent have available for the Sisyphean challenge of identifying and managing risk?
That is where “you” come in.
Insurance companies can help golf courses bring some measure of control to the task of managing risk. Sophisticated risk management departments provide golf club insureds with invaluable advice and technical guidance.
Insurance agents are the face of the insurance process. By establishing a
personal/professional relationship with clients, you can influence decision-making and behavior. Insurance agents can play an integral role in helping golf courses iden-tify, assess and address risk on the golf course.
Following is a strategy you might be able to use the next time you meet with existing or potential customers.
Just as I endeavored to gain your attention, you must succeed at gaining their attention. Scare them. I hate to resort to scare tactics, but when it comes to safety and liability, sometimes you have no choice. The most effective method of gaining the attention of a golf course is through hard facts that speak for themselves.
Step 1 – Get the golf course’s attention
Estimates of Golf-Related Injuries
Numbers include injuries on and off the golf course.
Source: The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission
Statistics for the United States
40 million golf rounds played per year
14 million golfers
16,000 golf facilities
51,000 people injured in golf and golf cart related incidents each year
5th most likely place to be struck by lightning
5th most likely place to go into cardiac arrest
1 million licensed attorneys
100 million state and federal civil lawsuits filed each year
Pick any statistic. Each one can be spun in a direction that leads to one inescapable conclusion — it could be just a matter of time. If there is an accident at one of your client’s golf courses, there will be a lawyer ready and willing to draft a complaint.
Large Jury Verdicts and Settlements
Here are seven of the largest settlements or jury verdicts involving golf courses.
$10.5 million verdict: California golf course construction worker severely injured in trench accident.
$7.5 million verdict: Virginia golfer struck in neck by errant shot from golf course range.
$6.6 million verdict: Florida homeowners claim flooding and pollution of lake by exclusive golf course (includes $3.9 million in attorneys fees and expenses).
$6 million verdict: Dogs kept at groundskeepers’ residence on California golf course chase employee who is struck by truck and paralyzed.
$3.6 million verdict: California golfer struck in head by bulldozer working on the course.
$2.9 million verdict: Guest at home adjacent to Florida golf course struck in face by ball.
$1.37 million verdict: Michigan golfer dies after tripping over landscape timber.
(Note: These jury verdicts and settlement amounts are listed as originally stated by the parties to the lawsuit, the media or a reporting service. The amounts may have changed due to post-trial activities and appeal.)
Here is a sampling of golf related accidents that have led to a fatality. Golf club operations are presented with a wide array of grave dangers.
Man struck by lightning (Minnesota)
Woman struck by golf ball (Minnesota)
Golfer run-over by golf cart (California)
Assault on golf course owner (Florida)
Golfer drowns looking for balls (Illinois)
Broken club pierces golfer’s heart (New York)
Scuba diver drowns retrieving golf balls (Florida)
Woman in golf car struck by falling tree (Canada)
Teenager struck in head with golf club (England)
Boy dies from bacteria in drinking water (Arizona)
Woman drowns when golf cart enters pond (Florida)
Employee strikes deck with golf cart (Massachusetts)
Employee dies in after-hours golf cart accident (Michigan)
Two women die when clubhouse roof collapses (England)
Man falls backwards climbing fence to retrieve ball (England)
Trench collapses on golf course construction worker (Washington)
Maintenance worker killed when sprayer over-turns (South Carolina)
Step 2 – Help the golf course prioritize its risks
How do your insureds make sense out of those random facts? Fortunately, insurance companies are good at turning isolated incidences and raw data into meaningful and useful statistics. The St. Paul Travelers insurance company recently completed a study of more than 21,000 property and general liability claims filed over an 18-year-period. The St. Paul Travelers, through its Eagle 3 insurance program, insures more golf courses than any other carrier. Both size of loss and frequency are important. Following are two tables demonstrating claims experience from more than 1,400 golf courses.
Top 10 claims on golf courses by size of loss
Claim Type % Total Claim Cost
1. Fire 21 %
2. Slip, trip or fall 15.9 %
3. Wind 12.2 %
4. Struck by object 5.9 %
5. Worker strains 5.2 %
6. Water damage 3.6 %
7. Theft 3.2 %
8. Lightning 3.1 %
9. Libel or slander 2.5 %
10. Hail 2 %
Top 10 most frequent claims on a golf course
Claim Type % Total # of Claims
1. Slip, trip or fall 13 %
2. Theft 8.8 %
3. Worker strains 8.2 %
4. Vehicle related 5.5 %
5. Lightning 5 %
6. Wind 4.3 %
7. Non-powered hand tool 3.5 %
8. Vandalism 3 %
9. Water damage 2.7 %
10. Struck by object 2.5 %
Source: “Safety on the Fairways: Injuries and Losses at Golf Facilities,” Travelers Insurance Company. Provided by Dana Blose, senior risk control consultant, Eagle 3 golf insurance program.
Based on the Eagle 3 claims information, you can help golf courses prioritize their risk management efforts. Golf clubs only have a limited amount of time, money and effort to commit to eliminating, reducing and managing risk. They will appreciate any principled direction they can get. Claims information is concrete evidence, and a strong indication of where a golf club should commit its resources.
Step 3 – Put it in terms they understand
The Eagle 3 claims information is organized in terms of general liability, property and a little bit of workers’ compensation. You know this stuff, your customer does not. You will be on their turf. Speak in their terms as best you can.
You don’t have to have all the answers. That’s what the experts are for (See Section 5).
Provide your golf club clients with a valuable service by issue-spotting. Look for potentially dangerous areas or operations. Make sure they have the proper coverage in place. But also educate your client regarding potential risk management techniques (See Section 4).
Here are 10 golf-specific
areas that generally
1. Golf car(t) operations: maintenance, handling, and storage of golf carts from dawn ’til dusk.
2. Golf car paths: steep hills, sharp curves, blind areas, sharp drop-offs and roadways that could lead to roll-overs, collisions and other accidents.
3. Errant shot issues: greens, tees, roadways, parking lots that are in the zone of danger for errant shots.
4. Adjacent property: errant shots striking people, vehicles, residences and neighboring businesses.
5. Junior golf: kids struck by golf cars, golf balls and golf clubs.
6. Non-golfers: walkers, riders, parents, spouses and children unaccustomed to the risks of golf.
7. Severe weather communication: lightning detection and course evacuation procedures.
8. Alcohol consumption policies: bring your own, on-course sale and off-course sale issues.
9. Slip, trip and fall control: golf course, practice facility, pro shop, clubhouse and other recreational areas.
10. Employee safety: maintenance workers, golf cart attendants, rangers and pro shop staff.
It is impossible to solve a problem if you don’t know what it is. Help your clients spot potentially dangerous issues.
Step 4 – Express confidence that risk is manageable
Golf courses need to make a commitment to safety — in attitude and atmosphere. To prevent devastating injuries and fatalities, golf clubs need to change behavior and eliminate dangerous circumstances. In classic risk management theory, those confronted with risk can eliminate, reduce, transfer, insure or retain the risk. Support your golf course’s risk management efforts.
Here are 10 risk management ideas you can pass along to your golf course customers.
1. Use golf course signage to address safety issues: golf car paths, around hazards, no trespassing.
2. Use the scorecard to communicate safety information: lightning policy, emergency information, shelter location.
3. Employ waivers and releases in contracts, entry forms and rental agreements: forms for players, golf car operators, non-players, events and tournaments.
4. Author written polices and procedures: formal policies and procedures to help employees address foreseeable situations.
5. Acquire lightning protection equipment: use the advances in technology to detect severe weather and evacuate the course.
6. Solicit safety feedback from players: make golfer surveys, customer comment cards or golf car feedback cards available to patrons.
7. Post golf course rules and regulations: rules the golfer must follow regarding alcohol consumption, dangerous behavior and horseplay.
8. Create junior golf safety training: get your junior golfers thinking about safety right from the beginning.
9. Post safety information on bulletin boards: post current events, pesticide applications, construction or repair warnings.
10. Use your Web site to emphasize safety: dedicate a section to player safety with information about lightning, skin cancer and yelling “fore.”
Fewer accidents means fewer claims, fewer claims means an agent, insurer and insured will be pleased with the outcome. With a little forethought and some time, money and effort, golf courses can handle the Sisyphean challenge of managing risk.
Step 5 – Get the experts involved
If golf club operators are truly interested in managing risk, they will welcome any and all advice on the subject. Whether it is because of self interest or altruism, get those golf club owners, managers, professionals and superintendents connected to risk management experts at insurance companies and consulting firms. That is where they can find the most qualified advice on risk assessment and management.
Agents are trusted, frontline personnel who have a great impact on customer decision-making and behavior. Use your unique position to champion risk management principles. Once you have their attention, help the golf club prioritize and understand the risks in its industry. Offer your experience and knowledge of risk to whet the appetite of the golf course owner, manager, professional and superintendent. The experts in the field of risk management will take it the rest of the way.
For those current and potential customers who are simply paying “lip service” to the concept of risk management, be patient. Risk management is tough stuff, especially in today’s golf market where time, money and energy is stretched thin. Don’t give up on those golf clubs. You never know when the light bulb will go on, and your efforts will be acknowledged and rewarded. Consistently beat the drum and offer regular assistance from risk management experts.
Back to mythology
You say, give me some more Greek mythology to wrap this thing up.
I say, how about Hercules?
The challenge of managing risk is a constant battle — a day to day grind full of daunting tasks. In Greek mythology terms, risk is a many-headed serpent. Think Hydra. When Hercules chopped off one head, two more would appear. Eventually, Hercules killed Hydra, but he did not do it alone. He needed the skill and guile of his nephew to slay the serpent. (Thanks again Wikipedia.)
Is comparing risk to a condemned king and mythological sea creature too far-fetched? Perhaps, but statistics, jury verdicts, tragic accidents and claims information tell us otherwise. Addressing risk is a constant battle. As soon as one problem goes away, another is there to replace it. Golf courses can conquer the Sisyphean challenge of solving Hydra-like problems … with your help.