THE SPIN

Death, stats and hats... ad­dress­ing the key is­sues for the month ahead.

Golf World (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Bill Shankly fa­mously said that foot­ball was more se­ri­ous than life and death. But what about golf? Would you be will­ing to risk your life to watch it?

Golf fans be­ing hit by way­ward shots is not a new phe­nom­e­non. Play­ers have handed signed gloves and apolo­gies to bruised fans for decades. No one can be sure whether the re­cent spate of fan in­juries – in­clud­ing Corine Re­mande los­ing an eye after be­ing hit by a Brooks Koepka drive dur­ing the Ry­der Cup – is just a tragic run of bad luck or a sign that such in­ci­dents are be­com­ing more com­mon and in­creas­ingly se­ri­ous.

ARE THINGS GET­TING WORSE?

Golf balls are trav­el­ing fur­ther and faster than ever. The av­er­age driv­ing dis­tance on the PGA Tour is now 296 yards, up 10 yards in the last decade. 61 play­ers av­er­aged 300 yards or more last sea­son.

Driv­ing ac­cu­racy is head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Play­ers are hit­ting fewer fair­ways and miss­ing by big­ger mar­gins. Tee shots that fail to find the fair­way miss it by an av­er­age of 26’ 9”. At most cour­ses, that brings spec­ta­tors firmly into the land­ing zone, dis­re­gard­ing the fact that par­tic­u­larly way­ward drives rou­tinely miss the edge of the fair­way by 20 yards or more.

Com­bine this with fans’ de­sire to get as close to the ac­tion as pos­si­ble, and or­gan­is­ers keen to meet that de­sire to lure peo­ple away from the com­fort of watch­ing it on TV, and you end up with a sce­nario likely to breed fan in­juries.

The av­er­age ball speed on the PGA Tour is 169 miles per hour. By the time a ball lands it is still trav­el­ing at over 50mph. Get hit by that and you know about it.

WHAT IS BE­ING DONE?

“We take our re­spon­si­bil­ity for fan safety ex­tremely se­ri­ously,” said Eu­ro­pean Tour CEO Keith Pel­ley after the Ry­der Cup. “Mil­lions of spec­ta­tors at­tend and en­joy golf events each year. In­ci­dents of this sever­ity are ex­tremely rare. Spec­ta­tor safety is our paramount con­cern, and this will con­tinue to be the case.”

The R&A plans to as­sess fans’ guid­ance fol­low­ing the Re­mande in­ci­dent and care­fully plan view­ing ar­eas for next year’s Open at Royal Portrush. “Putting spec­ta­tors at po­ten­tial risk is some­thing that can hap­pen when fair­ways are lined,” says R&A Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Martin Slum­bers.

“There is only so much an or­gan­iser can do to min­imise the risk of stray balls which are a rare, but well-known pos­si­bil­ity when watch­ing golf,” says Michael Har­dacre, Head of Oc­cu­piers and Pub­lic Li­a­bil­ity at Slater and Gor­don.

COULD AN IN­JURED FAN SUE?

“There is re­spon­si­bil­ity on the part of the or­gan­is­ers,” says Corine Re­mande, who plans to sue Ry­der Cup or­gan­is­ers.

“Or­gan­is­ers of sports tour­na­ments owe a duty of care to spec­ta­tors,” agrees Si­mon Boyes, Se­nior Lec­turer at Not­ting­ham Law School. “That said, by at­tend­ing any event, a spec­ta­tor is taken to ac­cept the risks which arise as a nat­u­ral con­se­quence. A six hit into the crowd at cricket, or a shot go­ing wide at foot­ball and hit­ting a spec­ta­tor, would or­di­nar­ily be con­sid­ered as part and par­cel of at­tend­ing. Pro­vid­ing ap­pro­pri­ate care has been given to the place­ment of spec­ta­tors dur­ing a golf tour­na­ment – re­duc­ing the level of risk to the low­est which is prag­mat­i­cally pos­si­ble – it would likely be treated in the same way.”

Koepka and his fel­low pros, mean­while, are un­likely to find them­selves hauled into court.

“A player could only be held li­able where they acted with “reck­less dis­re­gard” for the safety of spec­ta­tors,” adds Boyes. “This is a high thresh­old and dif­fi­cult to demon­strate.”

WHY PROS DON’T SHOUT FORE

The Eu­ro­pean Tour has pre­vi­ously sent memos to play­ers telling them spec­ta­tor in­jury in­ci­dents are ris­ing and strongly rec­om­mend­ing they shout fore, warn­ing that fail­ure to do so will re­sult in dis­ci­plinary ac­tion. It hasn’t worked.

“On the Eu­ro­pean Tour, I’d say it’s about half-and-half be­tween play­ers that do and don’t shout fore,” says De­nis Pugh. “I’d say only 10 per cent of PGA Tour play­ers shout fore. The play­ers know there is a ben­e­fit of hav­ing gal­leries as a ‘back­stop’ to pre­vent over­hit or mishit shots go­ing fur­ther away from the tar­get.”

There are sug­ges­tions that both tours are too afraid to up­set their star play­ers to ever dish out a penalty for not shout­ing, es­pe­cially when some

‘I’d say only 10% of PGA Tour play­ers shout fore. They know the gallery can act as a back­stop for mishit shots.’

say that fans 300 yards away wouldn’t hear it any­way. A typ­i­cal shout would be au­di­ble at 39 deci­bels by the time it’s car­ried 300 yards, roughly the equva­lent of a hum­ming fridge or a stream flowing by you. In the mid­dle of a crowd of fans, there’s a chance you won’t hear that, but that chance is still higher than if there’s no shout at all.

WHAT’S THE SO­LU­TION?

These in­ci­dents are tragic, but thank­fully rare. Pro­vided or­gan­is­ers, play­ers, mar­shals and the fans them­selves are do­ing their ut­most to keep it that way, most golf fans will con­tinue to ac­cept the risk of at­tend­ing a golf tour­na­ment and hope to leave with noth­ing more than good me­mories and, at worst, a signed glove.

But we may only be one spec­ta­tor fa­tal­ity away from whole­sale changes. When a 13-year-old NHL fan was killed by a puck at game in 2002, nets were in­stalled na­tion­wide de­spite a re­port deem­ing the are­nas safe and fans op­pos­ing nets that would ob­struct views.

Hope­fully that day never comes for golf. In the mean­time, penalty shots for any player who hits a fan after fail­ing to shout fore would end the si­lence im­me­di­ately, not guar­an­tee­ing fan safety but at least giv­ing them a chance to pro­tect them­selves. Mark­ing out po­ten­tial land­ing zones may have helped Re­mande – she says that spec­ta­tors didn’t know play­ers were try­ing to drive the green where she was hit – but may cre­ate com­pla­cency among fans in un­marked ar­eas. Mar­shals should warn nearby fans if a ball is in­com­ing, but it was just five sec­onds be­tween Koepka’s shot and Re­mande be­ing hit – a short time to com­mu­ni­cate.

There is no per­fect so­lu­tion. Stand in a field where peo­ple are hit­ting pro­jec­tiles in your gen­eral di­rec­tion and there’s a chance you’ll get hit. We all take a risk ev­ery time we step onto a golf course, whether as player or fan. As Goethe said, “The dan­gers of life are in­fi­nite, and among them is safety.”

A quick apol­ogy and a signed glove is stan­dard ‘com­pen­sa­tion’ for hit­ting a fan with a way­ward drive or ap­proach.

Point­ing is all well and good, but it needs to be ac­com­pa­nied by a shout.

A sight that is be­com­ing too reg­u­lar on golf’s top tours.

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