Casual Legal: Golf courses and municipal liability

By Ben Throndson
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider

Alberta is home to about 300 golf courses, public and private – including several that rank among the best in the world. Many municipalities own and operate golf courses, so it is worth taking a moment to consider the circumstances in which the owner of a golf course may be found liable for a miss-hit golf ball that finds its way onto neighbouring property.

Liability depends on the facts of the case, including:

  • Where the strike occurred
  • The nature of the damage or injury (if any)
  • The specific context in which the ball was hit. 

In some circumstances, the operator of the golf course may be legally responsible; in others, it may be the golfer who struck the ball.

In situations where golf balls have damaged adjacent private property, lawsuits have often been brought against the operator of the golf course, as opposed to individual golfers. Claims have been brought in both nuisance and negligence.

Nuisance claims against golf courses arise where golf balls repeatedly land on or strike neighbouring properties. A nuisance is defined as an unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of a person’s land. The key issue is whether the interference with the homeowner’s use and enjoyment is unreasonable. The court will look at how frequently golf balls are landing on the plaintiff’s land. Hundreds of balls per year will probably be considered unreasonable, whereas 10-to-20 balls per year is likely not a nuisance.

Golf course operators have also been held liable in negligence to adjacent property owners for damage to private property caused by errant golf ball strikes. To be liable in negligence, a golf course operator must owe a duty of care and fail to meet the standard of care that is required of it in the circumstances. The standard of care here would likely be the standard expected of a reasonable golf course operator to ensure its course was reasonably safe with respect to adjacent properties.

Therefore, golf course design and preventative measures like nets and landscaping are relevant. Once the golf course operator becomes aware that balls are regularly straying off course and possibly causing injury or damage, the operator has an obligation to take reasonable steps to address the risk to prevent possible injury or damage to others.

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.