Flying balls from Palmetto Golf Course pose danger, drivers say

Golf courses minimize liability when they minimize risk, attorney says


MIAMI-DADE, Fla. – It was a scenario that stopped Oscar Freixas in his tracks.  He was driving on Southwest 152nd Street, next the Palmetto Golf Course — a stretch of road he takes often.

About the same time, there were a number of golfers on the driving range practicing their swings. All of a sudden, Freixas said he heard a loud, "POW!"  

"I said, ‘what the hell was that?'" 

Initially, he thought a rock had hit his car, but he's now convinced it was golf ball. The impact left a golf-ball-sized dent in the roof of his car -- narrowly missing his rear windshield.

Freixas said he went over to the golf course where he was told there was nothing that could be done and the course was not responsible.

The exchange prompted Freixas to take a walk along Southwest 152nd Street.  He recorded what he found on his cellphone: More than half a dozen golf balls, all of them with "Golf Miami-Dade" and "Property of Miami-Dade" stamped on them. 

He sent the video to the Leave it to Layron team.

"I think this is crazy," Freixas said.  "This is a problem [and] it's a liability."

The LITL team also came across one of those yellow, "Golf Miami-Dade" range balls when we went to check out Freixas’ claims.  

That same day, we met Oscar Patterson walking to his car. Patterson works at Jackson South Hospital, right across the street from the course.  He said his car was hit by a flying golf ball a few years ago while parked in the lot. He said it can be dangerous as cars move up and down the street. 

"I've seen the golf balls bounce and bounce all the way over," Patterson said.

The LITL team contacted Miami-Dade County Parks, which manages the course. We’ve learned the course has been in operation since the 1960s. In a statement, a Miami-Dade County spokesperson said protocols are in place to "mitigate errant golf balls."

There is a 50-foot net around the driving range at the Palmetto Golf Course; two additional nets line the 10th and 11th holes, and there are clusters of palm trees. 

"Once those balls get out, and the golf course is on notice of that, they have to do something," said lawyer Michael Flynn, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University.    

Flynn played golf in college, and still enjoys a good round.  He has also written legal articles about golf course liability. Flynn said public and private courses minimize their liability when they minimize the risk.

Flynn referred to higher fences, nets, and tighter clusters of trees — all things the county said is in place at Palmetto. But Flynn said he is concerned about the number of golf balls that have been picked up in a short period of time across the street from the course.  

"That tells me that what they're doing is not effective yet, and they need to do something more," Flynn said.

Freixas agrees with Flynn. 

"If [the net] is 50 feet, then build it 70 feet,” Freixas said. "Protect us. We are the taxpayers for the county and the state, and one life is worth so much more than a piece of net."

The LITL team reached out to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) and learned that there are approximately 1,100 golf courses in the state of Florida. We also reached out to the National Golf Foundation (NGF).  According to the NGF, there are 83 18-hole equivalent golf facilities spread out across Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, so it’s likely you’ll drive by one at some point.

Flynn said that besides calling your insurance company and filing a claim, you could go after the golfer who hit the errant ball.  You would have to find them first, and have the evidence necessary to prove your case. He also said the only difference between public and private courses is that there is a limitation on a public course’s liability.    

The county does have a form that people can fill out if they or their car is hit.  We’re told the "Notice of Accident or Property Damage" is the county’s way of recording the incident and is part of the county’s risk management protocols.

Lawyer talks about liability risks

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