Two years ago, Islington G&CC in Toronto’s west end decided it had enough of a battle with a litigious neighbour who was PO’d by golf balls landing on his property. The neighbour sued and won, and the club finally decided it had no alternative and erected several huge towers and black netting designed to keep golf balls from landing on the disputed land. Needless to say it was a huge erection (I couldn’t resist), but in the end the poles and the netting was less intrusive than anyone expected. A column I wrote on the case is here.
Now Weston is following Islington’s model, having decided that it needs to allow members to hit woods on its range and if that’s the case, it needs some massive metal poles and netting to limit the possibility of lawyer’s fees. Turns out they’ll need to have those lawyers ready anyway, as this morning’s Globe and Mail indicates:
Neighbours have been trying to fight the move, which the golf course says is necessary for safety reasons in the wake of a recent court ruling against a nearby golf club over wayward golf balls.
City officials say the golf course doesn’t need a building permit and is within its rights to build the new barrier, which towers over nearby houses.
Mario Mastrangelo, 50, who has lived in a modest bungalow backing onto the course for 40 years and even caddied there as a child, said a pre-existing, 12-metre-high chain-link fence was enough to keep golf balls out his backyard. Now, in addition to the spoiled bucolic view, he believes the value of the house, where he still lives with his 78-year-old mother, will plummet.
The comments are intriguing, considering a court ruling indicated a club had to do whatever it could do to prevent golf balls from ending up on neighbouring properties or perhaps lose a court decision, as was the case with Islington. So Weston determined it would be preventative, but it still has angry neighbours — apparently you can’t win. Mastrangelo, the neighbour who seems most vocal, points out some of the high profile members, in an apparent attempt to embarrass the club.
“The guys that come here and play golf, and it’s fine and dandy, how would they like it in their backyard?” asked Mr. Mastrangelo, pointing out that former Ontario premier Bob Rae, elected last week as a federal Liberal in Toronto Centre-Rosedale, is a member of the club, as is CBC News anchor Peter Mansbridge.
Mr. Mastrangelo, who wonders what would happen if one of the metal towers fell on his house, says he is among several neighbours considering legal action against the club. He says they have contacted a couple of lawyers to look into their case. Complaints to the course’s managers have gone unheeded, he said. “They’ve been very arrogant.”
I don’t know about arrogant, but that’s always an easy charge to level against a private golf club, generally considered a bastion of the elite. I don’t think arrogance has anything to do with it. Rather, it has to do with the reality of court decisions regarding city courses and nearby properties. That seems to be the case with comments from the club, who had a golf architect (Doug Carrick, who works with Islington) and legal advice.
The club’s president, businessman John Latimer, said a lawyer and a golf-course architect advised the club to install the new barrier in the wake of a 2005 court ruling against the Islington Golf Club after a legal battle with one of its neighbours over errant golf balls.
While still known as woods, the clubs that golfers use off the tee for distance are now made of high-tech materials; as a result, Mr. Latimer said, golfers are hitting much farther than they did in 1975, when he first joined the club.
“Golfers today sure hit the ball longer than I’ve ever hit it,” he said, acknowledging that the new barrier, which he said is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, will also allow members to use longer-hitting clubs.
Mr. Latimer said the club had a meeting with neighbours before it went ahead with the taller barrier, and has modified its design somewhat, using fewer poles than originally planned. He said there was no other way to accommodate the driving range.
“The poles are black, the netting will be black, so that tends to make things, I won’t say disappear but, less conspicuous,” Mr. Latimer said. “But there’s no question that if you are backing onto it, initially, now you can see it.”
I`d guess the chance of the neighbours winning this one are nil, but I`d also guess we haven`t heard the last of this one.