Man sues Coastal Carolina Univ. over golf ball damage

Man sues Coastal Carolina Univ. over golf ball damage

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Whether you're a golfer or a spectator, you know golf balls don't always go where you want them to go.

But when a ball went into one man's truck on a busy highway, he didn't go after the golfer, he went after the course owner, and he's taking his fight to court.

For years golfers have tried their luck on Coastal Carolina University's Hackler Golf Course. And for years William Wood says he's tried his luck too, not as a golfer, as a driver along Highway 544, dodging golf balls.

The 14th tee was just about 45 feet from the road, and Wood says every day was like driving through an obstacle course.

"I've noticed golf balls bounce off the road many times; I even noticed my neighbor's windshield got busted by a golf ball," Wood admits.

And he says he knows others who've been hit on Highway 544. Then in April of 2011, he says it happened to him. "I was on the farthest side of the highway; I saw the guy who hit it, and it came over and hit my truck and hit my windshield."

John Brown has lived on the other side of Highway 544 across from the golf course for seven years. He says he's seen damage to homes, and some of his neighbors have been hit by the golf balls.

"I think they need to put a up a net to stop the balls before someone can get seriously injured," John says.

William Wood went to CCU to ask for changes to the course, and money for his repairs. "The university said the law was on their side; they're big and powerful. They've got a big wallet, I've got a little small wallet, so we'll have to see, but I have fought it this far."

Wood says attorneys for the school told him any damage was unforeseeable, but he says CCU representatives were aware of previous damage complaints.

Wood says no one should be required to dodge flying golf balls while driving on a busy road; but he says CCU attorneys say the damage to his truck was his fault.

"They said I was negligent. I was gross negligent. I should have been watching out for the golfers and the golf balls coming across the highway to me," Wood recalls. "Only thing I was doing was driving to see my mom and dad."

When WMBF News went out to the course, we noticed CCU had moved the men's tee roughly 130 feet further from Highway 544, and the women and senior tee about 50 feet from the road.

Golfers tell us the changes happened within the past couple weeks, and we noticed these signs too - warning to use caution and stating that CCU and the Hackler course are not responsible for damage to adjacent property, and players are responsible for their own shots.

Wood doesn't feel the 14th tee is far enough from the road. "More needs to be done and they need to apologize for all the years they put people in danger, the stress it's caused me, and the financial hardship it's caused me."

His lawsuit seeks his repair costs and depreciation of his truck as well as additional damages and an injunction against the use of the 14th tee.

"For somebody who says, William Wood seems like a nice guy, but is he maybe trying to get money from CCU? Why wouldn't he just go after the golfer?" asks WMBF News Anchor Michael Maely.

"The golfer, he didn't mean to do it," Wood replies. "Hooks and slices are part of the game. They're so close to the road, the golf course is designed so close to the road until all golfers were hitting it over, you can't blame all golfers."

Perhaps some of the blame can be put on the course's previous owner. WMBF News did some digging and learned during negotiations for the Highway 544 widening deal, SCDOT paid $35,000 to the owner for a wall that would be on golf course property. The money was said to go toward construction and maintenance of a wall, which never happened.

Now, Wood is just hoping that by representing himself in court, he'll get safety for others. "I hope the citizens of Horry County will find in my favor, because it's helping them; they are the ones that I'm working for, not my little $300 damage to my hood. It's a matter of principal now."

Michael Maely asked CCU President David Decenzo for a comment about the 14th tee at the Hackler Golf Course, and he said, "Based on the advice of external counsel it is not appropriate to comment on pending litigation."

Wood's case has been continued several times, but he got his day in court on Nov. 12.  A jury today ruled in favor of Wood and awarded him $3,250 toward damages to histruck, to be paid by CCU.

Mr. Wood was seeking an injunction CCU to shut down the 14th hole near Highway 544, but William says the Judge told him hewasn't allowed to pursue that in this hearing. William says he is debating filing a separate case forthe injunction, since he's already done all the research, spent thousands andgathered witnesses.

As for your options, if you get hit near any golf course? Insurance agents say to check with them. Your home owner's policy or auto policy would likely apply if the golf course owner or golfer doesn't pay for the damage.

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