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Golf Course Pelted with Golf Balls

In a scenario all too often encountered, this article from the Naples News presents the challenge of living on a golf course. The question becomes: What is the responsibility for the golf course to insure the safety of homeowners living adjacent to the golf course? An expert witness in golf may often be asked to render a report indicating the issues, and posing solutions to the problem, if there are any. Golf Concepts, Inc. is considered an expert in helping solve this problems presented in this area.

Thud, crackle, pop: Dozens of errant golf balls rain down on, damage Naples home


Hundreds of dimpled balls — Titleist, Maxfli, Top Flight and even yellow range balls — that come from neighboring Stonebridge Country Club every year.

Most land with a soft thud in the well-kept lawn behind William and Dorothy Abbott’s North Naples home. But some crash through their living room windows, smash garden ornaments, crack the concrete roof tiles, and rip holes through their lanai screens.

Dorothy Abbott was hit once with an errant golf ball. William Abbott, who used to wear a hard hat outside, has had close calls.

“What’s coming next? What damage are they going to do?” Dorothy Abbott asked. “We are afraid for our lives, being hit by golf balls, and being an invalid.”

For more than 15 years, the Abbotts have battled with Stonebridge, which they said has gone through at least three owners, trying to get reimbursed for the repairs they’ve had to make to their home, and ultimately to get the first hole redesigned to end the problem once and for all.

For more than 15 years, the Abbotts say they’ve gotten nowhere.

They’ve talked to the club managers and sent dozens of letters through the years. They’ve talked to lawyers, and they’ve talked to Collier County sheriff’s deputies, too.

Still the golf balls keep coming.

“I did meet with the general manager at the country club,” said Cpl. Ron Turi of the Sheriff’s Office’s North Naples community policing unit. “Unfortunately, it’s a civil situation.”

Several attempts to reach Stonebridge General Manager Doug Brown on the phone and via e-mail for comment were unsuccessful.

But according to a Sheriff’s Office incident report from last June, Brown told Turi that he didn’t have any long-term solutions. He said he’d been working with an architect to change the landscaping, but didn’t know if that would eliminate the problem.

An occasional broken window is the price you pay for choosing to live on a golf course. But the Abbotts never made that choice.

In 1979 they first visited Naples on vacation from Massachusetts. In the mid-1980s they purchased land at 1964 Bethany Place, off Immokalee Road.

When they built their retirement home in 1988, they said the area was nothing but “scraggly farm land.”

The Abbotts rented the house for about six years while they continued working at the family business up North. What is now the Stonebridge golf course was built in 1993, according to the Collier County Property Appraiser’s Office.

William Abbott recalled receiving a letter informing him about the plans for the golf course.

“I said ‘Fine, good, I don’t care,’ without ever thinking this type of thing was going to go on,” he said.

However, when the Abbotts eventually retired to North Naples in 1994, they quickly realized that things weren’t fine and good. Instead, they found their home and yard were being pelted with up to 200 golf balls a month.

The first hole, which is behind the Abbotts’ home, is short (310 yards from the green tees) and tight par-4, said Erik Peterson, the golf pro at Stonebridge.

“If they slice it to the right, we get it,” Dorothy Abbott said.

The Abbotts have spent thousands of dollars repairing damages over the years, and William Abbott said that if he ever wants to sell the house, he’ll have to spend thousands more to replace the roof.

A bookkeeper by trade, Dorothy Abbott used to keep hand-drawn maps of where each ball landed. Now she keeps the balls that land in her yard in buckets and in egg cartons, and regularly gives them away.

In letters dating to 1995, the golf course has repeatedly claimed no responsibility for errant shots by its golfers. But two local attorneys who spoke to the Daily News about the case said they believe the Abbotts may have legal recourse.

“The bottom line is, I think they would have a nuisance action against the golf course because they were there first, and they are intruding onto their property with those golf balls,” said Conrad Willkomm, a real estate attorney.

Ray Bass Jr., a civil trial lawyer, said the Abbotts may have had a nuisance claim, but probably not after 15 years. There would be a statute of limitations, he said.

But Bass said the Abbotts might be able to recover damages. They are the innocent party, he said, and it’s not an act of God sending golf balls into their yard.

“I think they have a better than average shot of convincing a judge, rightfully so, that all we’re doing is existing,” Bass said.

Despite a few shattered windows of his own over the years, Ralph Gorton, the Abbotts’ neighbor, described Stonebridge as a great neighborhood.

“I’d rather have a golf course behind me than condominiums overshadowing my property,” Gorton said.

Peterson said that on May 1, Stonebridge plans to redesign its course, which may stop balls from hitting homes.

“The first hole, they’re actually going to reshape it so the first hole is going more left, it’s aiming to the left instead of straight down the middle of the fairway,” Peterson said. “Hopefully, with the renovations, it’s going to make a big difference.”

After 15 years, the Abbotts said they’re looking for peace and quiet, and an end to it all.

“I want them to pay for the damage to my property, that’s all,” William Abbott said. “I’m not trying to be a meanie.”