Over the past couple of years, Town officials have been pleased to report that the Southborough Golf Club attracted increased use by the public. It appears that popularity has had a side effect, unpopular with abutting homes – an increase in the number of “errant balls”.
Making the matter worse, a policy change under Town ownership denies liability for damages to neighboring properties.
Now, the Golf Course Committee is hoping that changes to the position of two tees will help with one of those problems.
Based on the recommendation of the Golf Course Committee, the Town will hire the architect to “to shift and rebuild the tee boxes for Holes #6 and #7.” The intent is to cause golfers “to align their shots more into the course property, which should significantly reduce errant shots impacting Latisquama residents.”
Funds will come out of the revolving account for the golf course. According to a memo, the account currently has a balance of $93,591.65, which can only be spent on golf course improvements.
Last night, the Select Board approved $6,000 for design. The Capital Planning Committee is being asked to quickly vet the request to spend up to another $24,000 to construct the renovations. The Board expects to approve that piece at their September 20th meeting.
Back in 2016, residents on Latisquama Road were among those who wanted to see the St. Mark’s Golf Course (and the view) preserved. A compromise reached in 2017 allowed the Town to purchase and preserve most of the 9 hole course and still build the Public Safety Building on the site. That required changes to the first and last tee. Although the course was open for play in the following years, the revamped tees weren’t completed until the end of the 2019 golf season.
That proved to be well timed for increased use the next spring. Although, the opening of the spring season was delayed in 2020, when it opened it quickly became a popular venue. At that time most indoor entertainment venues were closed for Covid safety concerns, and more people were working from home with flexible schedules.
Meanwhile, the Golf Course Committee had ceased holding meetings. Despite the Select Board extending and revising its charge in June of 2020, the committee didn’t resume meeting until August 2021. In that meeting, the committee discussed a request submitted that summer by a resident injured by a ball. Erin Cox asked the Town to consider expanding the fence bordering Latisquama.
That fall, the committee looked into the fence to address the complaint from Cox and Latisquama residents whose property was being struck by balls. In December, Town Administrator Mark Purple told the Select Board the committee was looking into netting to reduce the occurrence.
But, based on a lack of quorum, there was another eight month gap in committee meetings. At the same time, course management continued to invest in enhancements to attract golfers. Last year, a putting green and hitting cages were added to the property. The popularity of the course continued to grow in 2021 and the additions were expected to help that continue this year.
In May, an attorney issued a letter to the Town on behalf of owners of six abutting homes that were frustrated by the lack of action on the ball issue:
Golf balls are regularly launched onto my clients’ properties as part of the day to day business of the adjacent Southborough Municipal Golf Course and I have been retained to put a stop to this intrusion.
The golf balls propelled into my client properties has damaged their cars, broken their windows, dented their siding and put them in fear of their personal safety. I trust that you are well aware of the injuries suffered by Erin Cox. Apparently, Southborough has decided to brush off my client’s concerns even after acknowledging their validity. . .
my clients should not have to fear for the safety of their persons and property nor should they be made to feel that the Town of Southborough does not respect their private property rights. This is not how neighbors should treat each other. . .
I am informed that the current golfing season began on March 25th, and that the situation remains untenable. Since the Town has acquired no rights in my clients’ properties, it is incumbent upon the Town to prevent the errant shots.
Attorney Alan Lipkind represented the owners of five homes north of the Birchwood Drive intersection that directly face the course and a sixth whose backyard abuts the north east corner of the course. Lipkind proposed that the Town could show good faith by temporarily closing the 7th tee and set up an alternative teeing area to see if it would improve the situation.
When the Committee reconvened this June, they addressed residents’ complaints. It included an issue that had previously been raised – the Town’s refusal to pay for damages cause by balls based on their insurance carrier’s rejection of claims. As recapped in Lipkind’s letter, the company had deemed that the Town enjoyed “sovereign immunity” from acts of third parties.
Minutes from the June 2022 meeting noted that residents were upset that the Town wasn’t accepting liability. Neighbors asserted that the previous owner, St. Mark’s School, had paid for damages when they occurred. (I couldn’t find any indication in recent minutes or agendas that the Town is reconsidering its responsibility to pay for the past or future damages.)
As for the safety issue, the minutes stated:
The concerns were characterized as urgent and significant due to ongoing actual and potential damage to property and harm to people. Though the primary focus is #7 tee, there were also reports of balls coming from #6 tee. . .
Several potential steps to mitigate or reduce the problem were briefly discussed (raised fencing in the affected areas, repositioning the #7 tee box, and so forth), but none seemed sufficient.
In July, golf course management noted that the increase in errant balls appears to be a natural result of increased play on the course.
Over the summer, the Committee met with the golf course architect who handled the Town’s past tee revisions. Based on that discussion, the Committee agreed that the Town should pursue changes to tees 6 & 7. The request was brought to the Select Board in last night’s meeting. Purple told the board that they are targeting getting the work done before snow comes this winter.
When I looked for more details on the issue, I learned that ball issues weren’t the only neighbor complaint.
The owner whose backyard is next to the course sent an additional letter of his own in June. Adam Engel of 21 Latisquama Road wrote that people park carts on his property while they use the 8th tee. He followed that golfers also “use the bushes next to our yard as their bathroom”, even when his family is outside.
According to the Committee’s June minutes, the management company responded quickly to install ropes to discourage golfers from parking on the neighboring property. Management promised to make the availability of bathroom facilities in the nearby maintenance building more obvious.