Golf Committee seeking to reduce “errant balls” hitting homes

Latisquama Road residents have complained of balls hitting their homes, cars, and even a resident

Above: Some neighbors who may have been happy when the Town voted to preserve the golf course view are less thrilled with the increase in “errant balls” in recent years. (images top-bottom by Beth Melo and cropped by photo on Unsplash by Peter Drew)

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.

Background

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.

Homeowners who have complained about impact from errant balls (image from Town's GIS map)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.

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Andre Fortin
20 days ago

It’s unfortunate that this issue of stray golf balls will likely divert away much needed funds for the #1 priority of the golf course’s future well-being, which is additional irrigation. You don’t need to be a golfer to tell how badly some of the holes, like #3 and #4, fare without water during the hottest months.
The parking area too could need a good paving job.
Living next to and along an historical golf course located on Town conservation land can be considered a perk for the residents from a real estate point of view, but doesn’t come without some appreciable amount of obvious risks.
That said, if people are getting hurt, and a noticeable increase in the amount of wild shots has been verified, it’s understandable for the matter to be in discussions, particularly if there is a solution that is neither overly costly nor destructive for the golf course.
Having played there for decades, and having also served on the initial GC Committee, I would like to provide some suggestions on the proposals:
#6
The upper tip area should be left alone. It’s unlikely that many balls hit from that back tee make it all the way out into the road, never mind hit a house. A ball that makes it through is the exception and not the rule. The great majority of golf balls that slice that far right end up in the high weeds, or if they still have height, will get caught by the trees and vegetation along the road. It’s also the highest, and scenically the prettiest, tee location on the golf course, offering a wonderful view of our Town. It would be a shame to kill it for no justifiable reason. (see above for acceptance of some risk when living next to a golf course).
The white tees, just below the upper back tee, is the more likely launch area for wayward shots that actually make it to the road. Even then I would venture that most golf balls that are hit astray end up in the weed field and still remain on the property.
It might be possible for the architect to direct the aim from both existing tees further left, without re-locating them, so that costs are minimized as well as the likelihood that a badly sliced ball would make it past the property.
#7
I agree that #7 would account for the most stray balls, but the great majority of them are likely caught by the fence and the high canopy of trees that line the hole in that area. But I agree that a fair share get through, and that some relief might be warranted.
The left back tee is no longer being used. The right back tee is so close to the road already, I’m not sure there is any room to move it laterally right. There might be. If so, that would help.
It’s a challenging hole, mostly due to its distance. Shortening the hole is not a good option golf wise, unless additional bunkering would be brought in to compensate, but that would be too costly.
It might be possible to alter the green by bringing in the right fringe and rough from the fence area around it, thus shifting the golfer’s aim and attention more to the left from the tee. It’s the largest green complex on the property, so there might be room to do that without disturbing the current layout too much. There’s not much room on the left side, but there could be some movement there too. The idea would be to shift the golfer’s view more left, than head on. Additionally, increasing the fence height, if possible, would help, and may not need to be too much higher.
To summarize, we should refrain from altering this venerable old course as much as possible in my view, but I support looking at options to minimize the risks to the residents living along side it. I don’t think we can totally eliminate them. Neither is that warranted in my view since it is, after all, a golf course, and some degree of risk is unavoidable.
Lastly, I wholeheartedly support the neighbor who is complaining about classless individuals relieving themselves in the bushes close to their home and next to the 8th tee. And carelessly parking carts on their property.
There is simply no excuse for that, other than plain laziness. Ignorance too, or is it stupidity, since the course bathroom is maintained and located on the way to the 8th tee. All of the above probably.
Maybe additional bathroom signs and signage would help.
Speaking of signage, I would welcome some placards next to the defined wetland areas on the course, warning people to stay out of protected habitats. Most golfers are obedient by nature, and would respect those areas accordingly. But we can’t expect them to, if they don’t know where those are. A few signs would go along way to achieve that goal and wouldn’t cost a lot.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

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