If you’re new to the game of golf, you may have heard the term “Fore” yelled and wondered why. It’s not a commonly used word. Matter of face, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used outside of golf. So why do golfers use this term and why on earth do they yell it?
Golfers yell “fore” to alert anyone within shouting distance that an errant shot has just been struck and to brace for possible impact. Adding the direction the ball is travelling along with “fore” is even more helpful. For example, yelling “Fore Right” for a shot missing to the right side or “Fore Left” for a shot missing to the left side. With the speed the golf ball is travelling, this warning could be the difference between a serious injury versus taking cover and avoiding injury altogether.
When Should a Golfer Yell Fore?
A golfer should yell fore immediately after hitting a shot that is travelling in the direction of people, houses, cars, etc. If you slice a tee shot way right towards an adjacent hole, yell fore. There may or may not be people playing the hole…it doesn’t matter. Yell fore. And yell it early. Don’t wait until the ball is about to land. You want to provide as much time as possible for someone to protect themselves. As soon as you know the shot is wayward, yell fore.
Most golf courses are situated inside of neighborhoods and it’s not uncommon for houses to surround golf holes. If you hit an errant golf shot towards a house, even if you don’t see anyone outside, yell fore. Safety is the top priority here. Not your ego. It doesn’t matter if you’re a scratch golfer or 20 handicap, we all hit bad shots. Golf is a gentleman’s game and yelling fore in an attempt to protect the people around you is the gentlemanly thing to do.
Beyond just yelling fore, if I’m uncertain about a certain shot, i.e. a bunker shot, I’ll give my playing partners a “heads up” before I hit the shot. Safety first.
What Happens if You Hit Someone with a Golf Ball?
**This is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer.
Unfortunately, times will arise when even after yelling fore, someone may still get struck by your golf shot. Hopefully, this results in the person just being angry and not injured. But what if an injury does occur? Can you be held liable? This is where it gets complicated. It depends on your state laws, past precedents, golfer intent and various other factors. Unfortunately, a cut and dry YES or NO answer doesn’t exist. To attain a definitive answer, I suggest contacting a local attorney in your area.
I’m currently located in the state of North Carolina and though it seems legal cases involving golf ball injuries are sparse, I did come across one. It’s not a recent case but I found it extremely interesting. The case is titled HENRY McWILLIAMS v. GEORGE H. PARHAM, JR and was filed back in 1968. Here’s some text pulled from the case.
Paul A. Tillery testified that plaintiff was caddying for him in a foursome playing ahead of defendant and another at Carolina Country Club in Raleigh, N.C., on 29 October 1964. Plaintiff was injured after Tillery’s foursome had completed play at the thirteenth green. The witness described the thirteenth hole as being a par three hole, 180 yards long. A rough consisting of grass about four inches high separated the thirteenth and fourteenth fairways, which fairways were parallel and were played in opposite directions. There were no visual obstructions from the thirteenth tee to the thirteenth green. After Tillery’s foursome completed play on the thirteenth green, they walked toward the fourteenth tee, and the caddies walked in a diagonal direction toward the rough separating the thirteenth and fourteenth fairways. Tillery heard someone yell “fore” and about eight seconds later he observed plaintiff on his knees at a point about fifteen feet into the rough from the left edge of the thirteenth fairway on a line with the sand trap located at the left front of the thirteenth green, which is the sand trap closest to the fourteenth fairway. When Tillery reached plaintiff, he was lying on the ground moaning, with his hand over his left eye.McWilliams v. Parham, 273 N.C. 592, 593 (N.C. 1968)
The entire case text can be found HERE. It’s a fascinating read. From my understanding, the trial court ruled in favor of the defendant but the plaintiff appealed it up to the NC Supreme Court and they overturned the trial court’s decision. I’m not sure how this saga finally concluded but it just goes to show how murky a case like this can be when two courts within the same state don’t necessarily agree.
Moral of the story: Play the game safely and always take the extra precaution. Waiting an extra two minutes to hit a golf shot isn’t the end of the world.
Why Do Pro Golfers Not Yell Fore?
I’ve watched thousands upon thousands of hours of televised PGA, LPGA and European tour golf in my lifetime. I would say the majority of golfers I see hitting wild shots do yell fore. If not them, their caddy or playing partners do it. Although I would prefer if the player does it themselves, as they are the ones who hit the shot. However, over the last couple of years, a few tour pros have indeed been called out over social media for refusing to yell fore on bad tee shots. Check out the videos below.
Kudos to Rick Sheils for posting these videos and shedding some light on this issue. Another article I found involved European Tour pro Robert MacIntyre calling out his playing partner Kyle Stanley for refusing to yell fore on multiple occasions during a round and actually striking the mother of his caddie with one of the errant shots.
So why are some tour pros refusing to yell fore? I heard a theory that the players don’t yell it because they need the fans to stop the ball to prevent them from having to play the next shot from an even more precarious position. If any player thinks that way, shame on them. I’ve seen many players point their club in the direction of the errant shot as opposed to yelling fore. The club point isn’t an acceptable replacement as the fans are likely 300 yards away and amongst the trees. It’s extremely unlikely the player is in their line of sight. What I’m not against is the club point in conjunction with yelling fore. It’s actually my preferred method.
Whether the player thinks it’s beneath them to yell fore or is just too embarrassed to do so, it’s unacceptable behavior. There are literally thousands of fans attending these tournaments so the risk of a fan being struck by a golf ball is already high, even if fore is shouted. A fan actually lost an eye back at the Ryder Cup in 2018 after being struck by an offline golf shot. In this case, fore was shouted by the player but it still didn’t prevent the accident. Unfortunately, accidents like this aren’t 100% preventable due to the nature of the game with fans in attendance. But at the very least, players should do their part to help make the fan experience as safe as possible. I’m all for people like Rick Shiels or Robert MacIntyre exposing players who choose to remain silent after hitting wayward golf shots.
If you take nothing else from this article, take away how important it is to yell fore immediately after hitting a shot towards unsuspecting golfers. The threat of serious injury is present with driver golf ball speeds for the typical male 15 handicap averaging over 130 MPH and the typical female 15 handicap averaging over 110 MPH. Next time you hit that banana slice off the tee, shout “FOREEEE!” from the top of your lungs and know you’re doing your part to keep the game safe.