“Where do you play?”
It’s a question I’m asked multiple times over the course of the golf season.
Naturally, the job requires playing the occasional historic venue, and I always do so with a wide-eyed appreciation. Putting a tee in the ground at Winged Foot or Shinnecock Hills is a big deal for anyone who’s ever walked into a daily fee pro shop with a Groupon certificate in hand.
I’m the golfer who speeds down the Hutch and looks out the driver’s-side window at Quaker Ridge Golf Club with a measure of envy. I’m the guy who looks for titanium deals on clearance racks in stores that cater to the masses. I’m the golfer who politely applauds the privileged few who understand the importance of preserving the history and traditions of this game.
And right now, I’m a little worried.
Quaker Ridge is fighting a lawsuit filed in 2010 by Leon and Gail Behar, who built a $3.7 million home adjacent to the club’s second hole. I’m not going to minimize their constant fear. Errant golf balls in any number present a clear and present danger.
Maybe the club should’ve been immediately proactive in mitigating the issue after the Village of Scarsdale and the developer failed miserably to make prospective buyers aware. But the fact is, measures are in place to limit golf ball incursions.
Golfers on the left side of the 40-foot screen have to recognize that game-improvement technology is putting more homes at risk. Neighbors on the right side of the net have to realize that members trend more toward Charles Barkley than Bobby Jones when it comes to swinging a golf club.
“We’re all surrounded by expensive homes,” said one Westchester club manager who asked to remain anonymous. “And, as a rule, a high percentage of our golfers suck.”
Over the last four years, two justices have ruled in favor of Quaker Ridge on four separate occasions.
A panel of appellate court judges reversed course on June 18, and there has been significant hand-wringing since. A permanent injunction is forcing Quaker Ridge to close the second tee. Members and guests are now playing from the edge of the fairway directly across from the Behar property.
If the appeals process fails to yield another reversal, the family is entitled to seek damages.
Legal experts and golf advocates worry the case will become a precedent, making it easier for homeowners in New York state to prove nuisance and trespass when they sue.
“What might happen to those public and private courses that can’t afford to fight?” Quaker Ridge President Marc Friedman said.
It’s a frightening scenario for an industry that’s already contracting due to the economy and waning interest. Taxpayers could ultimately be on the hook for corrective measures at public facilities. Clubs in dire financial straits could cease operation.
Go a step further. What’s to prevent a neighbor who is unhappy with the noise and traffic after moving next to a school from suing? Isn’t that a nuisance? Have you ever seen a foul ball from a Little League game break a windshield?
At some point, common sense needs to prevail.
The judges have to come play Quaker Ridge, then visit the Behars and enjoy a backyard cookout. Anyone who truly believes the members are willfully disturbing the family’s peace of mind hasn’t looked at the protective measures that are in place. The backyard is situated about 115 yards from the middle of the second-hole tee box. Quaker Ridge has planted a row of maples on its side of a 40-foot screen, and the Behars have planted a stand of evergreens.
Inducing the kind of towering slice needed to carry the barrier requires a fair amount of power, and I cannot believe the situation hasn’t improved to at least a tolerable level.
Changing the design of this famous A.W. Tillinghast gem would be a crime. It’s darn close to original. Any movement of the tee box would significantly alter the character of the hole, which opens a particularly difficult stretch on a course that ranks among the nation’s best.
Quaker Ridge is historic and has to be preserved as it stands.
I play at Centennial. I play at Saxon Woods. I play at Patriot Hills.
And if there’s any room on the rope in this legal tug of war, I’m pulling heart and soul for Quaker Ridge.
Reach Mike Dougherty at email@example.com.