Golf drives a hard bargain

August 9, 2022

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By Ross Thurlow, engineering manager, EFI Global, New Zealand

In response to an allegation, forensic investigators use a wide range of techniques to explain and prove the specific circumstances that led to an incident or a loss. Determining whether evidence is credible often requires an imaginative approach, but the science and technical evidence will always prevail.

EFI Global’s technical forensic investigators work closely with other experts to thoroughly explore the basis of each claim, analyse the evidence, identify red flags, calculate damages, and provide the information that insurance and legal professionals need. While our team isn’t always connected to insurance claims, often solicitors approach us to provide expert witness reports in support of their clients’ court cases. One example involved a golf driving range. It was alleged that golf balls were regularly breaking windows on neighbouring properties adjacent to the driving range. But the owner couldn’t see how their claims were possible as they had implemented measures to ensure this did not happen.

Uncovering the facts

The driving range covered around 4/5,000 square metres and was floodlit, enabling play for around 12 hours a day. The company had resource consent with special permission for floodlighting, although the business was not allowed to operate beyond 10pm. A 20-metre-high fence had been installed to prevent golf balls from entering the boundary into surrounding residential areas. The fence measurement appeared to have adequate coverage.

The nearest neighbouring properties belonged to a retirement village. They had previously approached the owner to purchase the driving range — which the owner turned down. Not long afterwards, the retirement village began claiming that golf balls were flying over the fence and had broken windows on some nearby properties.

The management team subsequently changed all the golf balls to a low compression model, which doesn’t travel quite so far. However, the reports of breakages continued. The driving range owner became suspicious, and when he discovered the retirement village was taking their case to the environmental court, he decided to fight his corner. His lawyer approached EFI Global for technical support.

We were asked to investigate the feasibility of golf balls hit by players on the driving range going over the boundary fencing and damaging nearby properties in the neighbouring retirement village.

Model player

Firstly, we designed a detailed, three-dimensional computer model of the driving range with a specific hyperbolic trajectory programme. Using this model, many of us tried, but we couldn’t get any golf balls – high or low compression – over the fence. We even used John Daly’s performance profile – winner of the 1991 PGA Championship and widely recognised as the longest fairway driver in New Zealand – in our computer programme, and it was still impossible.

We also hired the best amateur golfer in New Zealand, who plays on a plus-four handicap. We took him to the range and recorded every shot with a radar gun as we asked him to hook, slice, drive and spin the golf balls, hitting them from every possible position and angle. However hard he tried, he couldn’t hit the balls far enough to get them over the fence and into the retirement village.

Given the overwhelming technical and physical evidence, we could only surmise that someone was taking balls from under the driving range side of the fencing and then manually causing the alleged property damage.

Case closed

The driving range owner had his day in court, and the engineer representing the retirement village was confronted with our extensive and indisputable evidence. Given the science, maths and calibration, the geometry confirmed way beyond reasonable doubt – it was impossible that any type of golf ball hit by any level of player on the driving range could have breached the safety fencing and broken neighbouring property windows. Our client won his case, and the retirement village faced a substantial legal bill.

Forensic investigations involve a wide range of techniques to explain and prove the specific circumstances that led to an incident or a loss. The driving range example is one of many that proves that science and technical evidence will always prevail. EFI Global’s technical forensic investigators are committed to thoroughly investigating the basis of each claim and working with all stakeholders to achieve one common goal: the successful resolution of the claim in the shortest time frame possible.

For more information about EFI Global’s capabilities in New Zealand, please read the brochure or contact [email protected].

Tags: Engineering, Forensic, forensic accounting services, forensic advisory, forensics investigations, Investigation, investigation services, Investigations, investigators, New Zealand, Property, Property claims, Property damage, View on property