Living, Breathing and Insuring Golf

August 27, 2007

Indiana insurance agent Ron Smith has been playing golf since he could “breathe.” His father loved the game. His brothers love the game. His entire family loves the game. So it’s no surprise that Smith, owner of the independent agency Smith Sawyer Smith Inc., in Rochester, Ind., insures a few golf courses … including the Rock Hollow Golf Course in Peru, Ind., owned by his brother Terry Smith and nephew Todd Smith.

Terry Smith, president of Rock Industries Inc., a limestone, sand and gravel company, wanted to turn his family’s passion for golf into an 18-hole championship course the Smith family could call home. An abandoned mine quarry owned by Rock Industries seemed like an ideal spot for Terry’s dream.

“It was a sand and gravel operation and we had really taken all the gravel out, Terry said. “It had been inactive for about 20 years.”

And so that set the stage for the beginnings of what would become Rock Hollow Golf Club, a public golf course and club laid out over 300 acres of a mined-out stone quarry. Today, Rock Hollow has become one of the premier public tracks not only in Indiana but also throughout the Midwest. In 2005, Rock Hollow made Golf Digest’s “201 Places to Play”, one of only three Indiana golf courses to be named to this list. In 2004, Golf Magazine named Rock Hollow the “Eighth Best Course in the United States and Canada for under $50”.

Rock Hollow not only prides itself as a great course to play, but also on its remarkable safety record. In its 12 years in business the course hasn’t had a single insurance claim — a track record that began with its design, according to the Smith family. Everything from the course layout, to golf cart paths to the roughing of the club’s concrete floors was a strategic risk management move.

Safety begins with design
Golf, like any sport, comes with some degree of risk. Errant balls, golf car accidents, slips, trips and falls, even lightning strikes all pose risk to a golf course and golfers.

So when Terry and Todd Smith set out to construct Rock Hollow they recruited Indianapolis native Tim Liddy, protégé of world-renowned golf course architect Pete Dye, to design the course.

Mitigating the risk of exposures like slips, trips and falls on a golf course depends heavily on the initial design or layout of the golf course, Ron noted.

Terry added that the design of the golf car paths was also an important consideration for safety.

“We designed our cart paths in a way that we feel like they don’t offer a lot of risk getting in and out,” he said. “We let the carts enter the fairways at designated spots on all of our holes and we contoured the cart paths and the ground leading up to them so that you don’t run the risk of upsetting the cart.”

This attention to detail in the design phase has made the course user-friendly and safe for players at all levels, whether they are seniors or disabled. “We don’t have any place that a handicapped person can’t get to,” Terry said.

Parallel holes
The design of a golf course has a great impact on safety when it comes to potential injuries from errant balls as well, Ron noted.
“Rock Hollow specifically, as opposed to the other golf courses we insure, has a design that’s a little bit unique in that it doesn’t really have parallel golf holes,” Ron said. “So, you don’t have an opportunity, really, to hit into another group on this golf course … that negates any possibility of accidents from fairway to fairway.”

Parallel golf holes are not uncommon, Ron added. “I know of one particular golf course where the fairways run pretty much parallel back and forth, one right next to the other,” he said. “My gosh, you walk off of a green on British Open courses and there’s a tee box … those are all parallel and they’ve been playing golf on those courses for 300 years,” he said.

But in Rock Hollow’s design, the Smiths chose to avoid parallel holes to lessen the risk of injury, which can be severe. In a study conducted by Travelers last year, “Safety on the Fairway: Injuries and Losses at Golf Facilities,” struck-by-object claims were the second most costly general liability claim for the more than 9,000 general liability claims studied incurred by more than 1,400 golf courses between 1987 and 2004.

Ron added that another risk management tool that could prevent injuries on the course is signage.

“They do a great job of signage at Rock Hollow, directing players on and off fairways and on and off greens in some specific areas which are gently sloped so that, again, we’re mitigating slips and falls,” he said.

Any golf course can improve safety through signage, Ron added, regardless of the overall course design.

Ron reiterated that every aspect, from the flooring in the club house to the design of the golf course, made Rock Hollow a much safer risk than it would have been with just a design that didn’t give much thought to golfers’ traffic patterns.

Even so, the most effective way to avoid injuries on the golf course is golfer responsibility, Ron says. “If we could get people that are playing golf and that love golf just to pay more attention, I think that would mitigate a lot of the potential for claims,” he noted. “We all get absorbed into the game. And we all get absorbed into talking to our friends. But we need to make sure that we’re watching what’s going on around us.”

For the complete story on insuring Rock Hollow Golf Club, see the Aug. 20, 2007, Golf & Leisure print edition of Insurance Journal.

Or to view the exclusive video coverage on Rock Hollow Golf Club visit:

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