Quaker Ridge Golf Club is a secluded private club in Scarsdale, N.Y. It was designed by A.W. Tillinghast, the architect of the neighboring Winged Foot Golf Club, which hosts this year’s United States Open Championship.
Golfers who know great courses debate whether Quaker Ridge, which opened in 1916, seven years before its better-known cousin, is the superior course. But one area that sets Quaker Ridge apart is its second hole. A slight dogleg right with out of bounds on the right, it’s ranked by course raters as the fifth-toughest hole on the course.
But it may rank first in the metropolitan region for angry, litigious neighbors who don’t want balls hitting their property. The house on the right, where poorly struck shots have landed, has been the subject of litigation and mitigation for about 10 years.
The house is now hidden behind gigantic, mature trees moved there from other parts of the course after the owner sued. They serve to barricade the house, as does a net the club had installed. (The owner is not a member.)
Still, balls fly into the yard. So now, to keep better track of the balls, players are handed an oddly numbered ball — 21, 55, 73 — and the number is recorded in a ledger by a marshal. When the hole is done, players put the numbered balls in a bin on the third tee and resume using their own ball.
To some who live on courses, balls screaming into the begonias are the cost of living there. Others may not see it that way. Even some golfers who prize living on a course can become irritated when an errant shot causes damage. One way to avoid the problem is to consider the location of the property carefully.
When Jane Edwards and Lou Neudorff moved from New York to the Bay Creek Resort & Club in Cape Charles, Va., they identified some home sites with obvious problems.
“One of the lots we looked at was 50 yards from the tee box, to the right, with no trees in front of it,” Mr. Neudorff said. “I said, we can’t buy this lot, I know what will happen.”
Golf is one area in the United States that has boomed economically during the pandemic, with people working from home instead of commuting.
In June, almost eight million more rounds were played than in the previous June, a 13.9 percent increase, according to the National Golf Foundation. In golf-focused states, where living on a course is highly desirable, those rounds increased even more, the foundation found: Arizona was up 29 percent, Florida up 25 percent, Georgia up 24 percent and Texas up 23 percent.
Alas, frequency of play is not correlated with accuracy of shots.
While the foundation does not track errant shots, it does track the level of interest. That, too, has increased, with some 15 million people who had never played golf saying they were more interested in playing. And some of those novices could reasonably be linked to errant shots.
James Wiant, 65, who lives at Spanish Wells Country Club in Bonita Springs, Fla., did not take up golf until he retired several years ago from Tim Hortons, the Canadian coffee and doughnut company. Mr. Wiant said he was an avid, if occasionally errant, golfer.
He’s had run-ins. On Christmas morning a few years ago, Mr. Wiant said, he was rooting around in someone’s plantings for his ball. From inside, he heard a man yelling at him and becoming incensed as he approached the door. By the time the owner reached the door he was cursing like a sailor.
“I look up and see this guy coming through the door,” Mr. Wiant said. “He’s probably 89 years old and has a walker he’s pushing in front of him. I got my ball and ran away, saying Merry Christmas.”
But his most enduring memory is hitting not one, but two, neon-colored golf balls onto the roof of a house on the course. They clattered around and got stuck where the roof met the metal supports of the screened-in pool.
“All of my friends made fun of me,” Mr. Wiant said. “Right after Hurricane Irma I went by to see if they were blown away. I thought they’d be gone for sure. But they survived.”
He had a well-rehearsed alibi: “I’ve never met the owner of the house, and I refuse to. If anyone asks if it was me, I’ll deny it. I’ll say, who plays neon golf balls?”
Golfers would prefer to be in the fairway, not on someone’s porch. But errant shots can come from any direction.
The right side of any course is a reliable danger zone, with beginner and intermediate golfers lazily hitting balls off to the right. It’s the high slice that rises and keeps going right until it falls way off line. Beware 150 to 200 yards from the tee box. But someone who buys a house, say, 100 yards from the tee box on the left could also be in danger: This is the preserve of the duck hook.
If there is amused bafflement at the sight of a slice rising high above the trees and landing where the golfer will never see it again, the duck hook engenders no such mirth. It’s a hard-racing, soul-crushing shot often followed by expletives.
The slice may splash harmlessly into a pool or come to rest in a yard. But the duck hook is a fiercer beast, with its low, hard trajectory that can tear through screens and bruise the legs and backsides of a homeowner in the garden.
John Gracik, a retired insurance adjuster who lives 100 yards from the tee on the 16th hole at The Club at Eaglebrooke in Lakeland, Fla., thought he was safe on the left. But he has had broken windows, a damaged pool screen and dozens of golf balls to prove that hooks happen, too.
“It gets kind of expensive,” Mr. Gracik, 68, said. “But there’s not much you can do about it. We kind of accept it.”
Ms. Edwards and Mr. Neudorff of Cape Charles, Va., eventually fell in love with a lot at Bay Creek about 140 to 200 yards from a set of tee boxes. They took comfort in the stand of trees between their lot and the cart path, but their builder knew better. “He was a golfer, and he reassured me that he would site our house on our lot to alleviate fears of golf balls whizzing in,” Ms. Edwards said.
He accomplished this by building the house at the very front of their property line, which left a larger backyard. “We have berms and trees that give us privacy,” she said, “and beds that give those errant golf balls more space. He understood the situation.”
Still, Ms. Edwards said she found balls in her flower pots, while Mr. Neudorff collects at least a half a dozen new balls from his yard each week.
Buying an existing house can be trickier because any half-savvy real estate agent may not point out the flaws. Mr. Gracik said it never occurred to him that he was buying in the line of fire.
“The real estate people are pretty smart,” he said. “We walked in the front door and looked straight through, out the back, and you could see the pool, the lake and the trees on the other side. We sort of got blinded because it was such a pretty view.”
Mr. Wiant, the occasional house hitter, lives in a house behind a par-3 hole and has never been hit by an errant shot.
“The good golfers will not hit my house because they’re using irons,” he said. “The bad golfers can’t make it over the water in front of the green, and if they can’t make it over the water they can’t hit my house.”
Beyond choosing a location carefully, homeowners have little recourse if balls come flying into their yards. In many states, there’s an assumption of risk in living there.
Like many things in the good life, a bit of perspective can go a long way. Ms. Edwards said her gardening was mostly a safe avocation. But there was that time a man hit a shot close to where she was tending her flowers.
“I heard a golf cart approach and heard a guy get out,” she said. “Then I heard this long strain of horrible language. He saw me and was so embarrassed. He turned to me and said, ‘Oh, ma’am, I’m so sorry. You have a beautiful garden.’”
It all pales in comparison to one of Mr. Gracik’s neighbors in Lakeland, who came home to find an alligator in his pool. It had crawled out of a pond on the course, walked through the screen and slid from the lanai into the water.
“That’s a little scary,” Mr. Gracik said. “I’ve only had one golf ball in my pool in seven years.”