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June 11th, 2003 Emilie Raguso | News Stories
 

The Dimpled Menace

A local family is teed off by a hail of golf balls.

     
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UNDER FIRE: Gail Halladay with part of her golf-ball collection.
IMAGE: STEPHEN VOSS
On the surface, Gail Halladay's Beaverton home is a suburban Eden. Chirping birds and skittering squirrels find refuge in the tall Atlantic cedar that shades the fenced ranch house, whose sprawling, Japanese-style garden--resplendent with 70 rose bushes--holds promises of topless sunbathing and open-air lovemaking.

But, in fact, this house is under siege. "We're being violated in our home by unknown strangers, not knowing when the bomb is going to hit next," Halladay says.

She's talking about golf balls.

Originating from the Portland Golf Club next door, off-course slices from the fifth hole's fairway sail almost daily over Halladay's fence.

Since they moved into their home three years ago, Halladay and her family (husband Kerry LaFord and son Josh) have been subjected to a withering aerial bombardment. By Halladay's count, the tally is 201 balls and climbing. "You almost dread the nice days," she says.

Typically weighing 1.6 ounces with a maximum speed of 250 feet per second, golf balls can inflict serious injury. They have damaged Halladay's roof and fence. Cars in their driveway, located approximately 200 yards from the tee, have suffered a shattered windshield and a busted taillight.

Last spring, Halladay, who works at home, heard the tell-tale thunk of yet another impact and went to investigate. As a self-proclaimed "die-hard animal lover"--who owns three dogs and two cats and feeds a feral raccoon every morning--she was horrified to discover at her feet a dead squirrel, felled by a dimpled missile.

The next victim was the family's 78-pound boxer, Sam. According to Halladay, Sam's cyst, which until then was manageable, swelled up after being struck by a ball in April. Although the vet called the cause of the inflammation inconclusive, the family blames the club's projectiles.

"Since these balls can hit anytime in my yard," Halladay told WW by email, "the sheer terror of the random hit becomes overwhelming."

Halladay and her husband knowingly assumed a degree of risk when they moved in--after all, the house is next to a golf course. But because the property had been largely vacant before they bought it, they were never warned about the balls' impact.

And advances in golfing technology may be making things worse. Design modifications generally allow "new, hot balls, when hit by a driver, to cover up to 50 more yards than they could five years ago," according to Bob Baughman, a golf specialist at Copeland's Sports downtown.

At first, the private club reimbursed Halladay for damages and planted trees along their perimeter. The club's management even redesigned the fifth hole in October, after Halladay's ball toll topped 150. But when the hole reopened in March, the bombardment recommenced. More than 50 balls have careened onto Halladay's property since then (she logs each one into a database that includes its identifying number, its target, and comments from club management in response to the volley).

Recently, the couple retained attorney Christopher Lundberg in hopes of finding a solution. Since Lundberg stepped up to the tee, the club has taken a stingier attitude toward compensating the besieged family.

"Based on our investigation, Portland Golf Club has fully reimbursed the LaFords for certain property damage that may have been caused by errant golf balls," says Ron Williams, president of the Portland Golf Club, in a recent written statement. "There is no credible evidence supporting their [other] claims or remedies."

The club has, however, recently agreed to consider mediation. In the meantime, Halladay and her family will be spending another summer indoors--just to be safe.

 
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