Phil Burkhardt was driving a golf cart at Morro Bay Golf Course with his girlfriend in 2008 when she spotted a drop-off at the edge of Hole 2 and screamed.
The 51-year-old Lancaster resident, playing the course for the first time, swerved to avoid a 3-foot decline at edge of the rough. The drop-off merges with a narrow rock drainage ditch next to an asphalt road.
He severely fractured the bones in his lower left leg after the cart overturned. Girlfriend Gayle Lanz only suffered whiplash.
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He settled a lawsuit with the county last year for $232,500. The county is installing a fence barrier at the edge of Hole No. 2 to prevent future accidents or injuries.
“It means a lot that they’re doing this,” Burkhardt said. “It will prevent anybody in my position, as a first-time player of the course, from this kind of injury. I could have lost my foot. I could have died.”
The 1,600-foot-long, 30-inch tall fence that lines Hole 2, located near the clubhouse, will “mitigate any occurrence in the future of an accident,” said Josh Heptig, the county’s golf superintendent. The cost of the fence project is about $7,000, he said.
“It will ward off anybody who may veer towards the drainage ditch,” Heptig said. “Our goal is that everybody enjoys the course properly.”
The course has an overall good safety history among the more than 1.8 million golfers who have played the course. The scenic links, built in 1923 as a nine-hole course, overlooks the bay and ocean. In 1951, it was expanded to 18 holes.
Attorney David Vogel said his client wanted a barrier installed as part of the settlement, though it never was an official condition of the agreement.
“Acting in good faith, the county has taken the necessary steps to build the necessary barrier,” Vogel said.
In 2000, another golfer crashed his cart near Hole No. 2. The cart’s steering column was broken, but the driver wasn’t injured. Vogel said the man had consumed a couple of beers and had forgotten about the drainage ditch.
A painful reminder
After multiple surgeries, Burkhardt said his ankle remains painful and his motion is limited. But he’s lucky to have had good medical attention from a surgeon, he said. Much of the lawsuit settlement has paid for his medical expenses.
When assessing the safety of a public course, those who are first-time players and inexperienced are most vulnerable to hazards, Vogel said.
“Those are the people you most need to protect,” Vogel said.