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Hitting Hazard : Courts: Couple say the threat from golf balls makes their home unmarketable.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s not just that misfired golf balls regularly pelt Marshall and Marilyn Italiano’s back yard from the Fullerton Municipal Golf Course next door, the couple say.

It’s not just that the rain of golf balls is so bad that the couple no longer throw family gatherings, with Grandpa firing up his crepes and Grandma making her famous Chinese chicken salad.

It’s just that the Italianos, both in their 60s, want golfers to stop duffing shots into their back yard, vegetable garden and pool so they can try to sell their home and retire elsewhere in peace.

On Aug. 11, the Italianos filed suit against the city and the golf course managers in Orange County Superior Court, contending that the family is “in extreme fear for their lives from the dangers of golf balls and golfers.”

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For 23 years, errant golf balls have shattered their windows, their glass doors, their sense of tranquillity, the Italianos say. Golf balls whiz by them almost daily, ricocheting off eucalyptus trees like bullets and sounding like rifle fire.

Once, they rushed their son-in-law to the hospital for 20 stitches after a golf ball smacked him in the eye while he was napping in the bougainvillea-entwined back yard. Five years ago, a golf ball broke a bedroom window, showering glass over their sleeping 1-year-old grandson, who was uninjured. Golf balls have soared over their two-story house and dinked the windows of Marilyn Italiano’s Cadillac.

“When you live on a golf course, you accept the responsibility of an occasional golf ball,” said Marshall Italiano, 64, a retired supermarket executive vice president. “It becomes dangerous when there’s so many golf balls coming at you at such a tremendous velocity that it becomes life threatening.”

The Italianos and their lawyer say they have tried repeatedly to work with American Golf Corp., which contracts with the city to manage the golf course. But the golf course managers have refused to cooperate, they say.

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City Manager James Armstrong declined comment, saying the city has nothing to do with golf course operations and referring questions to American Golf Corp. The city gets a couple of complaints each year from residents about golf balls, Armstrong said, about the same number from people who want their trees trimmed so they can have a better view of the 18-hole course.

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American Golf Corp. officials declined comment.

On Mesita Place, a cul-de-sac that backs up to the golf course, Clair Brumbaugh said he finds one or two golf balls in his back yard every couple of years. He hears only occasional grumblings from neighbors about the problem.

“Someone would have to hit one pretty wild to get it into my yard,” he said.

But the Italianos say their house is closest to the greens; their back yard is about 100 yards from the eighth-hole tee.

The couple say they have spent more than $10,000 putting up nets and other barriers, which intercept some but not all of the golf balls. Their four-bedroom house overlooks the golf course on a 40-foot-high slope of lemon, peach and plum trees that the Italianos have stopped picking because they say it is too dangerous to venture down there.

In the past three years, changes in the golf course design have made the situation worse, the couple say. For instance, golf course managers have moved the eighth-hole tee closer to their property, added sand traps and widened a stream along the fairway. Now, they say, golfers on the par-three hole aim their drives away from the sand traps and stream--and toward their property.

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With their five children grown, the Italianos had hoped to sell their property and move to a smaller home. But they worry that their property has become “virtually unmarketable.”

In the lawsuit, the Italianos ask for unspecified damages and reimbursement for the protective devices and other expenses.

It’s bad enough, they say, that their youngest son was robbed of a childhood in his back yard. When he played outside, they made him wear a padded helmet; when his friends came over for parties, the Italianos had their parents sign liability release forms. Now, the Italianos say they are being robbed of their retirement.

“I have no animosity, I’m not vindictive,” Marshall Italiano said. “I’m just trying to earn my right as a property owner to have peace of mind.”

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Driven to Court

Errant shots from the eighth tee of Fullerton Municipal Golf Course have prompted homeowners Marshall and Marilyn Italiano to file suit against the course. More than 1,000 shots have fallen in their yard. Here’s why:

Sources: Attorney Susan F. Neal

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