Errant golf balls make residents nervous

Living on the edges of a recently renovated 18-hole golf course might seem like the pinnacle of home ownership, but errant golf balls in one North Glendale neighborhood are sending some running for cover.

Residents in the 3200 block of La Crescenta Avenue, which demarcates the northeast perimeter of the Oakmont County Club golf course, said they have been encountering the occasional golf ball for years.

They also maintain that the incidents of wayward balls have increased dramatically since the course underwent a $4.7-million renovation in 2009, resulting in smashed car windows and near misses of students walking to and from nearby Fremont Elementary School.

Now, they say they've had enough.

“They could put in super tall trees for all I care, as long as it shields our people, namely our children, and our cars and our homes,” said Suzie Nelson, a La Crescenta Avenue resident and Fremont parent.

She finds golf balls in her yard, on the parkway, on the sidewalk and in the gutter. Once, she said, a ball flew into an interior atrium in her home, smashing a glass and startling the family turtle.

Oakmont officials noted that the fencing along La Crescenta Avenue, which is roughly 10 feet high in some sections and 30 feet high in another, is the most substantial of any on the course. Chris Westhoff, a longtime member and chairman of the club's legal committee, said most neighbors prefer minimal screening so as to maintain a clear view of the greens.

The few balls that do end up in yards represent a tiny percentage of those struck at the course, which hosts more than 35,000 rounds of golf each year, Westhoff said.

Founded in 1922, Oakmont Country Club predates many of the homes in the area, he added.

“There hasn't been a single claim of physical injury from a single golf ball ever leaving Oakmont,” Westhoff said. “We just don't know of any.”

Still, some neighbors say that with the street heavily trafficked by elementary school students and their parents during morning drop-off and afternoon pickup, it is only a matter of time. In a letter to Fremont Elementary School Principal Christin Walley, Jane Greninger recounted walking her son Jackson to the family car, parked on La Crescenta Avenue, at the end of a school day.

“As we approached our car, we saw something whiz by right in front of us, barely missing hitting Jackson's head,” Greninger said. “We saw a golf ball bounce off the bush and land by my car.... We were completely astounded and stunned. It was just unbelievable.”

The back window of one Fremont Elementary mother's vehicle was broken by a golf ball twice in three years, most recently in April. The Oakmont Country Club paid for the repairs.

La Crescenta Avenue resident and Fremont parent Edward Bash said he and others have voiced their fears to club officials numerous times in recent years, but no action has been taken to contain the errant golf balls. They are concerned a serious accident will occur before they are heard, he added.

“They don't seem to be concerned at all and it is really frustrating,” Bash said. “If a child got hit with one of those, it would be really devastating. An adult would be bad enough, but a child would be horrible.”

Westhoff said that the club takes the neighbors' concerns very seriously. Club officials have consulted with their course architect and insurance company, and have hired a consultant to study the issue further later this month. The club's insurance covers damage to vehicles, he noted, adding that purchasing a home in the vicinity of a golf course does come with inherent risks.

Additional fencing would come at great expense and require permission from the city of Glendale, he noted.

“I am not sure you could put a fence high enough to stop all golf balls,” Westhoff said. “For every precaution you take, somebody will figure out a way to hit the worst shot of their life.”

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