When a Hole in One Becomes a Legal Issue

June 24, 2009

Last week I had the opportunity to get out of the office and enjoy an afternoon playing golf. I was invited to play in the Lampeter-Strasburg Football Booster Club Golf Tournament at Meadia Heights and it was a great event that supported a worthy cause. During the dinner that followed the tournament, an interesting conversation arose regarding the hole sponsors and the prizes offered for things such as a hole in one. In this event, as in many golf tournaments, a car was offered as a prize for a hole in one on the par 3, 18th hole. The owner of the dealership who offered the prize was seated at our table and commented on the importance of removing the car and the signs offering the prize from the course immediately following the tournament. This caused some to look at me and ask why. 

In fact, Pennsylvania Courts have addressed this issue a number of times and the Court has taken the position that if a prize (cash or a car) is offered in exchange for the performance of an act (hole in one), then a valid contract exists and when the hole in one is made, the prize must be awarded. This is true even where the person who makes a hole in one is not part of the original tournament in which the car was offered. If it cannot be determined from the sign offering the prize that it is limited to a specific time or a specific tournament, then anyone who performs the act of making a hole in one is eligible to claim the prize.

Not all of the judges who heard this case, however, were in agreement that the car should be awarded for the hole in one. In fact, Judge Zoran Popovich wrote a dissenting opinion in the case mentioned above and it was his opinion that the act of hitting a hole in one is such a chance event in which skill is an almost irrelevant factor, that when you combine the chance or luck event of hitting a hole in one with the entry fee of the tournament and the prize of giving away a car for a hole in one, that you have all the necessary elements of gambling, which is illegal in this fashion in the State of Pennsylvania. I am sure those who have had a hole in one take issue with Judge Popovich’s opinion that little or no skill is involved. 

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, this issue was not of concern at this tournament as no one hit a hole in one at Meadia on Monday. Thanks again to the Lampeter-Strasburg Football Booster Club, the tournament organizers and the L-S football players and cheerleaders. It was a great community event.

For all of our readers who are golfers, check out this interesting video of a shot made by Vijay Singh during a practice round on the 16th hole at Augusta National. Is it skill or luck – I’ll let you be the judge.