Wednesday, Mar 8, 2023 10:35pm | Kevin Farley
There are a lot of people these days asking about insurance for Disc Golf. It could be a first time Tournament Director wondering, ‘Is my event is covered?’, or maybe a land owner wondering, ‘Is it okay for people to show up at my private property to play my personal course that I want to share with the community?, or a business wondering, ‘What are we liable for if we have a course built?’
There are also questions that aren't being asked, such as, ‘Am I liable if I design a course for myself, what if I design a course for someone else, or is my private course covered by my local clubs insurance?’
These are all important questions, and unfortunately they're getting posted in forums looking for help because there are so few resources out there to explain it all. The answers they get are often misleading or flat out wrong. That can be dangerous when you're the one assuming liability unknowingly.
I'm going to do my best to explain the variety of types of insurance, who's offering what coverage, and what they will and won’t cover. That said, I'm not a licensed insurance broker, you should speak to one before moving forward with an event or a course to get advice from a licensed professional. What I'm offering is a compilation of knowledge I've acquired while running Fluent Disc Sport, and through my volunteer activities in the Disc Golf world.
There are three main categories of activities within Disc Golf that we'll look at:
Like an architect, engineer, or builder, Disc Golf course designers are liable for their creations and design decisions, whether you take money for it or not. When litigation is brought, it’s common to cast lines in a few directions to see what bites. In Disc Golf’s case it’s typically against both the land owner and the course designer. Courses that are covered under a sports liability policy may cover injuries, however they do not cover negligence, errors or omissions with relation to the design. A course designer needs an E&O (Errors & Omissions) policy to protect both their own personal assets as well as the landowner. The benefit of an E&O policy is that it remains in effect for the lifetime of the course, even after the policy lapses or is terminated, assuming no substantial or material changes have been made since it was designed.
From the landowners perspective, if the designer isn’t insured, then they themselves are assuming that risk along with the designer. It will come up that that the land owner was negligent in hiring a designer that either wasn’t professionally trained, or wasn’t insured. Since there is no formal accreditation for Disc Golf course design, it falls to being insured. The onus is on the land owner to ensure they’re working with an insured designer for their own sake.
Course building is a bit different, there are a couple scenarios that each work differently. First, if you are being paid to build a course, you will need a CGL (Commercial General Liability) policy and the landowner will typically require you to provide a COI (Certificate of Insurance) listing them as a covered party. CGL covers things like damage to a clients property, third-party bodily injuries due to your work, negligence, etc. CGL can cover volunteers in some cases but you need to verify that with your broker.
Volunteers on the other hand can and often help with the construction of courses. That said, the landowner should be requiring that they sign a waiver of liability (approved by a lawyer) acknowledging that they understand what they’re doing can cause injury, etc.
All events need Sports Liability Coverage, tournaments, leagues, any practice relating to the events, clinics, etc. These policies protect the event organizers and land owners from things like injuries arising out of the event and provide medical assistance to the player.
The good news is that in some cases, this coverage is provided for through sanctioning with the PDGA, or via club membership with a provincial body like the ODSA in Ontario.
The PDGA offers coverage for all sanctioned tournament and league events in Canada and the United States. Both public and private land owners are covered under a General Liability policy. Only staff, volunteers, and registered players are covered. Spectators, vendors, etc. are not covered. They charge a $50 fee to provide a COI (Certificate of Insurance).
The Ontario Disc Sport Association (the provincial body for Ontario, Canada) offers member clubs or associations a blanket $5m group amateur sports general liability insurance policy through BFL Canada. The ODSA policy covers club approved events such as sanctioned or unsanctioned tournaments or leagues. Clubs or Associations can purchase a membership with the ODSA for $30 / yr, which automatically adds them as an additional covered party.
Private Land Owners aren’t covered directly unless their event is approved or offered by an ODSA member club or association.
In other regions, check with your provincial or state representative bodies and they likely offer something similar.
The most misunderstood category is Casual Play. These are players heading to the local course with their kids for an afternoon round, or meeting up with a couple friends for a tag round, etc. Casual play is 99% of the rounds played and is not covered under ANY of the previous policies I’ve covered. E&O covers design decisions, CGL covers a builder while building a course, and both the PDGA and ODSA policies outlined above are for organized events only.
Casual play requires either a general or specialized liability policy and is the responsibility of the land owner. The type and size of policy will depend a bit on the size and traffic of the venue. Only an insurance broker is qualified to advise you on this. Municipalities already carry blanket policies for all of their recreational assets and so public courses are generally covered.
Private landowners have two options to lessen their liability to a degree, but neither will cover negligence on their part in the maintenance or state of their course. There are two forms of waivers of liability, “Implied”, and “Informed”. Implied is what you find on the back of your lift pass at a ski resort, it is a publicly posted waiver that you agree to by participating. Placing a high visibility sign at the entrance to the course that players can’t miss is an example of this. Informed however is a more legally binding form of waiver and requires a signature. Instituting one of these is important for any land owner, but does not offer full protection, only a liability policy can do that.
There is a commonly spread misconception that by allowing players free access or by taking “donations” rather than running a formal “pay-to-play” course, that this shields the landowner from liability but that’s simply untrue. This tactic primarily has to deal with local zoning requirements in the municipality that allow for certain “accessory” uses of the property. This has zero effect on the need for liability insurance.
I sincerely hope this helps educate you about how important it is to have the proper insurance in place, and where you can or can not get that coverage from. I also hope it dispels some of the myths that are being spread about ways to get around purchasing insurance. There is simply no substitute and it’s not worth putting your personal assets at risk at a time when Disc Golf courses are getting substantially busier and more crowded, when discs are flying much further, and when litigation is a growing and more common risk.
Don’t forget! Talk to a licensed insurance broker, provide them the policies you have questions about and let them advise you on whether they are appropriate for your situation!
P.S. It would be great to expand the coverage of this article to include resources outside Ontario, or Canada, so please Contact Us if you can help!