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Inside the embarrassing—and irresistible—world of viral golf fights

October 26, 2023
The Rise in Viral Golf Course Fights

Have you ever seen regular people fight? Not trained boxers, actors or their stunt doubles but regular people. They look ridiculous. Dress them in pastels, golf shoes, loud belts, and put them on a golf course, and they look even sillier.

A video of two guys from Cranbourne Golf Club outside Melbourne, Australia, went viral in November 2022 for such an encounter. For a moment, their foreheads briefly touched as they stared into each other’s eyes while spewing streams of profanity. The middle-aged guy wore a red polo with black shorts that revealed shins nearly as pale as his white belt. He had removed his golf glove as if readying to slap the older man, who held his ground while simultaneously holding on to the handle of his pushcart with his gloved hand. No violence occurred, unless you count the older man smashing his pushcart with his club when he duffed his next shot moments later.

Why were these two fighting? Apparently, the older guy was unhappy with the movements of spectators following another group and had screamed, “This is bullshit! This is the club championship!” during a three-minute tirade. “I’m 61 years old!” he said before unleashing a flurry of expletives that would make Andrew (Dice) Clay blush.

In reporting this story, we heard some doozies, like the golfer who got tossed into a pond in Madrid, or the crack about someone’s wife sleeping around at a western New York club that led to punches thrown and three-month suspensions, or the booze-fueled club board meeting in Minnesota regarding re-grassing the course that resulted in a male member getting kicked out for his foul-mouthed tirade toward a female member—and the fairways eventually being replanted with bentgrass. However, this isn’t some golden age of golf fights—just the product of living in the modern age. Cellphones can capture videos in an instant, and social media allows people to spread things to the masses just as quickly.

Golf doesn’t have the level of trash talk that’s accepted in basketball or football, so these rare glimpses of “ungentlemanly” behavior are reasons to rubberneck. A video of golfers squabbling is a guaranteed hit, even if there’s no actual hitting. Of course, these incidents can escalate beyond F-bombs and empty threats. Gruesome headlines abound, like “Massachusetts man bites off golfer’s finger during fight” in 2018, or “Mississippi man bites off golfer’s nose over game” in 2022, both of which resulted in felony mayhem charges and lawsuits. Fortunately, most of these fights don’t end with someone going to jail or losing a body part. Less serious incidents, however, can involve physical altercations and often have the same catalysts—slow play and gambling. “We had a calcutta once and a disagreement about ownership of a team,” says one general manager of a Midwestern public course. “I heard a commotion in the golf shop and looked outside to see two big guys going at it on the porch. Fortunately, they stopped when I ran out screaming, but both walked away with scrapes on their faces. We decided to hold the calcutta off-site going forward.”

Lest you’re tempted to judge, incidents like these aren’t reserved to public courses. A director of operations at an exclusive club in Westchester, N.Y., where the initiation fee is north of $100,000, has stories for days. “I don’t even know where to start. Every day something happens that you have to laugh at.”

These include one member chasing another while promising to kill him with his putter over what he thought was a questionable drop. Another threatened to throw a fellow member off a clubhouse balcony at a recent member-guest because he dared to talk to another golfer’s caddie, asking if there was anything he could do to speed up play. In one instance, just the act of complimenting someone’s outfit on the range—“You’re looking very GQ today!”—was perceived the wrong way and led to an on-course dispute that spilled over into the locker room after the round. Sometimes the alpha traits that make people successful in their careers can’t be turned off.

“It’s just hubris,” the director of operations says about the club’s membership. “They think they’re gods. They don’t think they’re going to die or anything bad is going to happen to them. They just love complaining about something, but it’s all about trying to determine who’s tougher. The next thing you know, they’re having lunch together.”

Tracking down details of golf-course fights is difficult. The people involved almost always want to move on or at least remain anonymous, resulting in a trail of “no comments.” Apparently, the first rule of golf fight club is that you don’t talk about golf fight club. The original Cranbourne Golf Club video that went viral has long been scrubbed from the Internet, but if you dig, you’ll find versions and plenty more like it.

‘Dude, we could go viral!’

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April 21, 2023, was a Friday afternoon like most at Cleveland Heights, the Lakeland, Fla., muny that has 27 holes and does more than 80,000 rounds a year. The tee sheet was packed, the sun was out, and the weekend was starting early for Jacob Guzman, who was enjoying his day as he got to the second hole on the “C” course and heard some yelling. A heated argument was developing between two groups on the tee box of the “B” course’s ninth hole, and so Guzman whipped out his phone. On the previous hole, the short, 464-yard par-5 eighth, one golfer had hit into the group ahead. In retaliation, someone in that group ran over the golf ball with a cart. As the two groups met on the next tee, tempers flared. “We’ve got a fivesome in front of us! We can’t go any faster!” It’s a phrase every golfer has exclaimed in frustration at one point. As the altercation of punches and kicks began, Guzman can be heard saying, “Dude, we could go viral.” Go viral they did, with the video racking up more than one million views within a few days before TikTok took it down because of a “violence guideline violation.” It remains on multiple Instagram accounts.

Cleveland Heights will celebrate its centennial in 2025, and employees lamented that a course with strong ties to the community was drawing national media attention for the wrong reasons. “It ended quickly, nobody got hurt, but people felt bad,” one course employee says. As for those involved, they avoided police charges, but they didn’t finish another hole, and all have been given a lengthy ban. “We don’t want to see them, and I don’t think they want to be seen either because they’re embarrassed,” another course employee says.

FIGHTING AND EVEN JUST VERBAL ASSAULTS CAN LEAD TO BEING BANNED FROM A COURSE OR LOSING A CLUB MEMBERSHIP.

Of course, it’s possible the pandemic golf boom has brought new people to the sport who are not as well versed in the game’s etiquette. Dr. Bhrett McCabe, a sport psychologist whose clients include Jon Rahm, says the American Psychological Association has measured stress levels at all-time highs the past three years. Increased alcohol consumption and heightened political tensions during that time provide a potentially explosive combination. “Everybody’s polarized; everybody’s me against you,” McCabe says. “It’s unfortunate because we’ve lost civility to some degree.”

Golf is inherently frustrating, and slow play is a dangerous addition for those who already have a short fuse. The “Fistfight at Denver’s Fossil Trace” in 2016 is just one example. It’s a classic of the genre involving a golfer hitting into a group in front but with a twist. One party claims the golfer who hit the shot in question was only 12 and wasn’t trying to send a message to the group ahead. He just happened to connect for the shot of his life on the finishing hole. However, Justin Abrams, who recorded the fight, says it was the culmination of a threesome’s frustration from being stuck behind what they perceived as a slow foursome for the entire round. All we know is that someone from the threesome hit a “laser” from the fairway into the foursome on the green, and chaos ensued.

One adult golfer from each group squared off in a bout that featured several landed punches (a rarity) before the two fighters suddenly ended things with a cordial handshake (also a rarity). The authorities weren’t called, but those involved in the fight were banned from the course.

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A similar situation happened in June 2023 at Eaglewood Resort & Spa in Itasca, Ill., after one golfer didn’t appreciate how close a drive from the group behind him landed. He picked up the golf ball—a surefire way to spice up an interaction—drawing two golfers to get in his face. Cursing, threats, gesticulations and even an all-time fuhgeddaboudit followed, but no punches were thrown, and eventually tempers settled down for both groups to continue playing and complete their rounds. Shaun Berendt recorded the scene, sent it to the popular Instagram account ZIRE Golf and—boom—it was getting picked up by golf outlets everywhere within hours.

‘You’re a thief, man! You’re a cheat!’

Tensions can spill into post-round drinks, as the world saw at South Africa’s Lake Club Benoni. The video dates to the club championship in March 2019. Inside the club bar, one golfer accused another of cheating.

“You’re a thief, man,” a guy in a white T-shirt said across a crowded room. “You’re a cheat!” As he stepped back from the bar, his target emerged. Both guys had already changed into flip-flops. “I don’t care, I’ll call you that to your face. Because you’re a–.” The accuser, however, didn’t finish the sentence before he was head-butted, causing him to fall backward into a window and shatter the glass. The accused continued his retaliation with an overhand slap to the head with his right hand and three uppercuts with his left before stopping and being pushed away by a woman. “He’s never going to play golf here again,” the downed accuser muttered as he stumbled to his feet. Someone else exclaimed, “I got it on camera!” just before the end of the video.

The club wasn’t as excited about the video evidence making the rounds. “It is very unfortunate that the video has gone viral as this is a once-off incident and is not indicative of the fellowship we have at our club,” the club said in a statement. “Urgent meetings to discuss the way forward have already taken place, and we can assure you that the situation will be dealt with both fairly and promptly.”

“A club should not be held accountable for some idiot members’ lack of good sense, but how the club responds to these situations can impact the club’s reputation,” says a head pro at a private club in South Carolina. “I can understand why these clubs don’t want to discuss these nasty incidents and have to explain their actions.”

Sometimes the most painful—and longest lasting bruises—from these scuffles are to a person’s reputation. Fighting, and even just verbal assaults, can lead to being banned from a course, losing a membership at a club, and can even prevent getting accepted at another club.

Recently at a prestigious club that has hosted several major championships, a golfer hit into the group ahead, not once, but twice in nine holes. One of the folks who experienced a tee shot sailing over his head was a “Saturday Night Live” actor. When the groups met at the bag drop at the turn, it’s unclear if the long-hitting and physically intimidating golfer recognized the comedian, but if he did, it didn’t stop him from trying to pick a fight. Like a boxer with his words, the comic more than held his own verbally. No one recorded the incident on their phone, but security cameras were rolling. News of the confrontation spread, and it wound up costing the aggressive golfer, then a junior member, his full membership. “This reminds me of the road-rage phenomenon,” says Dr. Jeremy Pollack, a social psychologist and conflict resolution consultant in Miami, after reviewing several viral on-course fights we showed him. “I think people aren’t feeling physically threatened. They’re feeling sort of ego threatened.”

ONE MEMBER CHASED ANOTHER WHILE PROMISING TO KILL HIM WITH HIS PUTTER OVER WHAT HE THOUGHT WAS A QUESTIONABLE DROP.
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Pollack says it’s important to remember that people often have something else going on in their lives causing stress. How do you diffuse these episodes, which Pollack calls “acute escalated conflicts”? It’s tricky, especially because time isn’t on your side, but a little compassion can go a long way. “Your best bet is to figure out how to get someone to feel respected as opposed to disrespected,” says Pollack, who specializes in resolving workplace conflicts. “Just saying out loud, ‘I’m sorry if it seemed like I disrespected you’ can calm someone down because the whole perception is, ‘This guy’s disrespecting me.

He thinks he’s tougher than me. He needs to get taught a lesson.’ You need to convey that you know you made a mistake, and you don’t need to be taught that lesson.”

If you happen to witness an incident that’s about to escalate—and don’t feel like you’re in imminent danger—Pollack advises trying to get in the middle, putting your hands up and reminding the parties involved that fighting isn’t worth it. If that doesn’t work, Pollack suggests something simpler. “Just yell, ‘Security’s coming! Security’s coming!’”

Fortunately, it usually doesn’t come to that because these situations rarely result in physical violence. As Pollack points out, most people don’t want to be involved in an actual fight no matter how tough they act. Judging by these videos, that’s certainly true of golfers—well, most golfers.

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‘Stay down, you’re going to get f—ed up!’

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Two of the wilder fight videos we’ve seen in recent years didn’t involve slow play or gambling. But at least one, which occurred in April 2021 at the Maccauvlei Golf Club in South Africa during an outing for a local school, involved alcohol. A man accidentally left his cellphone on a hole, called it by borrowing a phone from someone else in his group, and when a golfer on another hole picked it up, he was accused of stealing. This led to a confrontation between two big dudes that wound up with one guy having his shirt ripped off and the other being briefly beaten with a flagstick. Neither were members of the club and, according to reports, curiously, neither had children at the school that was benefiting from the fundraiser. “Never in the 15 years that I’ve been here have I seen anything so barbaric taking place on the golf course,” Deon Kruger, the course’s general manager at the time, told TimesLIVE after the incident. “Our club definitely does not condone such behavior.”

The most one-sided fight we’ve ever seen took place in May 2023 at Bailey Ranch Golf Course in Owasso, Okla. The story, first reported by KTUL News sports director TJ Eckert, has two versions, but both end the same way: with a group of dads getting absolutely dominated. Remember what we said about regular guys fighting? Well, these weren’t regular guys.

According to Eckert, some golfers were upset about some kids coming onto the golf course. Some of their dads came out to defend the children, but the golfers were former mixed-martial arts fighters. What took place next looked like a scene out of an action movie with the MMA guys destroying the dads. One guy takes out three dads by himself in a matter of seconds. “You want to go down, too?” he can be heard saying in the video. “Stay down, you’re going to get f—ed up!”

Fortunately, they stayed down, but talk about walking into a buzzsaw. It’s an important reminder to be careful who you mess with anywhere. Odds are those people won’t be highly trained fighters, but you never know.

‘Call me uncle!’

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Fighting isn’t only for weekend hackers. There’s a history of it happening at the game’s highest levels, from in-your-face standoffs like Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez at the 2015 WGC-Match Play to Dave Hill and J.C. Snead throwing punches and wrestling each other to the ground on the range at the 1991 Transamerica Senior Golf Championship. Imagine if cellphones and social media had been around for that?

At a Korn Ferry Tour Monday qualifier in 2021, college golfer Luke Smith and pro Austen Dailey ended up on the ground. Smith and his dad, Oliver, who was caddieing for him, had become frustrated looking for Dailey’s errant shots. Dailey became upset that the father-son duo wasn’t helping more. Dailey says he and Oliver exchanged words, which led to Smith tackling Dailey from behind. Dailey says he didn’t fight back. Smith declined our request for an interview but last year told Mid-South View Point radio show that he’s a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt and that he put a “hostile” Dailey into a “body triangle in a seat-belt grip” to restrain him without hurting him. Smith says he told Dailey, “If you want to get up, you’re going to have to call me ‘uncle,’ ” which Dailey did. After the cops arrived, Dailey decided to press charges, and Smith was led away in handcuffs. Now an assistant pro at Cordillera Ranch, Dailey says the incident still follows him, but he can imagine how much worse the ordeal would have been if someone recorded it to share with the world. Fortunately, he also had the sense to think about the potential consequences if he had fought back harder.

While on the ground, “I was thinking how ridiculous the situation was and about all the bad things that could happen,” Dailey says. “I told him, ‘Dude, what are you doing? You’re ending your pro career before it even starts. The last thing I wanted to do was be in a fight on a golf course, at a Monday qualifier no less. I drove from California to Kansas to play seven holes.”

Within 48 hours Smith received a devastating call from the University of Tennessee at Martin men’s golf coach. “Scholarship gone. Everything was gone. No more college golf.”

‘PEOPLE AREN’T FEELING PHYSICALLY THREATENED,’ A SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST SAYS. ‘THEY’RE FEELING SORT OF EGO THREATENED.’

Smith was charged with a Class B misdemeanor, but eventually that charge was dismissed. He transferred to the University of Memphis and majored in public relations, living out a tough period in which he didn’t want to Google his name. One good thing came out of this: Smith started the Broken Arrow Foundation to help people through “random acts of kindness.”

Another round that wasn’t finished because of a fight happened during the final of the 2018 Florida Mid-Am. The alleged assault took place in the parking lot of Coral Creek Club in Placida, Fla., during a weather delay after the 16th hole in the match between Marc Dull and Jeff Golden. The trouble started on the front nine. Golden didn’t like how Dull’s caddie, Brandon Hibbs, was so chatty. On the ninth, he called a penalty on his opponent because of something Hibbs said. While lining up a putt, Golden asked Dull about the condition of the cup and some loose debris near it. Hibbs replied, “Don’t worry about it. If you’re going to make it, you’re going around it.” Golden interpreted that as Hibbs giving advice, a no-no in match play, and he informed a rules official who agreed. The loss-of-hole penalty gave Golden a 2-up lead at the turn and led to Hibbs removing himself from the match, but he remained on property. Dull battled back to all-square. During the weather delay, Golden went to his car to wait. “I didn’t even get my bag out of my car when the caddie reappeared and said he’d like to apologize,” Golden said at the time. “I was ready to put the past behind us, and he punched me in the face. I was knocked to the ground, and by the time I looked up, he was walking away, to my surprise, toward the clubhouse.”

Golden said he also injured his hand trying to brace the fall. After reporting the incident to the golf shop, the police were called, but Hibbs denied punching him, and Golden didn’t press charges. He also didn’t feel like continuing despite being so close to winning the tournament. Shaken, Golden asked Dull to concede the match. When Dull, who claimed to not know about the incident, didn’t, Golden wound up conceding the match and the championship to Dull.

By the way, these two are big-time amateur players. Golden, now a tennis instructor, played in the 2007 U.S. Open. Dull, a former caddie at Streamsong, finished runner-up at the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur. Neither wishes to talk about the day. “I will respectfully decline making any comments,” Golden says, “as I would love for this event to be way in the past.”

We’ve danced around booze’s role in these brouhahas, but one story from a public course in Ohio stands out. Head pro Jimmy Beers (yep) had double-booked outings, and when one group accused the other of drinking from its keg, it led to one golfer going to his truck and coming back waving a pistol. “I know beer is important because that’s the first thing groups usually ask about when booking an outing, but, wow, it got heated,” Beers says. “It just shows how fast things can turn.”

Fortunately, no one got hurt, so Beers can laugh about it now, but it’s a wild story you’ve likely never heard about. Why? Because it happened two decades ago. “If it happened today,” Beers says, “there would probably be 100 videos, and it would definitely be on the news.”

‘EVERYBODY’S ME AGAINST YOU,’ A SPORT PSYCHOLOGIST SAYS. ‘IT’S UNFORTUNATE BECAUSE WE’VE LOST CIVILITY TO SOME DEGREE.’

Lessons can be gleaned from these tales. Be careful about hitting into people because that’s dangerous and never ends well. Be careful who you call a sandbagger because those are fighting words. Be careful who you pick a fight with because you never know if he’s going to be a former MMA competitor. As for whipping out your phone to record a fight, we condone this because it can be helpful for the course or club. “If they’re a responsible club operator, they’re going to want to know the details,” says attorney Rob Harris, who runs the website Golfdisputeresolution.com. “Their insurance company is going to want to know also because anybody that’s victimized is going to sue anybody and everybody that ostensibly has some connection to it, including the club, even if it’s some crazy member or public participant who goes rogue.”

Have the rules of society changed so much since the “Seinfeld” finale a quarter-century ago in which Jerry, Kramer, George and Elaine get arrested for violating a “Good Samaritan Law” for filming (on a camcorder) someone getting carjacked instead of helping? Well, that’s not going to happen today. “We’ve got security cameras on property, but we can’t catch everything, and any kind of record helps,” says one general manager. “I’d love someone watching to be able to stop the altercation, but I’d also love to have the video.”

If you wind up sharing that video on social media, golf fans everywhere will love seeing it, too.