Apparently ‘fore’ comes from the ship’s jargon for ‘ahead’ (fore and aft). Shouting ‘fore’ is basically a simpler way of yelling ‘watch out ahead’. It allows your fellow golfers to be pre-warned that there is possibly a ball hurtling toward their direction. It is and has become over time the norm, part of the etiquette that if you hit a wayward shot towards another golfer or spectator then you should shout ‘fore’ as a pre-warning.
One other common theory is that the term came from a military background. During the 17th and 18th century, a time when golf was really picking up in Britain. The front line in battle would advance in formation whilst large artillery batteries fired from behind, over the top on the soldiers. Shortly before starting to fire, the artilleryman would yell ‘beware before’ giving a prior warming so the soldiers could drop down and avoid the shells.
So the theory goes that when a golfer hits a wayward shot then he would shriek ‘beware before’ which over time has evolved into ‘fore’.
In recent times it seems as though the etiquette of shouting ‘fore’ in the pro tournaments is dying out. Instead of a big, loud early call to warn spectators of the possibility of a ball headed their way, the world’s finest golfers seem to have replaced ‘fore’ with simply holding their driver to the left or right depending on the direction of the ball.
Whilst this may be useful from a visual perspective, if a spectator over 300 yards away is not paying particular attention to the tee box they could easily find themselves in danger. Regardless of direction of play, an audible warning will always act as an extra precaution from a wayward ball – which should probably also accompany a visual signal from the player.
Ultimately, professional golfers are striking balls with club head speeds in-excess of 120mph in the modern day game, which are delivering ball speeds of well over 150mph. It goes without saying that everything should be done to attempt to keep fellow golfers and spectators as safe as possible.
The European tour said:
‘When there is a danger of hitting someone and that regulation D1 requires you to comply with normally accepted standards of golf etiquette. Failure to comply would make them liable for sanction under our disciplinary procedure.’
But having said that, there have been no punishments of particular note in the recent past, so it begs the question: could this be filtering down to amateur golf?
Shouting ‘Fore!’ won’t protect you from being liable for any injury and damage caused. But, according to John Woosey, MD at Golf Care, ‘it could help your defence if you pre-warned the injured party that a wayward shot was approaching.’ He added: ‘A failure to shout would be used by the claimant’s legal team to substantiate a lack of due care and attention’.
The man who got hit
James Gordon was once held liable for £400,000 in damages after a man lost his eye after being hit by a wayward shot towards a fellow golfer. ‘We all shouted ‘fore!’. It amazes me that people still won’t take out golf insurance. As far as I’m concerned it’s just stupidity.’