• Wrongful Death & Drowning
  • Serious Injury
  • Errant Ball Shot
  • Golf Cart Accident & Rollover
  • Slip and Fall
  • Golf Course Design & Planning
  • Golf Course Safety
  • Construction Analysis
  • Irrigation Damage
  • Premises Liability
  • Nets & Barriers
  • Property Damage


  • Accident Investigation
  • Forensic Studies
  • Expert Testimony
  • Depositions
  • Consultations
  • Reports
  • Site Surveys
  • Graphic Exhibits & Presentation
  • Replacement Cost Estimates
  • Dispute Resolution

Golf Course Architecture

Architect MICHAEL S. JOHNSTONE, AIA, is an expert witness and forensic investigator in golf course design and safety. He has been retained for cases at many of the top golf destinations in the United States, including PGA and LPGA Championship courses. Many of the firm’s clients represent leading golf course management companies like American Golf, Marriott Resorts, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Billy Casper Golf, Salamander Golf Collection, and New York City Parks and Recreation. Our professionalism also brings cases from major insurers like Zurich, Travelers and Philadelphia Indemnity, and even referral by the United States Golf Association (USGA).

Recent cases as expert witness include wrongful death, errant ball injuries, golf cart rollover, cart path defects, blind holes, hidden hazards, animal bite, wildfire, and injury of spectators or volunteers at golf tournaments. Over 150 cases and investigations have been completed in 28 states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin) Washington DC, and Canada.

As an expert witness and forensic investigator, Michael clarifies issues and resolves conflicts in complex matters of design and safety, applying over 30 years of design and construction management experience and a unique specialization to golf. Since 1990, he has had a professional association with forensic architects and engineers in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has also published two peer reviewed papers on golf safety and accidents for the National Association of Forensic Engineers. Michael’s expertise includes accident and safety investigations for golf courses, country clubs, clubhouses, driving ranges, learning centers, neighboring properties and parking lots.

Practice Values

Michael S. Johnstone AIA is dedicated to identifying and resolving golf course design and safety issues. We serve plaintiffs and defendants equally through independent and objective analysis derived from decades of study in architecture, design principles and golf industry standards.

Except for environmental and zoning issues, design and planning of golf courses are not subject to state or federal building codes. Players and other guests rarely understand these facts until accidents, injury or even death occur. Therefore, a broad range of interpretation is left open to non-experts and those with vested interest in the outcome of cases. This leaves golf course owners, managers and insurers in wide disagreement over safety issues and the foreseeability of risk. Our firm offers independent and objective architectural review using professional standards focused on accident prevention and dispute resolution.

Design Guidelines

Generally Accepted Design Guidelines for public and private golf courses, practice ranges, country clubs and golf resorts are defined by golf course architects who have studied and developed safety standards over many decades. These industry standards include books and articles on design and construction, as well as statistical research and data on every facet of golf. Applying the proper principles to golf safety is of utmost importance whenever assessing or analyzing risk. Too often these design principles are overlooked or cause confusion with other factors, and are misinterpreted by other so-called experts.


Michael S. Johnstone AIA established himself as an architect in the 1970s-90s with clients like Macy’s, Sharper Image, Regal Cinemas, Cost Plus/World Market and Computerland. He also studied golf course architecture as a progression to his building designs and having been an avid golfer since youth. A trip to the famous golf courses of Scotland solidified his pursuit of golf course design and he enrolled at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1985, the only formal training in the field at the time. Michael was then retained for golf course designs ranging from a country club master plan with full course renovation to a new 18-hole championship course, 9-hole executive courses, driving ranges and practice facilities, and single hole renovations with safety issues. His rare talent for design review and problem-solving led to requests for architectural analysis and investigative forensic work in the golf industry.

Michael has been a licensed architect since 1975 and a golf course architect since 1985. He has practiced throughout the United States and completed over $200 million in construction. He is a licensed architect in North Carolina and California.

Clients & Cases

Some of our clients:

Management Companies:
American Golf Corporation
Billy Casper Golf
Marriott Resorts
New York City Parks and Recreation
Omni Hotel & Resorts
Salamander Golf Collection

Insurance Companies:
Philadelphia Indemnity

Renowned Golf Courses:
Brookside Golf Club at the Rose Bowl
Black Mesa Golf Club
House On The Rock
Blackwolf Run, The River Course
The Los Angeles Country Club
The Olympic Club
Omni La Costa Resort & Spa
Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club
Reunion Resort
Shipyard Golf Club, Hilton Head Island
Wildfire Golf Club, JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge