19th Hole

Kim Anders
Director of Instruction
John Jacobs Golf Schools and Academies Estrella del Mar Golf and Beach Resort
Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico, AZ

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Don’t Mess With Lightning!

Many parts of Arizona, as well as the rest of the country are getting to the time of year when thunderstorms can interrupt our rounds of golf. And, summer vacations take us into other areas of the country where we may not be familiar with the normal daily weather patterns. Afternoon thunderstorms can come up very quickly, sometimes seeming to “materialize” in just a few minutes, especially in the mountains.  

I spent many years at a course in the mountains of Colorado, where afternoon rains would disrupt play 4 or 5 days a week during the summer months. Normally, they would move in fast, rain hard for 30 to 60 minutes, and then move out as quickly as they arrived.  

Like many courses, we had a lightning detector and warned players as to the oncoming dangerous conditions. The problem we had is the storms moved in so quickly people didn’t take our warnings seriously, because all they could see was blue sky, until it was too late.   

I know three people who have been struck by lightning while on the golf course. All thought it would never happen to them. They were all dazed but none required medical attention. Now, at the slightest sign of lightning they are off the golf course. They feel they got lucky once and don’t want to push the odds.  

We all know the basic rules to follow when caught in an electrical storm – don’t take shelter under a tree, go to the lowest point possible, and don’t be waving a club around in the air – it’s a lightning rod!!  

If I’m a long way from the clubhouse, I generally won’t make a run for it if the storm is close. Lightning likes moving objects. Even though they say a golf cart is a safe place, one of my friends was in a cart when the lightning bounced off a tree and then shot across the fairway to get him.  

If your only option is trees, go deep into the trees. I don’t know why, but lightning seems to prefer striking the trees on the edge of the course more than those deep in the forest. I witnessed this several times including once when a set of clubs under a tree at the edge of the fairway took a direct hit.  The owner now has an interesting piece of art in his home designed by Mother Nature that’s made of several bent and scorched clubs welded together.  

But, the best reason for getting off the golf course when there is electrical activity in the area, and most people don’t think of this, is the irrigation system under the course. There is a grid of water lines under the course, all those sprinkler control boxes have electricity running to them and every sprinkler head has electrical wiring going to it. Lightning really likes both of these.  

So, the next time you are on the course and the thunder starts rumbling in the distance, that’s the time to make a run for the clubhouse – don’t wait till it’s on top of you.

I like to think I have a few more good rounds of golf in me. Lightning is a pretty tough character and the odds are strong I’ll lose that battle, so I’m heading for the clubhouse where I can have a cold one and watch a ballgame ‘til it is safe to go back out!