How to stay safe in lightning on the golf course

By Brendon Elliot
Published on
How to stay safe in lightning on the golf course

As we find ourselves in the middle of the stormy summer months here in Florida and many other spots around the country, I feel compelled to share some important information on golf and lightning. I cannot stress this enough. Lightning and golf do not mix. Taking a chance and hitting a few more shots or going one more hole could prove deadly.

As a golf coach and instructor, some may say that I am, on occasion, over cautious. However, did you know that lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain, and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall? This and other lighting facts can be found below and are important to know for any golfer.

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Some facts you might not know about lightning:

  • Air in a lightning strike can be heated up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The rapid heating of the air is what produces the shockwave that results in thunder.
  • Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.
  • Most lightning incidents occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening (between 2:00-6:00 p.m.).
  • A ground strike can produce somewhere between 100 million to one billion volts of electricity.
  • The length of a cloud-to-ground lightning strike can range from two miles to 10.

So, what do you do to prepare yourself for golf in these stormy summer months? Be sure to follow these suggestions to keep yourself safe while heading out on the links this summer.

Check the forecast and check it often. Seems simple enough but its no longer surprising when golfers are seemingly out of touch with what the daily forecast says. With all of us having a mobile device nearby at all times, it should be a given that everyone has some sort of reliable weather app on their phone. Make sure that the app has the ability to set alerts on things such as lightning, severe thunderstorms, and even tornadoes.

Download a reliable radar app. Having a reliable radar with you at all times, equipped with a lighting detection/prediction mode, should be something everyone should have on their phones. Most of these types of apps have a radius of 10 miles (some more, some less) from your current location that is outlined on the radar. This is so you can tell how close the approaching storm, or more importantly, the last lightning strike was. Remember, the rain won't kill you, but the lightning could so don't focus on the radar as much as the lightning strikes. Have your own "personal radius" for when the bolts get too close. Ten miles is ideal just to be safe.

Check the courses policy on lightning and if they have a lightning detection/prediction system. Many golf courses are now equipped with a lightning detection system that sets off a horn when lightning gets within a certain set distance from the course. Others have both a detection and prediction system. The difference? Detection tells you how far the last strike was and a prediction system, reads atmospheric conditions, such as the build-up of electricity in the area, to predict when and where lightning will strike. Pretty cool technology. Check with the golf staff on what the policies are concerning lightning and their particular system.

Seek Shelter Immediately. Scout out the locations for shelter on the golf course prior to your round. Know where to go beforehand because time could be of the essence in finding a safe place. If you are caught on the course and there is no shelter near, consider the following tips:

  • Do not stand under tall trees or sit in a golf cart. Do not stand under a lone tree, even a small one.
  • You must get away from your cart and away from your golf clubs quickly.
  • Stay away from water.
  • If you are old-school and have metal spikes on, take them off.
  • If stranded in the open, go to a low place such as a ravine or valley, or the lowest spot you can find.

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The following is helpful information for you to consider from the National Weather Service:

"If a substantial building is not available, enclosed motor vehicles can provide shelter as long as patrons do not touch the metal framework during the thunderstorm (golf carts are not safe vehicles). No place outside is safe if lightning is in the vicinity. Partially enclosed shelters are not safe. If no safe shelter is available ... stay away from the tallest objects (trees, light poles, flag poles), metal objects (fences or golf clubs), standing pools of water, and fields."

Stay safe this summer, and remember, golf, no matter how great of a game it is just a game and not worth risking your life.

Brendon Elliott is a PGA Professional in Central Florida. He is the owner of Little Linksters, LLC, the Little Linksters Golf Academy @ Wekiva Golf Club and is the founder of the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development (501c3). In addition, he is an Instructor and Director of Career Development at the Golf Academy of America in Orlando.