By Robert Bicknell

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May 14, 2006

Lightning primer...again…

Before we get into the meat of the column (there’s substance in this column? Yes, now shut up), the Gannon Vietnam Open Championship normally scheduled for the first week in June has been moved to 25-27 August for unspecified reasons. Personally, I think this might be a good move as the weather might not be so devastatingly hot for us fat old white guys at that time of year.

And with any luck, the Yuccas will have wilted from the summer heat by then.

As the thunder shakes my office, it appears to be that time of year again, so as part of my on-going effort to keep people from being featured in the Darwin Awards, allow me enlighten you with a few shocking facts about lightning and golfers.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the "Darwin Awards", it’s a website (www.darwinawards.com) which chronicles incredible acts of unbelievable stupidity that results in someone "permanently removing themselves from the gene pool" and thus saving the rest of humanity from any equally stupid potential offspring the idiot might have generated had the fool survived.

Getting killed because you were standing alone on a fairway during a lighting storm while waving a one-iron and screaming "C’mon, I dare ya! Even G-d can’t hit a one-iron!" can indeed make you eligible for the Darwin Awards once you get fried to a crisp.

For the record, Lee Trevino, yours truly, my current golf course superintendent (Tom Benefeld) and a few hundred other people can attest that G-d can hit a one-iron or any other club in the bag without any trouble at all, so don’t play with fire.

Now, there are many rules to remember about lightning, all of them equally important.

Lightning is not your friend, got that? Sure, lighting is an awesome spectacle and really fun to watch, but do it from inside the clubhouse or any other protected shelter and not out on a fairway when surrounded by a bag full of miniature lighting rods...

So, the first rule to remember is: "See lightning, run like hell."

One huge misconception is that being inside a motorised golf car will protect you because of the rubber tires. Wanna bet your life on that? If you do, you’d be wrong and possibly dead.

A lighting strike can carry 50,000 amps of current and since no wires are involved, it can jump from one surface to another. That’s enough amperage to power a city and more than enough to make you a human French fry.

The second rule is that "if you can HEAR thunder, you’re within range of getting struck."

One of the remarkable things about lightning is that it can travel 10 miles horizontally before striking the ground. In fact, many people have been struck with blue skies overhead. Thus, the origins of the old saying "a bolt from the blue". If you hear thunder, it’s time to go.

I often see caddies shuddering when the see a lightning bolt in the distance. Ok, there’s a good reason to be afraid, but another sad fact is that you will not see or hear the one that hits you. When people see a lightning bolt, most often they incorrectly assume that the bolt is touching down. However, what is actually happening is the lightning bolt is going UP as the earth – sky connection has been made. So, if you can see it, you weren’t hit…yet.

If you are one of those people who believe you lead a charmed life and, having ignored all the warning signs of an impending storm, find yourself on the golf course with lightning crashing down around you. You can still reduce the odds of getting hit.

First, seek nearby shelter. If none is available, go into the trees…deep into the trees. Never stand under a lone tree in the fairway as that will be the highest point in that area and, thus, a prime target for lightning.

If there are no trees, look for a nice deep bunker and get into it. Do NOT lie down as you will have too much body surface in contact with the ground. You’re better off squatting.

Lastly, leave the one-iron at home during the storm season.

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