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October 2019

Two Operators, Two Questions - Lightning Strikes

By Steve Eubanks

Alex Rhyne 
Head Professional
Boot Ranch Golf Club
Fredericksburg, Texas

Cary Corbitt 
Vice President of Sports and Operations 
Sea Pines Resort
Hilton Head, South Carolina

Twice this year at professional golf events – the U.S. Women’s Open at Country Club of Charleston in May and the PGA Tour Championship in Atlanta in August – lightning struck trees on the golf courses. No one was on the course in Charleston during the strike, but five spectators were hospitalized in Atlanta after the strike at East Lake Golf Club. Miraculously, the injuries were minor and victims were treated and released.
But when and how operators gauge dangerous weather and what they do to get people to safety is an issue worth addressing.  

What is the benchmark for when the courses are evacuated during a weather event and what system, if any, is used to determine that threshold?

Alex Rhyne: Boot Ranch uses a system called Thor-Guard to detect lightning and get golfers off the course. This system has been programmed to go off when lightning strikes within a 10-mile radius. Thor-Guard then begins a 10-minute countdown. Once there is no lightning in the area for 10 straight minutes the system will give an all-clear siren.

Cary Corbitt: The Sea Pines Resorts also use the Thor-Guard system, which has various levels of alerts and warnings. For us, guest safety is the most important factor. We’d prefer to be overly cautious. If there is lightning detected near any of our three golf courses, the sirens are activated. We get yellow caution notices at 12 miles out and a red alert at 3 to 3.5 miles, which causes the alarms to activate.

What is the process to ensure that evacuation occurs and is complete? 

Rhyne: The process we have in place is very sufficient. Once Thor-Guard gives us that first alarm, the golf staff sends two people to make a loop. One staff member will go to the front 9 and one will take the back 9. Our team will ask for all golfers to make their way back to the clubhouse, as there is not enough shelter on the course.
Corbitt: Based on the detection of potentially dangerous weather, a horn sounds, which indicates that golfers and caddies should evacuate the course or seek safe shelter. We have the marshals back check and drive the course to make sure that all players are safely evacuated.



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