According to Golf Monthly, there are more than 38,000 golf courses, clubs, and facilities around the world servicing a community of about 70 million golfers – approximately 25 million of whom live in the United States. The vast majority of those facilities (barring simulators, indoor ranges, etc.) are outdoors, making golf a weather-dependent game.
While there may be a devoted community of golfers who are willing to play in any conditions, courses and facilities need to take a proactive approach to the weather in the name of good management. Moving forward, we’ll explore..
- What weather challenges for golf facilities look like at ground level
- Which specific types of weather create challenges for clubs and courses
- How club pros and managers can make the best possible decisions in the face of those challenges
How does the weather create challenges for golf courses?
Golf is played outdoors, leaving golfers exposed to a variety of weather-related threats. With that said, sometimes we get so focused on how weather can impact playing conditions that we forget the facility itself is a living ecosystem of grass, trees, a variety of working professionals, and more.
Generally speaking, weather presents three different kinds of challenges for golf course managers and club pros:
What kinds of weather create challenges for golf facilities?
As we’ve said, a golf course or club is a unique and fragile ecosystem unto itself. Just about any sort of severe weather can cause disruption or create hazards, but here are the most common culprits:
Golf facilities contain a blend of wide-open spaces, tall trees, and metal equipment – it’s basically a perfect environment for lightning to seek the ground. That creates a potentially deadly hazard for golfers and course employees alike.
Rain (or drought)
Even when there’s no lightning involved, rainstorms can do major damage to a golf course, rendering boggy areas unplayable and leaving the course susceptible to damage from feet, tires, and the act of play. At the same time, extended dry spells can be disastrous for playing conditions, the aesthetic look of a facility, and the water bill.
Wind has the magical power to make some good golf shots bad and some bad shots good, but when the velocity reaches a certain point, things get dangerous fast. High winds can knock limbs off of trees, endangering players and staff, and even tip golf carts in some situations.
Even though golf has a reputation as a leisurely game, it can still be dangerous to play from a heat stress perspective on days when heat and/or humidity are high. Players and course workers can both easily become dehydrated, exposing themselves to the risk of sunstroke and other heat-related illnesses.
Golf can also get dangerous when players can’t see. There’s no major health risks associated with fog itself, but course managers and marshals need to be able to keep players as informed as possible when weather in the area is creating dense fog to prevent possible injuries from balls flying toward unseen golfers.
Hail can damage just about anything at a golf facility, from the second green to the clubhouse window to the back of a player’s head. Like rain, the aftermath of hail can also leave a golf course fragile and susceptible to more damage.
How can golf courses, clubs, and facilities overcome growing weather challenges?
Get better, more accurate forecasts
Many golf facilities still get their weather intelligence the old-fashioned way – on TV or through a free website. Those forecasts are generalized to provide a reasonable prediction for a huge, generalized area. That means a reasonably accurate forecast predicting lightning for your city could still be completely wrong when it comes to how the event will play out at your course or club. If you suspended play based on that forecast, you’d have lost money and frustrated some of your most dedicated patrons.
By connecting with private forecasting services, golf facilities can get a forecast that’s actually tailored to their exact location (and can even be strengthened and improved with a small network of on-site weather stations). That personalization creates a more reliable, meaningful forecast that can be relied upon for big-picture operational decision making.
Track storms in real time
It’s one thing to know what’s probably going to happen with the weather, but it’s another to have a clear understanding of what’s actually occurring in real time and what’s headed your way. Golf courses can increase their weather-readiness by connecting with storm tracking software that provides a clear visual narrative about weather in the vicinity.
With the ability to track storms, you gain an understanding of what to expect in the coming hours that goes well past what a daily or even hourly forecast can provide.
Build automated alarms, alerts, and notifications for lightning
Course management is all about timing. You want to preserve the pace of play for as long as possible while still keeping everybody safe. That’s why making the call to suspend play or call golfers off the course at the right moment is crucial.
Weather intelligence technology can help you make that decision in a variety of ways. For example, you can configure alerts that send pro shop attendees a 30- or 15-minute notice on lightning entering your area. That timeframe can be used for proactive communication with your maintenance team, marshals, and beyond. Then, you can also use automated lightning horns and strobes that create a clear, unmissable alert for golfers and employees to seek shelter as soon as lightning officially enters your area.
Want to talk to a weather specialist who knows all about golf?
If you’re in management at a golf course, club, or facility, it can feel like you’re completely powerless in the face of weather challenges. Here’s some good news, though: help is out there!
AEM’s team of club and sport specialists can guide you through the process of understanding your weather challenges fully, identifying technologies that can provide you with the data you need to manage effectively, and enabling your team to foster weather-readiness at scale.
If you’re ready, let’s start a conversation today.