Environment Canada reports that each year lightning kills approximately 10 Canadians and injures approximately 100 to 150 others.
More Canadians die every year from lightning strikes than from flooding, hurricanes, or even tornadoes:
Yesterday’s incident at Stouffvile’s Bethesda Grange golf course made that statistic real for 4 golfers.
In a The Error Banner piece yesterday ( http://www.donotlink.com/lIc ) while simultaneously distancing the club from any responsibility a ClubLink staff member advanced the club’s policy : "When we get weather like this we blow the horn and trust they get off themselves".
What is curious is that this "blow the horn and wash ones hands" policy is not listed anywhere on the club’s website. So how exactly is it that golfers knew what the horn was for, or what to do when it was sounded?
In fact the entire topic of "safety" on the Bethesda Grange site is incredibly thin and only pertains to game play:
There is higher concentration on the club’s rain check policy than storm safety.
Contrast that with the National Lightning Safety Institute’s Lightning Safety Mandate For The Game Of Golf: http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_pls/golfsafetyrecommend.html
I’m not surprised if you are inclined to roll your eyes at the Lightning Safety Institute given that it is based in the United States, however just last week (June 9-11th) was proclaimed Lightning Safety Week by Environment Canada.
As part of this awareness campaign Environment Canada posted this video:
Posted to their website were several obvious points including this one:
Swinging a golf club, or holding an umbrella or fishing rod can make you the tallest object and a target for lightning.
Now back to the whole horn thing.
Liability aside Jenette E. Boycott’s piece on Lightning Warning Policies on Golf Courses explores detection and warning systems: http://www.ngcoa.ca/Userfiles/File/GBC/2002/Fall/Legal%20Lightning%20Fall2002.pdf
Here is an exerpt:
New technology on the market has made lightning more predictable. Although lightning detection and warning systems can’t determine the exact location in which lightning will strike, they can determine when lightning is within a specific radius of the golf course. This allows sufficient warning to be given to golfers.
Most of the new technology currently on the market is from the United States but available in Canada. While there is variation among systems, most contain two components: a detection/ prediction component and a warning component.
Lightning is detected/predicted either by monitoring the atmosphere for "lightning conditions" or tracing actual lightning occurrences to determine their proximity to the course. Once lightning has been detected/predicted within a certain radius of the monitored area the system will provide a warning, such as the sounding of a horn, which usually can be activated either manually
Boycott estimates the cost for a standard 18-hole course in the range of US $8,000 to $16,000.
Considering Bethesda underwent a $1.5 million renovation in 2012 the cost of such system would have been easily absorbed, and it sounds from the Error Banner piece that a horn was indeed sounded.
How did these golfers respond?
In a CBC News report witnesses say the lightning strike occurred on the 18th hole about 200 metres from the clubhouse:
Was a concerted effort made to seek shelter or were these golfers more determined to finish their round of golf?
How much time passed between the horn blowing and the lightening strike?
What penalty do members incur for continuing to play the course after a horn has been sounded?
Of course it is not a golf course’s job to fix stupid but for this incident to happen less than a week from a national awareness campaign that outlined a Lightning Safety at Large Outdoor Venues ( http://www.ec.gc.ca/foudre-lightning/default.asp?lang=En&n=90CC153A-1)
it certainly appears the system in place is ineffective and both the course and its members need to take the matter of safety more seriously than simply ringing a bell.