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Human beings and lightning make for a dangerous – and sometimes deadly – combination. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), over the past 20 years, an average of 51 Americans are killed by lightning each year. By its very nature of offering outdoor activities such as golf, tennis and swimming, your members, guests, and employees are potential victims of lightning strikes. So too are the physical assets that dot your landscape such as buildings, equipment, even trees.

Lightning prevention is, of course, impossible. Lightning protection is not. Unfortunately, we never know where or when lightning will occur. However, by developing, implementing, and maintaining a lightning protection program – and throwing in a dash of good ol’ common sense – lives can be saved, property can be protected from significant damage, and losses from lightning can be avoided or mitigated.

Some Facts About Lightning

Lightning takes the path of least resistance on its way to the ground. And, because the human body consists of a high percentage of water, it makes for a very good conductor.

·         According to the NOAA, a lightning bolt can be fatal up to 100 feet away from the point of the strike.

·         The air in a lightning strike can heat up to as much as 50,000° F, producing the shockwave that results in thunder.

·         Each year in the U.S., lighting causes more than 26,000 fires with damage to property exceeding $5-6 billion.

·         Globally, 2,000 on-going thunderstorms cause about 100 lightning strikes each second.

·         Lightning can occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.

·         A cloud-to-ground strike can produce between 100 million and one billion volts of electricity.

·         Lightning strike victims carry no post-strike electrical charge, so they should be helped immediately.

Protecting Members, Guests, and Employees

The average nine-hole golf course in the U.S. occupies approximately 74 acres of land, while the typical 18-hole course has 150 acres of maintained turf. That’s a lot of ground. And what occupies that ground are your clubhouse, parking lots, maintenance buildings, equipment, tennis courts, swimming pools, trees -- and, of course, people. All are potential lightning targets.

Common sense should tell everyone who is outdoors – in the swimming pool, on a tennis court, or on the golf course – to begin to move to shelter when they see threatening weather approaching. The Rules of Golf – Rule 6-8a -- even allow golfers to discontinue play if they believe there is danger from lightning. But, as you’re well aware, there are those who often put that day’s round or tennis match or daily swim ahead of their own safety and continue to play even when the weather turns potentially dangerous.

The primary job of all employees of your club is the well-being of everyone on your property. Education should be your first line of defense against lightning. When we were kids, we were taught basic lightning safety tips. As adults, we often forget what we learned as youngsters. Here are several lightning safety tips you should consider posting in strategic places around your facilities as reminders to your members and guests:

·         Get indoors or in a car.

·         Avoid water, including swimming pools, and all metal objects.

·         Get off the high ground.

·         Avoid trees.

·         If caught outdoors during nearby lightning:

o   Stay away from other people.

o   Remove all metal objects (watch, earrings, etc.)

o   Crouch with feet together, head bowed, and place hands on ears to reduce acoustic shock.

And, do you remember how to measure lightning’s distance? Today it’s referred to as “Flash-to-Bang.” For every five seconds from the time you see a lightning flash to hearing the associated thunder (bang), lighting is one mile away. For example, an F-B of 10 means lightning is two miles away; an F-B of 25 is five miles.

To further help protect members and guests (sometimes from their own lack of common sense) and your club (from potential litigation), the National Lighting Safety Institute (NLSI) recommends the following additional measures if they’re not already in place:

1.       Install an audible lightning alert system that can clearly be heard in all areas of your facility, including the golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool, etc. DO NOT expose employees to danger by sending them around your grounds.

2.       Install weather shelters with protective, grounded lightning rods (today known as air terminals, installed at strategic points of the structure) at the farthest points of your facility. For example, at least one weather shelter per nine-hole course should be in place.

3.       Invest in early lightning detection technology. These systems detect cloud-to-cloud lightning, a precursor to cloud-to-earth lightning.

4.       Designate someone to be responsible for monitoring daily weather conditions. Suggested resources an NOAA weather radio; TV weather channel; on-line weather services; weather subscription services; notification from nearby commercial or government airfields; dedicated lightning detection and notification systems; looking out the window, etc.

5.       Inform your employees that they can suspend activities and go to an appropriate shelter if they feel threatened by lightning.

6.       Place lightning stickers on all operating machinery, pump house, employee bulletin boards, rest room and locker room mirrors, cash registers, golf cars, beverage carts, and other visible locations.

7.        Notify members and guests of threatening conditions. Some examples: post a daily weather advisory; activate the lightning alert system; put a safety notice on scorecards and golf cars.

8.        All outdoor activities should be suspended until 30 minutes after the last thunder is heard. The distance from strike A to strike B to strike C can be some 5-8 miles away, but lightning can strike much farther away. Don’t risk it.

 A special note about swimming pools: According to the NLSI, swimming pools are connected to a much larger surface area via underground water pipes, gas lines, electric and telephone wiring, etc. Lightning strikes to the ground anywhere on this metallic network may induce shocks elsewhere.

Above all, keep your people informed. Implementing a lightning detection and safety program may help you with issues involving duty-to-warn, liability or negligence issues.

Maintain written records of lightning safety procedures and keep copies of all posted materials. Maintain a file called "Lightning Safety." Adopt a policy for lightning safety. Post it for all to see.

Protecting Structures and Equipment

Protecting key structures on your club’s grounds can help limit property losses. If yours is like most clubs, your clubhouse – with tennis courses and swimming pool nearby – sits at the highest point on the course, making it and everything around it particularly susceptible to lightning strikes.

Your maintenance buildings, most likely located away from the clubhouse, house very expensive groundskeeping equipment. And, if your golf carts are battery-powered, the building in which they’re stored is especially vulnerable to lighting strikes because when hooked to their charging stations, these carts are extremely sensitive to lighting.

To protect all of these valuable assets, a well-maintained lightning protection system should be in place to intercept lighting along a controlled path between the air and the earth. Usually, these systems feature the following:

·         Air terminals situated at strategic points of a building.

·         At least two ground connectors should be installed at each building. These connectors provide contact with the earth to dissipate the lightning charge. You should consult a qualified contractor or electrician if you have any concerns about complying with local regulations.

·         Surge protection in your buildings is a must to protect computers, TVs, and other valuable electronic equipment.

Protecting Sprinkler Systems

Improved technology has driven the evolution of in-ground sprinkler systems, involving additional computer-controlled electronic components. As such, today’s sprinkler systems have become more susceptible to lightning strikes. Your grounds maintenance staff should be able to obtain from the system manufacturer instructions for protecting this valuable resource.

As with other computer systems throughout your facility, surge protection and regular back-up and off-site storage of computer data should be used.

Protecting Trees

Trees are probably the tallest things on your property, making them prime targets for direct lightning strikes. Golfers should be warned to keep away from trees during threatening weather.

Your lightning protection program should include efforts to safeguard those trees you consider to be most valuable. It’s recommended that copper air terminals and cables be placed strategically on a tree to create an umbrella effect and grounded similar to your buildings.

Inspection and Maintenance

Implementing a lightning protection program can be fairly expensive. You should develop an on-going inspection and maintenance plan to protect your investment. Your lightning protection systems should be inspected at least once a year. If your club is located in areas where the climate changes considerably throughout the year (northern tier of states, for example), semi-annual inspections are recommended. Every three to five years complete, in-depth inspections should be made.

Inspection recordkeeping is important. Maintain records of all inspections, maintenance, and testing. Keep them on file, compare results from previous records, and investigate issues if needed.


Finally, lightning is known to ignore every defense man can conceive, but a best effort defense is a prudent thing to do. We strongly urge you to consult with a qualified electrical contractor, your legal counsel and broker or insurance provider and to consider implementing a lightning safety program for the safety of your members, guests and employees.


David A. Harnois, CCM is a proud employee owner of Affinity Club Underwriters, specializing in commercial and group program business. David provides insurance solutions for hundreds of clubs throughout the world. He may be reached at (973) 984-1000 x111 or at


Founded in 2007, Affinity Club Underwriters is a wholesale program insurance provider specializing in the club, golf and hospitality sector. They offer claims management services; operations and coverage audits; policy and information storage and archaeology; RFP preparation; market analysis; and help in developing specific loss control programs.  Affinity is the exclusive provider of the Affinity Club Program for private and semi-private golf and country club venues. Affinity is the only insurance program administrator led by golf industry experts.  


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