Can Golf Clubs Spark Fires? Study Shows It's Possible

In 2010, a fire broke out on Shady Canyon golf course in Irvine, Calif. Another fire hit Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, Calif. Investigators could find no cause for the fires, but had a suspicion that the fires may have started due to sparks caused by a golf club hitting rock. That suspicion, however, wasn't one very many people were ready to give credence to.

There are a lot of golf clubs in states, and in regions within states, that are susceptible to fires. And with climate change sending the risk of major fires up and up with each passing year, it would be good to know whether golfers run any risk of creating fire when playing golf in certain locations and under certain conditions.

And it turns out that fire investigators might have made the correct guess as to the cause of those golf course fires in California back in 2010. Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, conducted a study, the results of which were published in the fire science and chemistry journal Fire & Materials.

And that study showed that titanium golf clubs can, indeed, spark a fire. The study found that stainless steel or other steel golf clubs (whether woods or irons) were not producers of dangerous sparks. But titanium clubs were different.

The titanium woods and titanium-clad irons used in the study, when struck against rocks, produced sparks that registered as high as 3,000 degreens Fahrenheit and "lived" for up to one second. "If that spark reached dry foliage, it would ignite almost instantly," said the study's lead author, James Earthman, who was a chemical engineering and materials science professor at UC Irvine.

Does that mean that the cause of those golf course fires in California was definitely titanium golf clubs striking rocks in areas of rough? No, but it means the theory is a plausible one. It also explains why Smokey the Bear hasn't been observed playing golf since the advent of titanium drivers.

What should golfers do with this information? Well, if you're in a drought-stricken, high-fire-hazard area, keep it in mind and use your best judgment. And be very vigilant for any possibility of sparks, embers, smoke or fire.

Orange County Fire Authority Captain Steve Concialdi spoke to USA Today about this back in 2010:

"Concialdi said the fire department is asking golfers using titanium-coated clubs to move their balls away from rocks and dry vegetation and onto the irrigated fairways. He said while golfers may complain it's making the game easier, it's too risky to do otherwise this season.

" 'Talk about a hazard,' said Concialdi. 'We are looking at a severe fire season because of the drought, and no one should take chances with titanium clubs on dry ground.' "

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