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When Thunder Roars

Cover photo by Jay Svitko #7307

Imagine you're on your 18th hole, walking towards where you'll be putting to finish the round, and suddenly you hear the dreaded sound of three air horn blasts; lightning delay. It's frustrating, right? You only have maybe two minutes left until your round is over but now you have to wait for the lightning delay to end before going all the way back your putter to tap in? As frustrating as it is, for both the people on the course and for the tournament staff that is blowing the air horn, erroring on the side of caution is is ALWAYS the right thing to do. Lightning is no joke, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep our players safe.

The Professional Disc Golf Association, based in Appling, GA now sanctions over 3,000 disc golf tournaments around the world every year. Awareness of the dangers presented by lightning and measures for lightning safety are considered of vital importance for all Tournament Directors, staff, volunteers, and players alike. Most sanctioned events are run by local disc golf organizers and clubs, but PDGA staff attends and help run our largest events, e.g. National Tour events and PDGA Majors. These events are typically during the summer months when school is out, which in many areas means it is also the worst time of year for thunderstorms. And, since our sport typically does not halt play due to rain, we need to be extra conscious of the danger to our players and staff when it comes to lightning while playing in foul weather.

At those larger events, the PDGA takes several steps in regards to lightning danger, and we expect our Tournament Directors to do the same. First, we deploy handheld lightning detectors at the various courses in use. These detectors are available for purchase online with prices ranging from $65 to $300 and are an excellent safety investment for any disc golf club or TD, especially in thunderstorm-prone areas. However, it is important to note that such devices don’t provide perfect protection as they depend on a lightning strike to provide a warning and the first local lightning strike could be at the disc golf course itself.

That being said, we also use smart devices (mobile phones and tablets) and laptops connected to the Internet via cellular data and WiFi when available to provide access to regional real-time weather maps and radar to help provide warning of any approaching lightning storm. Below are a list of websites and/or mobile apps that we have found helpful in years past.

One particular website we have identified as being useful in the U.S. is called Weather Underground, which provides a scalable map called the Wundermap.

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This map allows you to select indicators showing both cloud-to-cloud lightning and cloud-to-ground strikes from approaching storms. If an approaching storm shows lightning activity, you can then halt play and make sure everyone is off the course and safe while the storm passes through.

A third lightning safety tool TDs should have on hand is a loud air horn to ensure that all players on the course can hear the signal (three long blasts) that play has been suspended so they can immediately seek shelter. As with most things in life, a bit of preparation and dose of common sense are valuable assets when it comes to lightning safety.


Learn everything you need to know about lightning safety on the National Weather Service website!