Research: titanium golf clubs can start fires

fire started by golf club
Wildfire at Shady Canyon Golf in Orange County, California, August, 2010, reportedly started by a golf club. Photo by Shady Canyon Golf Club.

In August, 2010 golfers reported that  a 12-acre fire ignited when a golfer, whose ball was in the rough, struck a rock with his club, causing sparks which started the fire. It took hand crews, helicopters, and 150 firefighters to put out the fire at the Shady Canyon Golf Club in Orange County, California.

Following that fire and another one that also may have been started by a golf club, fire investigators in Orange County asked researchers at the University of California to investigate the issue. The report below is from UC Irvine:

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“Irvine, Calif., March 19, 2014-Titanium alloy golf clubs can cause dangerous wildfires, according to UC Irvine scientists. When a club coated with the lightweight metal is swung and strikes a rock, it creates sparks that can heat to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough to ignite dry foliage, according to findings published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Fire and Materials.

Orange County, Calif., fire investigators asked UC Irvine to determine whether such clubs could have caused blazes at Shady Canyon Golf Course in Irvine and Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo a few years ago.

“One fire almost reached homes before they stopped it. This unintended hazard could potentially lead to someone’s death,” said chemical engineering & materials science professor James Earthman, lead author on the paper. “A very real danger exists, particularly in the Southwest, as long as certain golf clubs remain in use.”

He suspected that the titanium heads on some clubs designed for use in “the rough” – natural areas off irrigated fairways – could be to blame for the fires. Most golf clubs have stainless steel heads. However, a significant number being manufactured or in circulation have a titanium alloy component in the head. Such alloys are 40 percent lighter, which can make the club easier to swing, including when chipping errant balls out of tough spots. In Southern California, those spots are often in flammable scrub brush.

The researchers painstakingly re-created in the lab course conditions on the days of the fires. Using high-speed video cameras and powerful scanning electron microscope analysis, they found that when titanium clubs were abraded by striking or grazing hard surfaces, intensely hot sparks flew out of them. In contrast, when standard stainless steel clubs were used, there was no reaction.

“Rocks are often embedded in the ground in these rough areas of dry foliage,” Earthman noted. “When the club strikes a ball, nearby rocks can tear particles of titanium from the sole of the head. Bits of the particle surfaces will react violently with oxygen or nitrogen in the air, and a tremendous amount of heat is produced. The foliage ignites in flames.”  ”

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

One thought on “Research: titanium golf clubs can start fires”

  1. Just the most amazing things start fires. Watch out for the fire hazard on the rough near the16th hole!

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