Golf is an excellent challenge, physically as well as mentally, and it's also a great social activity.
It might seem silly to put golf and danger in the same sentence, but injuries can and do happen. Golf balls and golf clubs are very hard objects that can cause considerable damage if they strike you, and golfers need to be aware of the dangers posed by everything from lightning to repetitive stress.
To learn how to stay safe on the golf course, follow these tips.
Why Is Golf Safety Important?
As sports go, golf is pretty safe, but there's always potential for stress-related injuries. The golf swing puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your back and your joints, particularly if you are prone to swinging too hard or your technique isn't the best. Back pain, elbow tendonitis, and pain in the shoulders, knees, hands, and wrists are all common golf injuries.
Less common but more serious injuries can happen if someone gets hit by a golf ball or club. Though it's extremely rare, people have actually died from being hit by golf balls. And then there are golf-cart mishaps: Golfers have been known to get seriously injured when golf carts are driven in a hazardous manner or if they dangle their feet or hands out of a cart while it's moving.
Fortunately, most traumatic injuries can be avoided by using common sense and following the rules.
Before You Tee Up
Always stretch before you play golf. Do trunk twists and other stretches to help loosen up your back, and be sure to stretch your leg muscles and the tendons of your elbows and wrists.
It also helps to get to the course early enough to warm up on the range by hitting a bucket of practice balls before you play. Start with wedges and short irons that call for a shorter swing, and gradually work up to long irons and woods that require a full swing. This not only will help your golf game, it will also go a long way toward preventing injuries.
If you will be playing on a sunny day, use plenty of sunscreen on any exposed skin, and wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your eyes and protect your face. A typical round of golf takes more than 4 hours to complete. You will be out in the sun the entire time, especially if you walk the course instead of riding in a cart. Sunburns are no fun, and neither is dehydration, another problem you might encounter on hot days. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your round.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and keep track of the people around you. It should be easy to know the locations of the players in your group, which will generally number four or less. But you need to also take note of where other groups are located.
Any time you have a golf club in your hands and are preparing to swing, make sure everyone else is a safe distance away. Never swing a club if someone else is near you, whether you're taking a practice swing or hitting the ball.
When other players in your group are swinging clubs, don't assume that they are watching out for you. Be proactive and give them a wide berth so that you don't run the risk of being struck by a club. And never stand in a place where you could be hit by a ball when another golfer in your group is playing.
When the time comes to hit the ball, be sure there are no golfers ahead of you who might be in range of your shot. This includes golfers to the right and left who might be in danger if you slice or hook the ball onto an adjacent hole. Wait until you're sure other golfers are out of the way before you hit.
Sometimes, despite all your precautions, you will hit a ball in the direction of other golfers. It's possible a golfer was hidden by trees or a hill and you didn't see them until after you've hit the ball. In cases like this, yell out "Fore!" as loudly as you can. This will let other golfers know that a ball is headed their way and they should take cover.
If, while you are playing, you hear someone yell "Fore!" don't turn your head to look for the ball. Instead, seek cover behind a tree or a golf cart. If that's not possible, cover your head and face with your arms.
Lightning can be a big hazard on the golf course. Because you're exposed and carrying metal clubs, your risk of getting struck is greater than normal. Check the weather before you head out to the course, and never try to play during a thunderstorm.
Most golf courses these days will sound an alarm if lightning is spotted in the area. If you hear an alarm or see lightning yourself, head for the clubhouse right away. If you can't get to the clubhouse, don't seek cover under trees, which attract lightning. Instead, seek out a designated lightning shelter or bathroom. Be sure the structure you choose has walls, as open-walled structures will not protect you from a lightning strike.
If no shelter is available, drop your clubs and move away from them and your cart. Stay away from trees and water, seek out a low-lying area, and keep a safe distance from other members of your group to make yourselves smaller targets.
Golf carts should only be driven by licensed drivers or if an adult is present. If you are going to drive a cart, read the directions and safety rules posted on the cart. It's not difficult, but carts can be dangerous if they aren't driven properly.
As much as possible, stay on cart paths, and never try to go off-roading across bumpy terrain. Drive straight up and down hills, and take it slow while going downhill or around turns. Look out for other carts where cart paths intersect, and never hang your feet, legs, arms, or hands out of a cart while it is in motion.
A Few Other Reminders
Practice good golf etiquette. Wait for your turn to play, allow other golfers to get out of range before hitting, and keep quiet while others are playing.
Don't move ahead into other groups. If the group ahead of you is playing slowly, it can be very frustrating having to wait. Don't give in to the temptation to hit into their group, though. It could result in a very serious injury. Instead take a deep breath and a few more practice swings. If you see a course marshall, ask him if he can say something to the slow golfers to help speed up play.
Use the right equipment. Swinging a golf club can often cause you to get blisters on your hands, and on hot days sweaty palms can make clubs hard to grip. If either of these is the case, use a golf glove or two. Typically, right-handed golfers will want a glove for their left hand, and vice versa.
Golf shoes will give you much better traction than sneakers and help you avoid slipping while you swing. Get a pair of shoes with plastic spikes, as most courses will not allow metal spikes.
Common sense and a little forethought can go a long way toward keeping you injury-free on the golf course. Just use your head, and chances are you'll golf for years to come without having to worry about getting hurt.