All a Professional Golfer Wants: Good Weather and a Green Jacket

More and More Sports Teams Are Hiring Meteorologists For Their Events

The Masters has come and gone, and for many, that is the symbolic start to the golf season and other summertime activities.  It was pretty nice in Augusta, GA even though the wind picked up at times on Sunday.  It was still a busy weekend for one group of people, and that group was the PGA meteorologists.  The PGA is a billion dollar traveling circus show, and because of its size and fiscal responsibilities to sponsors and other corporations, logistics are tight and to the minute.  A company from Burnsville, MN named Schneider Electric is the current forecasting contractor for the PGA Tour and they will be the first to tell you that forecasting for golf tournaments isn’t all birdies and eagles.  Many times, the forecasters are buried in their trailers, eyes on their software, not walking the beautifully manicured greens and fairways as many imagine.

The PGA Tour generally has two important “swings” in their schedule – the West Coast Swing, and the Florida Swing.  The first half of the schedule is usually pretty tame for forecasters, wind and fog being the main topic of interest for the golfers hoping to lift a trophy at the end of a four day tournament.  Southern California and Arizona simply don’t see a lot of thunderstorms but they still have to monitor conditions.

As soon as the tour heads east, the forecasters’ job become much more stressful and the weather is monitored almost constantly.  I worked as a forecaster for the Minnesota Golf Association several years ago, and we forecast for over 80 tournaments each summer.  Tournament Directors basically want three things, and that’s to get everyone on the course, maximize their time out there and for everyone to be safe.  They don’t want to split up rounds or have tournaments stretch into the subsequent days.  As a forecaster, you have to try to play the same game.  You don’t want to call in the 100+ golfers and caddies if you don’t need to.  Every time you bring the talent in and put them back out, you have to factor in about 30-45 minutes additional transit time onto the actual weather delay.  That can drive a Tournament Director nuts, and if you’re in Florida, it has been known to happen several times in just one day.  Florida sits nearly surrounded on all sides by very warm ocean water.  The moisture along with heat easily creates convection which is the catalyst for thunderstorms that in Florida, are famous for their lightning.

With Florida golf, you tend not to mess with a couple things; the alligators and lightning.  This is why it is imperative that the PGA have a rolling team of meteorologists who can watch the changing conditions and give them a heads up.  The schedule is important, but at the end of the day, the TDs want everyone safe.  Golfers are vulnerable out there, and to make it more dangerous, USGA Rule 4-4 allows each golfer 14 lightning rods in their bag at one time.  From 2001-2010, Florida had 62 fatal lightning strikes – more than double the next closest state.

An interesting thing to note is golfers seem to be paying attention, golf is actually tied for the 10th most common outdoor activity by fatal lightning strike victims – fishing being the most common.  Would you have guessed soccer to be almost twice as dangerous as golf?

Next time you watch a golf tournament on TV, just remember there is a small city working behind the scenes to make these events run smoothly and safely.  They are never heard about, unless a forecast turns sour…a scenario that sounds all too familiar to just about every individual who chose to attend and pay for four years (if you’re lucky) of physics, mathematics, and atmospheric studies.

Oh wait, did you hear the one about the Miami Marlins?  They chose to build a $651 million stadium with a retractable roof ($500 million paid for by tax dollars) and the other day they had a RAIN DELAY.  I will repeat: they have a retractable roof and had a RAIN DELAY!  The grounds crew had never even used the tarps before.  Executives chose to use weather apps on their cell phones to make the decision whether to close the roof or leave it open.  Someone did warn those attending the game that rain was on the way – look who it is, NBC Meteorologist John Morales, funny how those things work out.

Let’s pretend we are a polite group of golfing spectators for a second and give the Miami Marlins a nice, drawn-out golf clap.  This is just another example of why you can’t trust a weather app.  When you look for a forecast on your phone, there isn’t a person on the other line making subjective decisions, your speaking with a server that is regurgitating thousands of lines of computer code.  Subjective decisions are important in forecasting, and the world of sports has learned this.  They continue to beef up their rosters with meteorologists.

Meteorology aside, I still have one big question after watching The Masters.  Can you get me on to Augusta?  I will be your best friend forever.