A safety scorecard for your next round of golf

Photo: Andriy Onufriyenko/gettyimages

When you think of hazards on a golf course, what comes to mind? Water, sand and trees? All of these can wreak havoc on your game, but what about those that put your safety and health at risk?

Grab your clubs and join us as we share our 18-hole “scorecard” of the most common golf course hazards – and tips to help you avoid them.

1. The sun’s ultraviolet rays: Chris Whitten, executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan advises applying sunscreen both before you hit the course and, if you’re playing 18 holes, reapplying it after the ninth hole. Some T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts are designed to provide UV protection, and wide-billed hats can keep the sun off your face and neck.

2. Clothing: GolfDigest.com says to choose breathable clothing to help protect against heat illness, as well as socks that keep your feet dry. Wet feet can lead to blisters.

3. Shoes: When it comes to footwear, stability is key, says physical therapist Ross Brakeville, owner of Georgia Sports Medicine Specialists. “If you’re going to walk or play golf, you need mobile feet,” he said. This requires shoes that don’t allow your feet to move around in them, which could lead to lower-body sprains.

4. Overexertion: You wouldn’t run a 5K race without training, so don’t expect to play 18 holes without building up your physical stamina. “The body hasn’t prepared itself to meet the demands of the endurance load,” Brakeville said. “That adds stress to the joints and muscles.”

5. Muscle strains/tears: Before you take your first swing, Brakeville recommends a five- to 10-minute full-body warmup. “Put a golf club in your hand and swing one handed from both sides,” he said. Then, from a seated position, rotate your shoulders to the left and right to loosen your back and shoulder muscles. Once you’re out on the course, trying to crush your drive as far as the eye can see can add stress to your joints, Mayo Clinic says. To help avoid this, practice perfect posture: avoid hunching your shoulders or standing too erect while playing, Brakeville said. This can “lock” various joints and lead to injury.

6. A heavy bag: Brakeville suggests removing excess weight from your golf bag. “Many bags now have harnesses to carry the bag across both shoulders,” he said. This will distribute the weight you’re carrying more evenly.

7. Hands: The main reason golfers wear gloves, Golf Channel Technical Adviser Frank Thomas said, is to improve their grip on a club. This prevents a club from slipping out of your hands and injuring yourself or someone else. It also helps prevent blisters from forming on your fingers and palms.

8. Equipment: Worn grips on clubs is one of the most common safety failures. A cost-effective way of restoring grips is washing them in soap and warm water. “Let them dry overnight to retain some of their original tackiness,” Whitten said.

9. Dehydration: Along with balls and tees, pack a water bottle in your golf bag. “If you feel yourself wearing down, you’re already dehydrated,” Whitten said.

10. Alcohol: Alcohol won’t replace the necessary fluids your body loses when you sweat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions. It also increases your potential for heat illness. Stick with water.

11. Weather/lightning: Weather apps are a must, Whitten says, who adds that bad weather “has become so much easier to track with cellphones.” Lightning is a particular concern. According to PGA.com’s GolfBuzz, some courses are equipped with systems that sound an alarm when lightning is detected in the area. If an alarm sounds, find a designated shelter immediately. Don’t hide under trees, near water or in a golf cart.

12. Uneven surfaces: Golf courses are designed to be a challenge to navigate. When walking, use caution when encountering elevated tee boxes, sunken sand traps, berms and hilly terrain. Also, when approaching water hazards, be extra careful because they may have steep banks and the footing can be slick.

13. Golf carts: When you’re driving a cart, Whitten recommends you avoid quick turns, stay on designated paths, and approach hills and slopes with caution – especially during a morning round. “That wet turf and the smooth tires of golf carts can be a dangerous combination,” he said.

14. Know your surroundings: Leave plenty of distance between you and the group ahead of you to avoid unintentionally hitting your ball at other golfers. Also, look around before taking your swing – even in practice – to make sure nobody is in your swing radius.

15. Wayward shots: “Nobody intends to hit a bad shot, but we’re human,” Whitten said. That makes communicating – yelling “Fore!” after hitting an errant shot – with other people in the area very important. This gives anyone in the potential path of your shot a chance to take cover. Being aware of golfers at neighboring holes also can keep you safe from wayward shots, he said.

16. Wildlife: Just as you enjoy the serenity of a golf course, so do snakes, alligators, skunks and other members of the animal kingdom. “We’re really more in their habitat than we are in ours,” Whitten said. Stay aware of your surroundings and avoid approaching wild animals.

17. Leave it lie: Losing your ball in the water or out of bounds is frustrating. But trying to retrieve it could lead to you falling into a body of water, coming into contact with poison ivy or oak, or disrupting an unsuspecting animal – which could attack in an act of defense.

18. Recovery: Want to be prepared for your next round? Personal trainer Kathryn McKenzie of Canada’s Surefire Fitness recommends good nutrition, hydration and proper sleep to rejuvenate.

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