PGA Severe Weather

This year’s Severe Weather Preparedness program will feature a panel and roundtable discussion with several sports leagues representatives. One of those participants is Steve Olson, senior director of corporate security for the PGA TOUR, who I interviewed for this story.

Billy Langenstein: Has there ever been a time when you were under prepared for the weather that affected your event? What were best practices you learned from the event?

Steve Olsen: I can’t think of an event where the PGA TOUR was under prepared for the weather. Since 1995, the TOUR has had a full-time professional meteorologist on site at every PGA TOUR, Champions Tour, and Web.com Tour event. The reason for that is monitoring the weather is critical to the safety, success, and fairness of a golf tournament. For safety reasons, we track storms very closely. As part of our duty to care for the fans, players, and staff who attend a golf tournament, we track storms in real time in order to provide decision makers with accurate information on which to base decisions. As an example, lightning within eight-to-10 miles of a golf course always gets our attention. However, if the storm track indicates the storm is moving in a direction that won’t impact our tournament, we will keep playing. Any change in direction or speed will be communicated to the decision makers in order to inform everyone in a timely manner as to what to expect. During a tournament, input on decisions to delay, postpone, or cancel a round or tournament due to weather is provided by a host of people. However, there is only one final decision maker, the head rules official, who has the authority to make the call. I would submit that as a best practice. Have a very simple chain of command for weather-related decisions that impact an event. And base those decisions on the best available real-time information.

BL: What is one piece of advice you can give to help a team prepare for weather-related activities?

SO: Monitor the weather in real time and error on the side of caution. Often times, severe weather doesn’t last that long and once it clears the area events can resume. However, if you wait too long to make the decision to delay or cancel an event, you create an elevated level of risk and liability. There are few events that can’t be resumed or rescheduled based on weather and none that are worth incurring an injury to a guest or damage to equipment and facilities that was preventable. Finally, if you are going to have an onsite weather expert, listen to and implement his or her recommendations.

BL: Do you have a communications plan for how to prepare for severe weather? What does your communication tree look like? 

SO: The potential for weather to impact a tournament is known days in advance and monitored closely in real time. When it appears likely that weather will become a factor, information about the speed, direction, severity, and characteristics (e.g., lightning, hail, snow, amount of rain, wind speed) is communicated by our meteorologist to several individuals who confer on the appropriate course of action. Once the decision is made, by the head rules official, to take action based on weather, advisories and warnings are posted on all of the electronic score boards located throughout the tournament grounds so everyone knows what is likely to occur or what actions to take from seeking shelter to evacuating the course. Those advisories and warnings are followed by a loud audible signal that indicates that play is being suspended or canceled. When that occurs, designated volunteers assist in moving guests and players to safe locations or to the nearest exit.

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BL: How does weather planning differ for a golf event as it might from a sport that has a physical venue?

SO: The TOUR is hyper sensitive to the implications that weather can have on our events including the fact we don’t have a large concrete structure to provide shelter in the event of severe weather. As a result, planning is critical to ensure the safety of everyone involved and we error on the side of caution. Because many of our fans arrive at the golf course via shuttle, if it appears that severe weather may or is likely to impact an event, we immediately post weather advisories and warnings on our electronic score boards and we pre-stage the busses in order to move large numbers of fans quickly back to their vehicles.

In addition, because the goal of every tournament is to ensure fairness of the competition for the players regardless of when they play, we monitor all aspects of the weather and make decisions on how to manage the playing surface based on weather. For example, projected rain amounts and levels of humidity impact the firmness of the greens so those projections impact decisions about how much water to add or how short to mow the greens. Rain amounts also impact the course’s ability to drain water efficiently, which can implement a modification of the rules of play. Projected wind speed and direction can impact how far a ball can be expected to travel so that can determine where the tees are placed on the teeing ground. In addition, there are millions of dollars of equipment deployed across the golf course, which is necessary to conduct and televise a tournament. Not all of which reacts well to water and moisture. Delaying or canceling play impacts TV broadcast agreements and schedules, which also impacts advertising, etc. As you can see, there are a lot of decisions to be made and equities to consider when weather becomes or may become a factor.

BL: If severe weather is in the area, how to you determine if the weather is deemed an emergency and you have to activate your incident action plan?

SO: As previously stated, we rely on the expertise and advice of the onsite, professional meteorologist. They have direct radio contact with the rules staff, tournament officials, and TOUR security. Once a decision is made, based on weather—which will impact play and the safety of the players and guests—that information is communicated via radio to all relevant parties who have responsibility for implementing components of the action plan. Some of our triggers are lightning within eight-to-10 miles and a travel pattern that will reduce that distance and winds that are or are forecasted to gust at or above 45 miles per hour. Winds at that speed impact the stability of a golf ball while stationary on a green and raise concerns relating to our temporary structures. FM

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