Lightning Rounds

Harmony Golf Preserve and Lake Shore Park
Harmony, Fla.

By Jenny E. Beeh

If you've ever been caught on a golf course or in an open field with a thunderstorm rolling in, then you know what it's like to scramble for someplace to take cover.

A lightning strike may seem like an infrequent and random act, but in reality, lightning kills more Americans each year than tornadoes, floods and hurricanes combined. Of the 40 million lightning strikes per year in the United States, about 400 hit people, killing half and seriously injuring the other half, though exact statistics vary.

Outdoor recreation facilities account for the highest percentage of lightning fatalities. For most areas of the country, lightning probably will hit the ground about 5,000 times in a year within a 10-mile area surrounding a given facility. In the Florida or Texas, the frequency is two to three times higher.

Luckily for players tackling the links at the Harmony Golf Preserve in Harmony, Fla., there are some new shelters that offer a refuge from the electrifying elements.

"Most golf courses—particularly in the Southeast and particularly in Central Florida, which many consider the lightning capital of the world—provide shelter for golfers to get out of the rain," says Kent Foreman, vice president of Harmony Development Corporation, whose planned community includes the 260-acre golf course and nearby Lake Shore Park. Harmony's planners wanted to go a step further and provide protection from dangerous lightning as well.

Designers came up with a fabric architecture structure complete with lightning rods for golfers caught off guard by bad weather while out on the course. Located centrally between the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth holes on the front nine and between the 11th, 14th and 15th holes on the back nine, the two 24-foot-by-24-foot conical pyramid frame structures each accommodate nine golf carts and occupants. Made of a waterproof and UV-blocking vinyl material, the fabric structures are designed to be permanent and able to withstand up to 140-mph winds, well exceeding Florida's 90-mph wind standard for shelters.

Flash Facts
  • You really do have a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery—actually, a one in 250,000 to 400,000 chance in any given year in the United States
  • While highly variable, the average lightning strike has a peak current of about 30,000 amps. The core of a lightning bolt can reach an estimated 54,000 F, six times hotter than the surface of the sun.
  • By holding an umbrella, standing under a tree, swinging a golf club or batting with an aluminum bat, you risk turning yourself into a lightning rod.
  • Early detection systems and appropriate shelters can be key in preventing injuries and damage. With a warning system in place, staff members can be alerted to an approaching storm, dangerous areas can be cleared, and people can take cover.

The lightning protection comes from one rod per structure that is embedded in cement, grounded 10 feet deep. BP International, Inc. in Deland, Fla., worked with Harmony planners to create the new shelters for the golfers' safety.

"We wanted something with the least disruption of play and that addressed the general protection issues," Foreman says. "It turned out to be very easy as well as economical."

The fabric structures seem to be a hit so far.

"They wanted to put in a shelter that would enhance the area rather than a wood structure, which would require maintenance," says George Hampton, director of ShadeZone for BPI. He estimates that the new fabric structures cost about one-third to one-half the cost of lumber for a traditional structure. Also, the fabric, which naturally moves slightly in the wind, seems to deter nesting birds and insects as well as vandals looking for a building to tag—all cutting maintenance issues.

Harmony planners also added a larger fabric structure with lightning protection at Lake Shore Park, a favorite picnic and playground destination. The two-tiered, pagoda-style pavilion also sports a fabric waterproof top. The tiers cleverly allow for increased air circulation, adding a cooling effect.

Of course, every little bit helps in beating the brutal Florida heat.

For more information

BP International, Inc.: 800-767-2255
or visit

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