A golf club so hot, it can burn down your house

March 21, 2014
Researchers at UC Irvine say titanium alloy golf clubs can cause wildfires. They demonstrated that when a club coated with the lmetal is swung and strikes a rock, it creates sparks. (Reuters)

 

If you thought your golf game was hot, try swinging a titanium club. Especially in a rocky dry area. Actually, don’t.

After fires broke out at two golf courses in Irvine and Mission Viejo, Calif., fire investigators determined the only common factor was that each golfer used titanium-plated clubs on the rocky grounds.

“Each golfer had used titanium-plated three irons at the courses before the fire,” Orange County Fire Authority Captain Steve Concialdi told USA Today. He said each course had rocky ground and it was the only solution they had.

The fire investigators contacted University of California Irvine scientists to help discover whether titanium clubs could start fires. Most golf clubs have stainless steel heads, but some use a titanium alloy component, which makes the club lighter and easier to swing. And in California, many of the roughs at clubs are in rocky areas with flammable scrub brush, according to UC Irvine.

The scientists recreated the conditions on the days of the fires in their lab. They used high-speed video cameras and “powerful scanning electron microscope analysis” which showed that when the titanium clubs struck or grazed a hard surface, very hot sparks were produced. The sparks were up to 3,000 degrees and lasted up to one second. When they used stainless steel clubs, there were no sparks.

Chemical engineering and materials science professor James Earthman said:

“Rocks are often embedded in the found in these rough areas of dry foliage. When the club strikes a ball, nearby rocks can tear particles of titanium from the sole of the head. Bits of the particle surfaces will react violently with oxygen or nitrogen in the air and a tremendous amount of heat is produced. The foliage ignites in flames.”

Earthman was lead author of the study’s paper, along with four other scientists.

Concialdi told Associated Press that the department is asking golfers who use titanium-coated clubs to move their balls away from rocks and vegetation and over to the fairways. “If they need to take a penalty, take a penalty,” he said.

The next time you golf in a dry, rocky area, you might reach for the stainless steel clubs instead.

Pam Tobey is the graphics editor of the Morning Mix Web team at The Washington Post and a member of the Presentation Desk’s Information Design graphics team.
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