When a golfer strikes a golf ball with a driver, about a ton of force is applied to the dimpled white orb. The ball is flattened by the tremendous impact, then soars into the distance at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. When done right, the whole process is a joy to behold and quite a remarkable feat of physics.
Jim Moore wasn't thinking about any of that when he returned to the White Flint Metro parking lot one day last year after work and spied the windshield of his Toyota Camry. It was shattered, with spidery cracks leading from a tiny impact crater.
"At first I couldn't figure it out," the Rockville resident said. "Then I saw that powdery round thing [in the center]. Now I knew."
The crater was the size of a golf ball. And the golf ball, Jim was certain, had come from the driving range at the nearby White Flint Golf Park.
Someone had a wicked slice.
When Jim contacted the driving range, people there were apologetic and didn't hesitate to pick up the cost of replacing the windshield. "I came out very lucky," he said. "It probably would have been much more expensive had it hit the hood of my car or put a dent in it."
Still, Jim wonders if the parking lot-driving range combination is just an accident waiting to happen.
"Suppose somebody's getting out of their car and they get beaned in the head by a golf ball?" he asked. "I would really hate to see some little kid in a stroller get beaned because his parents were parking at White Flint."
The folks at the golf park said that once in a while, balls do sail over the protective netting at the driving range's rightmost corner and land in the parking lot, some 350 yards from the tees.
"If you hit a good ball downwind, it's going to carry," said Larry Baldridge, a teaching professional at the golf park.
Larry estimated that last year it happened 15 times, and each time the driving range paid for the damage. This year hasn't been so bad, he said, possibly because employees regularly walk along the tee line cautioning golfers whose drives are heading in the direction of the parking lot.
Of course, Larry admitted, "a lot of people who aim for the left go further to the right. It's just kind of a weird thing about the sport."
Larry said they haven't heard of any commuters getting whacked. A few employees have been, though, while out "hand picking" -- collecting balls from places where the ball retrieval machine can't go.
"Sometimes you're not paying attention and all of a sudden a ball will hit you," said Larry.
"I caught one yesterday," said Hayden Gafford, who works at the range repairing golf clubs. He was standing on top of a mound that's 200 yards from the tee line when he saw the ball coming, stuck out his hand and -- whap! -- snagged it.
I asked if they ever considered donning a helmet or Kevlar body armor while they were out hand picking.
"I'm never wearing that again," said Hayden, who was in the Army until an accident broke his back while he was changing the tread on a tank. (Once you've repaired a tank, regripping a 9-iron is relatively simple.) For a while, Jim tried to find a safe parking space behind a large van or an SUV. Now he parks instead at the Grosvenor lot.
"I'm not going to put this baby back there."
So just how dangerous are golf balls anyway? I called the Consumer Product Safety Commission to find out.
They don't keep a specific tally of golf-ball- related injuries, but there is something called the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Certain emergency rooms keep track of injuries, which are then coded. The CPSC folks ran me a list of injuries over the last two years that included the words "golf ball."
There was the 80-year-old man who was simply "Hit with golf ball" and the 69-year-old woman who slipped and fell while "Trying to retrieve golf ball from creek while playing golf."
There was the 34-year-old man who injured his elbow while he was driving the golf cart and "tried to pick up a ball without stopping" and the 31-year-old who cut his thumb when "scissors slipped while he was trying to cut open a golf ball."
Some injuries were only slightly related to golf, such as the 67-year-old man who was "looking for his ball in the woods [and] was scratched by a raccoon in the left ankle."
And some sound perfect for those sadistic home video shows: "[Patient] was practicing golf when he hit the golf ball, it struck a metal pipe and bounced back into face."
As painful as some of the injuries must have been, some of the victims kept their minds on the game. The listing for a 52-year-old woman who was hit in the head with a golf ball notes that "it was on her upswing."
Moss Hollow Midpoint
We're getting close to the midpoint of our Send a Kid to Camp campaign.
Our goal as of July 23: $750,000.
Total as of yesterday: $160,136.51.
To contribute: Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to: Attention: Lockbox, Department 0500, Washington, D.C. 20073-0500.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/camp. Click on the icon that says, "Make Your Tax-Deductible Donation."
To contribute by phone with Visa or MasterCard, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in KIDS, or 5437, and follow the instructions.