High Heat, Smoke of Western Fires a Threat to LPGA Players
This week, I received a first-hand lesson in forest fires, as part of a 10,000 person evacuation of a coastal town on the central Oregon coast. As we inched along at one half mile per hour with a vast fire at our heels, officers directing traffic screamed and gyrated at us to move more quickly. Through the dense smoke, I could swear that there were one or two people still on the golf course, perhaps clinging to a once-in-a-lifetime eagle putt, or multi-thousand dollar bet. Yes, there is in some quarters a question of dollars over life, profit over peril.
The physical manifestations of our great escape toward the south coast were in the end, more annoying than life-threatening. My nasal passages and eyes still burn a day later from the intense smoke. However, if I had spent all that time on the golf course, things would have been much worse, I can guarantee you that.
In considering the danger of forest and brush fire smoke, we need to remember that not all catastrophic medical conditions happen to seniors – we are all eligible. An environment of high heat coupled with fire smoke can injure or kill a young person as well, right away or slowly through the years. Unless one is excited about the prospect of a double lung transplant or heart surgery, it pays for people of all ages to remember how sensitive our organs really are. It doesn’t matter that most of people who play on the tour are in good shape. Our species is not a monolith, and we can’t always explain why a strong, healthy person gets a disease of injury, while someone else doesn’t.
The point of all this is to address the scant protections the LPGA is allowing for tournament play in the coming weeks, in particular the ANA Inspiration, played at Mission Hills in California. What is this business about allowing carts for practice rounds, then caddies while the pros walk through the smoke of nearby fires?
No pun intended, but in this circumstance, the USGA and its rule book can go to blazes. The health of everyone present takes precedence over profit, television schedules, and anything other consideration. So long as everyone is playing by the same policy, change whatever you need to for protecting the participants. If we’re going to send players out to complete this tournament, why shouldn’t we get them on and off the course as quickly as possible? Is drinking an extra quart of water before a shot going to put them on the clock? It had better not. Is receiving help with burning eyes and hoarse throats going to cost strokes? Can extra panes be put on carts? Is oxygen allowed to be on the course?
All that may seem a little over the top, but if a tournament isn’t called off from such dangers, then no amount of protection is too extreme. For the ANA, we’re talking the effects of smoke from a distance away, not playing amidst flaming trees and smoldering bunkers in some sort of hell-scape. However, regardless of age, a lung is a lung, an organ of soft and super-sensitive tissue. It is interconnected with every other organ in the body.
Granted, we are older than the tour players, but walking a mile up the hill to our car from the beach was much more difficult than it has everbeen before. It’s usually a snap for us – that’s how debilitating the scene was, especially in a 30 to 60 mph wind. The tour should take just as much care for the player’s well-being ten or twenty years from now, as it does for the weekend. Let them ride. Let them breathe. Let them get out of the smoke or fire as fast as possible.