Growing up playing golf in Australia is a wonderful experience; beautiful landscapes and 100s of affordable, world-class golf courses make golf one of the most popular sports. But one of the factors rarely discussed is the brutal summer heat.
As a professional coach I’ve also been lucky enough to live and play golf in America, where the temperatures can also reach high into the 120s. Places like Arizona and Florida can be brutal, particularly Florida, with its high humidity levels. Many non-golfers think golf is an easy game and requires little to no athletic ability or fitness; obviously, those people haven’t spent 5 hours on the golf course in the middle of summer.
Heatstroke or “heat illness” is a genuine condition that has affected nearly every golfer at one time or another, so understanding how to mitigate it is paramount to the health of golfers of all ages. Whether you’re a caddy, a player, a fan, a volunteer, or an official, knowing the preventative steps will help keep you safe while out on the course.
The risks associated with heatstroke are very significant and, in some cases, can be life-threatening. Outdoor sports such as tennis, running, and cycling are incredibly rigorous, and as such, players of those sports are at a much greater risk of developing heatstroke when compared to a golfer. That being said, golf has its own risks, particularly the fact that a round of golf can last anywhere between 3 to 5 hours.
Some people are at a greater risk of developing heatstroke, and it’s essential they know what the preventive steps are in order to stay safe on the course. Certain factors which hinder the body’s ability to dissipate heat also need to be considered
Factors such as:
- High temps
- Solar radiation and
The tips and advice set out below will help players of all ages and abilities enjoy the game of golf without falling victim to heatstroke. The steps are simple, practical, and easy to implement.
What is heatstroke ?
Heatstroke is a serious illness typically bought on by exercising in high temperatures. The body’s ability to sweat becomes compromised, and thus, body temperature cannot be regulated effectively.
The body’s temperature can rise as high as 106 Fahrenheit when heatstroke hits, and 10 to 15 minutes is all it takes to bring on dangerous symptoms. As stated earlier, if not treated quickly, heatstroke can be life-threatening and, in some cases, death.
Symptoms of heatstroke
- Confusion and slurred speech
- Elevated body temperature
- Excessive sweating or hot skin
- Vomiting and nausea
Steps to treat players suffering from heatstroke
- Call 911 or the emergency number specific to your country
- Do not leave the player; stay with them until help arrives
- Try to move the player to a shaded area or bring an umbrella if they are unable to move
- Use ice or cold water to cool the player
- Try circulating the air as much as possible around the player to quicken cooling
- Keep ice and or cool, wet towels in strategic areas like the groin, neck, head, and under the armpits.
Simple strategies to reduce the risk of heatstroke
Plan your tee-off time
To give yourself the best possible chance to beat the fierce summer heat and stave off heatstroke, playing either early morning or late afternoon are your best option. Playing 18 holes after work is my personal favorite, especially because where I live during the summer months, it’s daylight until nearly 8 pm.
Staying out of the heat during the middle of the day is critical to your health and safety. If you’re playing in a club or pro tournament, sometimes playing during the hottest part of the day is unavoidable; in these circumstances, ensure you’re keeping hydration levels up during the round.
For golf clubs or associations who might be thinking of holding a tournament, ensuring your tee times are set as early as possible and reducing the number of holes on scorching days are excellent tips to take advantage of.
Acclimatization for most people happens naturally, especially as the temperature rises between the winter and summer months. However, if you’re a player who is traveling to a tournament in another state or internationally, acclimatization can take anywhere from 3-5 days.
If you’re traveling from a warmer climate to a cooler one or vice versa, getting acclimatized can sometimes take up to two weeks, depending on the individual.
Knowing this, it’s best to arrive at least a couple of days before your event starts to get used to the heat. Remember, some places are scorching and dry, like my home city of Adelaide, while other areas like Florida are hot and very, very, very humid; those who have played in Florida will understand the “3 very’s.”
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The keys to staying hydrated
The more you sweat, the more fluid you need to consume to stave off and help mitigate the chance of heatstroke. Dehydration is basically a loss of fluid during or after strenuous exercise, primarily due to respiration and perspiration. If golfers are dehydrated, it will almost certainly increase their chance of suffering heatstroke.
To reduce the risk of developing heatstroke, golfers should ensure they are drinking adequate amounts of fluid before the start of the round. Its generally accepted that drinking between 500ml and one liter of water every two hours can lessen the chance of heatstroke. Maintaining your hydration levels throughout the 18 holes is essential as much of your body fluid is lost through sweating.
Golfers should aim to consume roughly 3ml per/kg of body mass, which for an average-sized athlete who weighs 155lbs or 72kgs equates to about 750ml an hour. Always take into consideration that each individual will have different sweat rates; if you’re someone who sweats a lot, you should up your water intake to 1 liter an hour.
Water is more than adequate for most golfers; however, during the summer months, when you’re out on the course for up to five hours, it’s highly recommended you consume sports drinks that contain high levels of electrolytes and carbohydrates. Electrolytes, in particular, are lost at high levels through the sweating process. Getting into the habit of sipping your sports drink after every shot is an excellent way to mitigate the dangerous symptoms associated with heatstroke.
Clubs and associations are recommended to ensure access to adequate hydration is found at various places out on the course; this small step will keep all golfers in good health. Making sure that you rehydrate is just as important, if not more important, than pre-hydration. An excellent way to track fluid loss is to weigh yourself before the start of the round; most changerooms have scales, so it’s a pretty easy and effective step.
Replacing 150% of what you lost while playing is recommended; 1 kg of body weight equals 1 liter of water. Replacing your fluid levels, you should combine water and sports drinks to ensure proper rehydration; this is particularly important if you’re playing again the next day.
Hydration points to take into consideration
- Even the slightest degree of dehydration can negatively impact your level of play.
- Be careful not to over-hydrate as it can lead to hyponatremia, which is low blood sodium.
- Ensure your drink both water and sports drinks
Summer clothing for golf
Wearing appropriate summer clothing will go a long way to reduce the chance of you getting heatstroke. Choose clothes that are made from lightweight materials such as natural fibers and composite materials. High-tech materials are also excellent at wicking moisture away from the skin and help to keep your clothing nice and light.
The color of your clothes also plays a vital role in helping to keep you stay cool. Be sure to choose light colors and avoid dark colors at all costs.
Wearing hats and applying sunscreen
When it comes to staying cool out on the course, packing an umbrella might be one of the best choices you’ve ever made. Apart from keeping you dry in a rainstorm, umbrellas also provide an excellent place to hide under and get out of the sun.
Every opportunity you get to stand in the shade, take it, and this goes for caddies, fans, players, and officials. Senior citizens are at much greater risk, so if you find yourself playing with an older group of golfers, make sure you look out for heatstroke symptoms such as dizziness, slurring of speech, and excessive sweating.
- Mid-profile semi-structured design
- Performance moisture wicking fabric
- Cooling sweatband
- Adjustable Velcro closure
You’ve heard it 100 times before, and you’ll hear it again; making sure you have a high-quality sunscreen is a non-negotiable when playing golf during the summer. In actual fact, you should wear sunscreen every time you play to stay protected from harmful UV rays and windburn.
Your sunscreen should be at least SPF 30+. Each time you wipe away your sweat, you’re also wiping away your sunscreen, so make sure you’re continually reapplying it during the course of play. Your hat should be light in color, well-vented, and have a wide brim to help keep the sun off the back of your neck, which is an area of your body prone to sun exposure.
How age and gender play a role
On average, the female body carries more body fat than men, and because of that, women are at a much greater risk of suffering from heatstroke. Junior golfers are especially at risk of getting heatstroke because the sweating mechanism that helps cool down the body has not yet fully developed. Another factor is that body weight and surface area ratio makes it easier for children to heat up quickly.
Junior golfers also take much longer than adults when it comes to acclimatizing to the heat; as parents, make sure your kids are drinking adequate amounts of water and have packed their water bottles into the golf bag. Kids are also much better at listening to their bodies than adults, and because of this, they’ll generally stop playing if they start to feel discomfort. Under no circumstance should you EVER force junior golfers to continue playing.
Senior golfers are at the greatest risk of falling victim to heatstroke due to reduced cardio function and poor fitness levels.
Golfers with predisposed medical ailments
Golfers, officials, caddies, and volunteers with predisposed medical conditions or those taking prescription drugs may also be at a higher risk of developing heatstroke. It’s essential that senior golfers are well hydrated, have appropriate summer clothing, and wear sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses.
Examples of pre-disposed conditions that may induce heatstroke are
- Diabetes and
- Certain heart conditions, just to name a few.
Golfers who are feeling unwell or are suffering from the common cold or even gastro are best advised to hold off on playing until they begin to feel better. Heavy drinking the night before can set golfers up for exposure to heatstroke due to the dehydrating effect of alcohol; this is particularly dangerous in hot weather.
Other factors that can help prevent heatstroke
There are a number of preventative measures that can be taken to help mitigate the chance of getting heatstroke. Many of these strategies are commonsense, practical, and easy to perform and implement.
Measures we’ve discussed earlier are not only appropriate steps to take to while out on the course; they are also excellent strategies you can use to help prevent heatstroke.
- Wearing hats
- Applying sunscreen
- Staying hydrated
- Staying in the shade
Organizers of golf tournaments need to take appropriate actions if they expect hot weather during the course of the tournament. Ensuring medical professionals are present should be a prerequisite before organizing any event.
If preventative measures aren’t taken to combat heatstroke or at least mitigate its onset, golfers are endangering themselves by neglecting simple and easy steps. Hydrating with water and a high-quality sports drink is crucial, along with wearing appropriate summer clothing.
Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are also essential to ensure you keep your hydration levels up throughout the round. After playing, re-hydrating is vital to ensure that you are ready to go for the next round.
Remember, heat stroke is no joke.