By Adam Brindle
The United States loves golf. In 2020 alone, 24.8 million people played a round on an American course, according to the National Golf Foundation. In summer, golf is a glorious sport and time can be spent enjoying a round or two in the beaming sunshine. During winter, however, especially in more northern states, golf courses can be dangerous if the weather is not planned for correctly.
Creating an effective winter risk assessment and management strategy is core to the safety and success of your golf course in the colder months.
Why golf courses need winter risk assessments
In winter, cold temperatures cause road surfaces to freeze, snow to fall and, in some cases, freezing rain. With colder weather comes greater risk of slips, trips and falls that affect the users of your golf courses. The top cause of nonfatal injury in the United States is falling — with more than 8 million injuries caused by one just in 2019, according to the National Safety Council.
Winter weather can also cause vehicle accidents, whether it’s coming off a road or sliding on black ice in a parking lot. Cold weather brings with it a multitude of risks, which is why a winter risk assessment is necessary.
What should a winter risk assessment cover?
For golf courses, there are two main areas that need to be covered in a winter risk assessment: the course itself and the clubhouse. As golf courses contain a variety of landscape features, it’s important that a proactive risk assessment is in place. This should include:
- Plans for snow and extreme weather
- Plans for cold weather and snow removal
- Emergency communications
Plans for snow and other extreme weather
Snow is prevalent in some states with colder weather, but it’s important to prepare for any eventuality. As part of your winter risk assessment, you may engage the services of a snow clearing contractor, especially if you don’t have the resources to invest in your own heavy machinery.
You should also prepare for various levels of weather warning. Refer to your local state’s weather report, and plan how you want to react to a potential warning of snow, and what mitigatory processes you may need to put in place.
Other extreme weather, such as heavy freezing rain or intense hail, also needs to be considered. These can often cause greater disturbance and more damage.
Plans for cold weather and snow removal
Whether you use traditional salt — or are now using beet juice for a more environmentally friendly and effective gritting alternative — it’s important to prepare for snowy conditions.
By analyzing the road surface temperature, weather conditions and overnight forecasts, you can find out when it’s best to grit. This way, you’re only handling snow removal when you need to, while ensuring that your facilities are as safe as possible.
As part of your risk assessment, consider:
- The areas where your local agencies already handle snow removal
- Where your high traffic routes are
- Key access routes to your site
- Whether you need to grit across the course, or just by the clubhouse
- How long it would take to clear all areas
Emergency communications in winter
Risk assessments should always cover how you communicate with people in worst-case scenarios. Whether it’s to tell them that the course is closed for a while, or to communicate to golfers that snow is coming and they should return to the clubhouse as soon as possible, it’s important to plan for all eventualities.
As well as communicating to members, you may need to find a way to share a statement with stakeholders whose contact information you might not have on hand.
Another part of emergency communications is to staff, both those on and off the clock. Are some of your staff able to easily get to the course to assist with snow removal and preparing surfaces for safe transportation, if need be, or do you need to procure a contractor?
Keep your course safe
This winter, make sure you plan properly and keep your course safe so that people can continue to enjoy a round or two, no matter the weather!