From the 50-yard Line to Your Fairways – When Calamity Strikes, is Your Club Prepared?

   As seen in Golf Business July/August 2023   

By Michael Williams:


On Jan. 2 of this year during the first quarter of a regular-season "Monday Night Football" game against the Cincinnati Bengals, 25-year old safety Damar Hamlin made what appeared to be a routine tackle. But after initially standing up, he collapsed unconscious, to the shock of everyone on the field, in the stands and watching at home. Minutes passed as Hamlin lay on the field and was then taken to the hospital. For the longest time it was unclear to millions of onlookers whether they had just seen a player die. Thankfully, Hamlin survived what doctors concluded was a specific type of cardiac arrest. Doctors credited the rapid response of the emergency staff and health staff from both teams for taking swift action that saved Hamiln’s life.

Every day, millions of Americans play golf, and for the great majority the worst thing they suffer is wounded pride. But there are also times when golfers suffer serious health emergencies, including cardiac arrest. With more and more people coming to the golf course and an aging contingent of core golfers, owner/operators need to be prepared for a moment that they hope never comes, when a customer’s life is literally in their hands.

Golf, a sport played by approximately 25 million Americans, can provide essential health benefits such as stress reduction and regular exercise. Due to its social nature and controlled pace, people often maintain motivation and the ability to continue playing the sport even at older ages and after suffering a heart attack or stroke. According to research conducted by the American Stroke Association, regularly golfing – defined in the study as at least once per month – was found to lower the risk of death among older adults.

But along with the benefits come the reality that calamity can strike on the course. According to the American Heart Association, golf courses are the fifth among the most likely places people have heart attacks (coming in just behind airports, county jails, shopping malls and sports stadiums).

Wayne Rohauer is the Director of Golf Operations for Montgomery County (Maryland) Golf. With nine courses located in suburban Washington, DC, serving 370,000 rounds per year, Rohauer knows from over 15 years’ experience at MCG that the unexpected can happen.

“I have personally been involved in two, not with this company, but with other companies. Since I have been with MCG, I know of three instances within the past eight years that we've had on the golf courses,” said Rohauer.  “I believe two of them resulted in sustained life so that they came through it and unfortunately there was one that did not.”

Rohauer recognizes that the first step to a positive outcome is preparation. “All of our golf courses are equipped with AED (Automated External Defibrillator) devices. And all of our core staff are all AED and CPR trained every year at the beginning of the year,” noted Rohauer.  “Those certifications, I believe, are good for two years, so we keep every golf course current with responsible people on the golf course that have been trained in applying proper procedures. We are prepared to do whatever we can to help sustain life until the trained medical professionals get there. Our staff knows that 911 gets called first and then we render the aid that that is possible until the medical professionals arrive.”

While cardiac situations are typically related by the age or health of the golfer, lightning strikes are a phenomenon that can affect golfers of any age and fitness level, and can cause cardiac arrest similar to a heart attack.

Said Rohauer, “I have also been involved with that, again, not with Montgomery Golf but with another golf company. With MCG, we let people know when there is possible lightning in the area, but it is their personal choice whether they come off the golf course or not. But if it happens, a lightning strike does trigger a heart attack symptom. So, the treatment for any kind of lightning strike is electrical shock; you use the AED or CPR, whichever is quickly available or both simultaneously.”

Rohauer noted that other seemingly harmless events can lead to potentially life-threatening situations. In the Western U.S., course operators need to be prepared for things like snake bites. While that is not a real concern for Rohauer and other operators in the Mid-Atlantic region, nature can still be hazardous.

“Allergies can be dangerous, and the most common one on the golf course would be a bee sting. But generally, those individuals are generally carrying their EpiPens because they're very aware of the environment that they're in,” remarked Rohauer.

What becomes clear is that the watch words for owner/operators are to be as prepared as possible and then to respond as quickly as possible.

“Yes. And the quicker the better,” concurred Rohauer.  “I think it's just an awareness factor. Lifesaving techniques definitely should be in the forefront of your training. I think every golf course should have some type of formal training operating an AED or at the minimum CPR. But having a plan in place in case something happens has given us the opportunity to approach the situations much more effectively and fortunately has resulted in the positive recovery of a couple people. It’s directly due to the training that we have provided on what to do and the awareness of how to do it quickly.”


This article was featured in the July/August edition of Golf Business magazine.

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