Long as I remember the rain been comin' down
Clouds of mystery pourin' confusion on the ground
Good men through the ages tryin' to find the sun
And I wonder, still I wonder, who'll stop the rain?
- Credence Clearwater Revival
I'm a bit of a weather nerd, having grown up in Minnesota and idolizing Barry Zevan the Weatherman. Google him. The rained-out golf event or Sunday afternoon tee time was common during my Midwest golf days. When I moved to California, I tossed my Gore-Tex rain suit and now use my golf umbrella for daily dog walks during our intermittent rainy season. Fair-weather golfer? My motto is, "No shorts, no shots."
One of the first emails I open each morning is the Golf Wire. It's not because of the "what's in the bag" stories, which belt the latest PGA Tour winner wore, or how many "best of" courses a particular management company manages. Instead, I'm looking for items of interest for golf course owners and operators and maybe a story or two. I may have hit paydirt with a Golf Wire story on June 22, "GTAA ANNOUNCES A WAY TO STOP THE RAIN."
Phil Immordino, CEO of GTAA (Golf Tournament Association of America), told me the press release was issued on behalf of its new sponsor, Unclouded, and emphasized GTAA was not promising to stop the rain despite how I interpreted the text. So, I tracked down and interviewed a representative from the subject company, Unclouded. Catchy name, a sign of creative marketing.
First, a little history provided by a local meteorologist. "People and governments have tried to manipulate the weather for hundreds of years. The first major effort to control the weather was during World War II. Russia attempted to cover the polar regions with ash, thinking that it would reduce the albedo (reflection). Inducing the melting of the ice caps would change global temperature patterns (just as the greenhouse effect is doing that today). Back in 1977, when California had its drought, state officials started seeding clouds right at the base of the Sierra Nevada. No one knows if it increased the rainfall because you really only seed the ready-to-be rain clouds. No one seeds clouds on a non-rain environment day. But Idaho decided that California was attempting to steal their water and filed a lawsuit. Directly manipulating a golf course weather pattern is on a tiny scale. Seems impossible. And if you could do something like that you would be the richest man in the world. Weather manipulation is something that governments are actively looking at all the time but made more difficult due to rapidly changing and more severe weather patterns."
You can see more about Unclouded on their website. But reading what follows might save some time. I interviewed an Unclouded representative and asked questions shaped by my skepticism, particularly as it relates to golf courses and golf events. "Golf is a huge market," the Unclouded rep told me, but seemed more enamored with partnering with the PGA Tour, USGA, LPGA, and other professional tours that frequently suffer through lousy weather delays, not to mention having deeper pockets.
Let's be very, very clear (pardon the pun) about one thing. We cannot summarily stop the rain. The idea of controlling the rain means it will rain elsewhere, maybe more than expected, before reaching the playing grounds. And it's not just the 150 or so acres of a golf course that promises to remain dry; it's really a much larger area, including areas that might need or want rain – like farmers. Just because you don't want it to rain doesn't mean others might complain.
For instance, Texas requires this: "Weather modification law in Texas requires the applicant for a permit to publish a "Notice of Intention to Conduct Weather-Modification Operations" in area newspapers for three consecutive weeks. This Notice apprizes the public of its right to request a public hearing on the proposed cloud-seeding project. In the absence of a call for a hearing, a permit application can be processed by the TDLR within 30-60 days." Those notices are an additional cost, and a public hearing? You've promised no rain to a big event organizer without realizing the potential for a community backlash.
Montana has some similar requirements, including: A fee of 1 percent of estimated operation costs, a $10 million proof of financial responsibility to meet "the applicant's ability to respond in damages for liability that might reasonably be attached to or result from the applicants' weather modification and control activities, an environmental impact statement prepared by the DNRC, a public meeting, and publication of notice of intention to conduct weather modification operation. More can be learned about weather modification at the links below, a small collection of the many Google found for me.
The Unclouded representative told me his company is working through the permitting process with U.S. states, municipalities, and agencies (Unclouded is a Canadian company). My research indicates there is not a "one size fits all" solution. Left unclear is what necessary actions are the responsibility of the contracting golf course.
Unclouded’s fee is $25,000-$35,000, with a 5%, non-refundable deposit. The full amount is due ten days before the event, and their "promise," if not kept, means a refund of the contracted amount, less the 5% initial fee. If you can factor a potential $1250-$1750 loss into your budget, more power to you. The hit to your reputation might be costlier. "You promised us no rain." "Right, but sometimes it doesn't work." "Okay, why should I trust you again?" You get the drift.
Weather manipulation as a villainous movie theme is not uncommon. Heck, even Maxwell Smart faced a weather threat from KAOS. Generally, the earth was saved, and the bad guy was deposed. Of course, Unclouded has better intentions, and it's not beyond the pale to imagine somebody like Augusta National contracting to stop rain from falling on a final Masters round (maybe they already have?). My experience tells me that golf course operators will adopt a “wait and see” attitude on stopping the rain, and we’ll see if Unclouded can part the clouds and build a successful business.
Don't tell me not to live
Just sit and putter
Life's candy and the sun's
A ball of butter
Don't bring around a cloud
To rain on my parade!
- Funny Girl, Barbra Streisand