IRVINE (CBSLA.com) — Titanium alloy golf clubs can potentially ignite dry brush when the lightweight metal is swung and struck against a rock, researchers said Wednesday.
KNX 1070’s Mike Landa reports the study conducted by scientists at the University of California, Irvine, found that under the right conditions, titanium clubs can create sparks that can heat to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for long enough to ignite dry foliage.
The findings – which were published in February in the peer-reviewed journal Fire and Materials – comes in response to a request from Orange County fire investigators to determine whether such clubs could have caused blazes at Shady Canyon Golf Course in Irvine and Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo in recent years.
To assist with the study, Orange County fire officials provided researchers with rock and vegetation samples along with a three-iron club with a titanium sole, the Orange County Register reported.
“In all these cases, basically, the ball was in a lateral hazard or just out of bounds, the golfer struck the ball, hit the rocks, and it produced sparks hot enough to start the vegetation on fire,” said Orange County Fire Authority spokesman Steve Concialdi.
James Earthman, lead researcher on the report and UC Irvine chemical engineering & materials science professor, said those fires demonstrate the potential risk the titanium clubs could pose.
“This unintended hazard could potentially lead to someone’s death,” said Earthman. “A very real danger exists, particularly in the Southwest, as long as certain golf clubs remain in use.”
Using high-speed video cameras and powerful scanning electron microscope analysis, researchers painstakingly re-created course conditions on the days of the fires and found that when titanium clubs were abraded by striking or grazing hard surfaces, intensely hot sparks flew out of them.
In contrast, when standard stainless steel clubs were used, there was no reaction, researchers found. While most golf clubs have stainless steel heads, a significant number being manufactured or in circulation have a titanium alloy component in the head, according to the study.
Such alloys are 40 percent lighter, which can make the club easier to swing, including when chipping errant balls out of tough spots.