A study conducted by scientists at UC Irvine confirms that titanium-coated golf clubs can produce a shower of sparks when struck against a rock, which could cause course-side vegetation to catch fire. Firefighters suspect that the clubs could be the cause of a blaze that burned 12 acres at Shady Canyon Golf Course in Irvine in 2010.
Scientists at UC Irvine say they’ve proven that titanium-coated clubs can cause course-side vegetation to burst into flames, the Santa Ana (Calif.) Orange County Register reported.
The new study confirms a suspicion firefighters have had for years—that the clubs were likely the true cause of several blazes on Orange County golf courses, including one that burned 12 acres at the Shady Canyon Golf Course in Irvine, Calif., in 2010, the Register reported.
“What this proved was that you could produce sparks with these golf clubs that contain titanium, and they will persist in burning for well over a second,” said James Earthman, a chemical engineering and materials science professor and an author of the golf club study. “And that gives the spark plenty of time.”
When struck against a rock, the titanium coating can produce a shower of such sparks, the Register reported.
“The temperature of these particles can get up to around 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit,” Earthman said. “Titanium reacts violently with both oxygen and nitrogen in the air.”
Worried that the Shady Canyon fire and several other blazes might have been ignited by titanium clubs, the Orange County Fire Authority teamed up with UCI’s engineering department to find out, the Register reported.
Fire officials collected rock and vegetation samples and bought a titanium club—a three-iron with a titanium sole—for the researchers, said Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi. Then Earthman and his fellow researchers smacked rocks with golf clubs in the laboratory, recording the results with a high-speed camera, the Register reported.
“Every time a titanium club hit a rock, we saw sparks like that flying out,” Earthman said. “When we compared that with a stainless-steel-headed golf club, no sparks were observed.”
Suspicions about titanium clubs already have caused some to be taken out of production, Earthman said, though they can still be found, especially where used clubs are sold, the Register reported.
“To eliminate this problem altogether, we need to take those out of circulation as well,” Earthman said.
For now, the Fire Authority is giving golfers permission to “improve their lie”—so when the ball bounces into the rough, they can move it back to the green rather than struggling to hit it out of the dirt and brush, the Register reported.
“We encourage golfers to move their ball away from the rocks and dry vegetation,” Concialdi said.