Titanium Alloy Golf Clubs Could Ignite Brush Fires: UC Irvine Study

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Titanium alloy golf clubs pose a risk of starting brush fires if they strike against a rock when swung, scientists said in a news release Wednesday.


A new study says titanium alloy golf clubs have the potential to ignite brush fires. (Credit: ntr23/flickr via Creative Commons)

A study conducted at the University of California, Irvine found that under certain conditions, a titanium alloy club could create sparks that can exceed temperatures of 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which in turn can ignite dry foliage and start a wildfire, according to the release.

“This unintended hazard could potentially lead to someone’s death,” James Earthman, the study’s lead author and a chemical engineering & materials science professor at UC Irvine, said in the release. “A very real danger exists, particularly in the Southwest, as long as certain golf clubs remain in use.”

Researchers at UC Irvine started studying the issue after Orange County fire investigators asked them to determine whether titanium alloy golf clubs could have caused blazes at Shady Canyon Golf Course in Irvine and Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo in recent years.

One of those fires almost reached a home before fire crews extinguished the flames, according to Earthman.

Researchers re-created course conditions on the days of the fires and used high-speed video cameras and powerful scanning electron microscope analysis to conduct the study, according to the release. They discovered that when titanium clubs were abraded by striking — or even just grazing — hard surfaces, the reaction created intensely hot sparks.

No reaction occurred when standard stainless clubs were used, researchers said.

Most golf clubs in circulation have stainless steel heads, but a significant number have a titanium alloy component, the study said. The lighter material makes the club easier to swing, especially when chipping errant balls out of the rough.

Researchers said those tough spots on Southern California golf courses are often made up of patches of flammable scrub brush.

“Rocks are often embedded in the ground in these rough areas of dry foliage,” Earthman stated in the release. “When the club strikes a ball, nearby rocks can tear particles of titanium from the sole of the head. Bits of the particle surfaces will react violently with oxygen or nitrogen in the air, and a tremendous amount of heat is produced.”

The findings were published in February in the peer-reviewed journal Fire and Materials.

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