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If lightning looms, seek shelter quickly

A tree is probably the worst refuge on a golf course during an electrical storm. After Thursday's fatal lightning strike at the U.S. Open in Minnesota, several bay area club professionals said the obvious precaution for golfers during an electrical storm is to find shelter as quickly as possible.

At this time of year, the Tampa Bay area and its 150 golf courses are susceptible to thunderstorms and lightning. Club pros were quick to warn that a tree is not safe shelter.

Said Jim Brennan of Plantation Inn and Golf Resort: "One of the things you shouldn't do _ which apparently the people did today _ is go under a tree, particularly one that's isolated. That's like a lightning rod.

"You shouldn't be near any fences. Get away from your golf cart with the clubs in them. Take shelter somewhere, if possible, but if you can't, don't go under outstanding trees."

Jeff Hollis, of Mangrove Bay Golf Course in St. Petersburg, said that if lightning strikes while a golfer is on a green, "don't get under any big tree. If it gets real bad, go to the lowest part (a ditch or a swale, for example) that you can."

At Mangrove, sirens warn golfers of threatening weather, and there are shelters on the front and back nine.

Depending on the severity of the storm, golfers may want to abandon their equipment.

"Number one, get away from your golf clubs," said Brett Upper, director of golf at Feather Sound Country Club in Clearwater. "Number two, take off your shoes, they have metal spikes on the bottom. Avoid any trees and run down the middle of the fairway. Don't go on the sides of the fairway."

"A storm can be miles away and lightning can still strike," said Darryl Spelich of Bardmoor North Golf Club. "Once I see lightning, I head inside."

Bardmoor also has shelters and a warning siren. "Even if you don't have any shelter, head for a garage, anything, that's close enough."

If you have a cart, Spelich advises driving it to the nearest shelter.