Titanium-Coated Golf Clubs Can Lead to Fires, Scientists Find

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

A view of the golf course at the Paradise Golf
Andre Penner

Golfers need to be careful when swinging a titanium-coated golf club now that scientists at UC Irvine have proven the clubs can lead to fires.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi announced on Wednesday that titanium-coated clubs have been determined to be the cause of at least two fires on California golf courses in recent years, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). The first fire burned 25 acres at Irvine's Shady Canyon in 2010 and the second inferno occurred at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo.

After investigators had initially "laughed at" the claims linking the golf clubs to the fires, research led to hard evidence that there was indeed a connection.

"The common denominator was each golfer used a titanium club, and hit the ball [from] just out of bounds next to dry vegetation, where the ground was extremely rocky," Concialdi said.

Scientists were able to recreate the conditions of the courses on the days of the fires in order to substantiate their theory. Once they had the conditions optimized, they used high-speed cameras and electron microscopes to monitor the experiment.

When the titanium-coated clubs hit a rock, they produced sparks of up to 3,000 degrees that will burn for more than a second, according to James Earthman, a chemical engineering and materials science professor at UC Irvine who was also an author of the study. That is enough time to ignite course-side vegetation.

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"Titanium reacts violently with both oxygen and nitrogen in the air," Earthman said.

In order to prove the clubs containing titanium were the cause of the blazes, the scientists had to test clubs made of other materials as well. When stainless steel clubs were used, there were no sparks.

Concialdi also said the Fire Authority is asking golfers using titanium clubs to be safe. He wants to give those golfers permission to move their ball away from any rocks and dry vegetation in order to avoid potential fires.

"If they need to take a penalty, take a penalty," Concialdi said.

This knowledge may be enough to prevent future fires. Golfers are going to use what they are comfortable with, but now they are at least aware of the dangers that come along with titanium clubs.

Editor's Note: This article previously featured an image of TaylorMade SpeedBlade irons. Per a company spokesperson, SpeedBlade irons are not titanium coated. The erroneous image has been replaced.