Posted: July 7, 2015 2:16 pm
Weather at a golf tournament ain’t just about rain and sunshine.
What direction and how hard is the wind blowing? And how should that affect the placement of the tees and pins?
How humid is it? And how will that influence how fast the grass grows out on the course?
How much water is already in the ground? And how will that impact the rain that may fall on grass parking areas and the greens?
All of that matters deeply to Jake Swick, a 2001 Millersville University graduate, who is monitoring the weather from sunup to sundown for the U.S. Women’s Open this week.
“There is no typical day,” he says, grinning. “That’s why we’re in meteorology. We love the fact that every day is different.”
Swick, 35, of Draper, Utah, works for Thor Guard Weather, which has a contract with the United States Golf Association.
Swick is among about a half-dozen Thor Guard meteorologists who travel with USGA tournaments, helping spectators know in advance whether they will need that giant golf umbrella tomorrow but also keeping spectators and golfers safe from lightning that can pop up very quickly in the humid days of summer.
Thor Guard has developed a lightning prediction system that has been installed on the roof of the Lancaster Country Club’s clubhouse this week, along with its own weather forecasting station. The equipment, held in place by small sandbags, is visible from the 18th green grandstand.
The lightning prediction system — equipment about the size of a man’s fist — measures static electricity in the clouds and on the ground. It can tell if lightning is about to strike but, just as importantly, let officials know when it is safe to continue play.
This week, Swick and a colleague, Joshua Nagelberg, 33, of Cary, North Carolina, will keep an eye on that equipment as well as issue three forecasts a day to tournament officials.
Swick has been doing this kind of work since he graduated from college. In 2004, he spent 35 weeks on the road, a schedule that has slowed down to just 40 days on the road this year, which is important to him since he is married and has three children.
During his career, he’s seen just about every kind weather on golf courses across the country.
He recalls the 2008 Junior Amateur in Birmingham, Alabama, when bolts of thunder sounded like cannon fire and he constantly had to reassure tournament officials it was safe to play. It was.
He remembers the 2007 U.S. Men’s Open in Oakmont, northeast of Pittsburgh, when he had to tell officials to lock down spectators in a merchandise tent because the lightning was so bad. It was the right move, he says.
Then there was the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open in Minneapolis, when a hailstorm broke out as officials were bringing in people off the course during a thunderstorm. People had to move quickly, he says.
Swick, who played golf in high school and in college, is a man who clearly loves his job.
When he meets people at parties, and they ask him what he does, he says, “I forecast the weather for golf tournaments,” and they say, “That sounds like a really cool job.”
He says, “It is.”