As I write this, the PGA tournament of the week is in a weather delay. The delay is not because of rain, but because of lightning in the area. This is all too common on the professional tours and the players are used to delays. Although the handling of weather delays is not one of the 34 USGA rules, it is covered in the Appendix.
Generally, golf is played whether it is raining or not. (Of course, there is a limit. At some point, if the ground is so saturated or the greens are puddling up, they’ll delay the round because of rain.) But when the threat of lightning comes into play, the tour takes few chances. After all, a golf course is full of lightning attractors, from trees to players in the middle of a field holding a golf-club-shaped lightning rod.
When a weather delay is determined by the tournament organizers, they have two possibilities: an immediate stoppage of play, or a stoppage of play that allows players to finish a hole they are on, if they wish, as long as they have started that hole. Usually, an immediate stoppage of play is indicated by one long siren or horn. The more lenient stoppage of play allowing players to finish a hole is usually indicated by three short sirens or horn blasts.
This is also usually true on regular courses. If there is lightning in the area, the pro shop will blow a siren or horn alerting players of the danger. Many years ago as a young golfer, I was playing a round by myself in Florida one summer afternoon. There were very few players on the course since it was very hot and very humid. I heard the siren go off, looked around and since it was just drizzling I kept on playing. After a while I could see lightning and hear thunder but using the method of figuring out the distance of the lightning (“one mississippi, two mississippi, etc.) I kept on going. Fortunately, there isn’t a tragedy in this story, but there was quite an animated golf pro in the pro shop when I finished my round.
USGA Rule Appendix I, Part C-4
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