Golfers would rather they not hit a rock with their titanium alloy golf clubs anyway, but now they have a more compelling reason than the cost of buying a new one; they can create sparks that are more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit which can ignite dry foliage.

So if you really want to golf during the drought, you now have one more thing to overthink while playing. 

In a Fire and Materials, the authors say Orange County, California, fire investigators asked U.C. Irvine to determine whether such clubs could have caused blazes at Shady Canyon Golf Course in Irvine and Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo a few years ago.


 So researchers re-created in the lab course conditions on the days of the fires. Using high-speed video cameras and powerful scanning electron microscope analysis, they found that when titanium clubs were abraded by striking or grazing hard surfaces, intensely hot sparks flew out of them. In contrast, when standard stainless steel clubs were used, there was no reaction. 


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"One fire almost reached homes before they stopped it. This unintended hazard could potentially lead to someone's death," said chemical engineering&materials science professor James Earthman, lead author on the paper. "A very real danger exists, particularly in the Southwest, as long as certain golf clubs remain in use."

He suspected that the titanium heads on some clubs designed for use in "the rough" – natural areas off irrigated fairways – could be to blame for the fires. Most golf clubs have stainless steel heads. However, a significant number being manufactured or in circulation have a titanium alloy component in the head. Such alloys are 40 percent lighter, which can make the club easier to swing, including when chipping errant balls out of tough spots. In Southern California, those spots are often in flammable scrub brush.

"Rocks are often embedded in the ground in these rough areas of dry foliage," Earthman noted. "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 foliage ignites in flames."