How Dangerous are Golf Balls?

Due to their low weight and relatively slow speed, golf balls rarely carry enough energy to inflict a fatality.

“FORE!” The most (but definitely not only) four-letter word everyone dreads yelling out on the course. We’ve all seen some close calls before but what’s the worst thing a golf ball can do to a person? Could a golf ball potentially kill you?

While there are many reports of fatal accidents on golf courses, a surprisingly low amount are from golf balls themselves. However, these fatalities do occur infrequently. For example as recently as February 2018, a New Zealand man was struck and killed by a golf ball while teeing off. In comparison, vending machines kill over two people in the United States a year (2.18 to be exact). So that begs the question as to how likely golf ball injuries are to result in death?

Well, let us do the math. If a golf ball weighs 0.10125 pounds and the fastest golf ball ever recorded was hit 211 miles per hour, then the ball would have a kinetic energy of 151 foot-pounds. Let’s compare that to something more concrete. A scientific journal posted in 2005 by the British Sports Journal of Medicine found that Olympic boxers punch with anywhere between 447 and 1066 foot-pounds of force. So in comparison, the fastest golf ball ever recorded carried 14 percent the energy of an Olympic heavyweight boxer. Likewise, the kinetic energy of a 180-grain bullet fired from .357 magnum handgun is 580 foot-pounds. In comparison to that, a golf ball carries 26 percent of the energy of a bullet.

While force is not a direct indicator of lethality, it is helpful when coupled with the object’s ability to deform. A bullet, for example, does not deform easily and so it imparts its energy within a very short distance/time. Boxing gloves, on the other hand, have a relatively large cushion on the outside, this means the energy of the boxer’s punch is transferred over a longer amount of time (the time it takes for the padding to compress). This makes the acceleration more gradual and the punches less deadly. So what about golf balls then? Golf Balls are surprisingly compressible. They will not transfer all of their energy instantly. Furthermore, while golf balls travel quickly at first when hit, by the time they approach landing, the velocity has greatly diminished to far less than 211 miles per hour. This does mean however, that the most dangerous time to be struck by a golf ball is within the first few yards, as that is when it carries the most kinetic energy.

However in total, the threat of dying from a golf ball is very low. The circumstances for a lethal tragedy to happen are very infrequent. People are struck by golf balls every day and freak deaths are as rare as they are statistically improbable. So the next time you accidentally shank a shot towards some unsuspecting golfers on the fairway over, know the most likely death will simply be your sense of pride.

Authored by Taylor Morton

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