US PGA Tour officials have been forced to explain why tee times were not adjusted to forecasted storms after a lightning strike led to the injuries of six people at East Lake Golf Club during round three at the Tour Championship.
At 4.45pm on Saturday, two lightning strikes shook the Atlanta course – one hitting a tree beside the 16th hole at East Lake.
Debris falling from the tree injured four people, who were immediately treated by paramedics before two more people received attention.
The injured people were transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital but PGA Tour officials stated the injuries were not life threatening.
On Friday night, thunderstorms were forecast to hit Atlanta from 3pm on Saturday but third round tee times for the 30-player tournament were not brought forward.
The final group teed off at 3.20pm on Saturday with play suspended at 4.17pm due to inclement weather.
Officials then suspended play for the rest of the day and it is scheduled to resume at 8am on Sunday morning.
Mark Russell, a vice president of rules at the US PGA Tour, said moving up tee times was never a consideration because weather forecast only showed chance of “pop-up thunderstorms”.
The TV broadcast window was 2.30pm to 7pm on American network NBC.
“We had a situation where they were pop-up thunderstorms,” Russell said in an impromptu press conference.
“We have a meteorologist on staff with very sophisticated equipment; we can monitor that and a lot of times we get lucky and we don’t get hit with thunderstorms.”
Russell was asked by a reporter if moving tee times forward would have been a better means of mitigating safety risks of bad weather, rather than “dealing with luck”.
“I think if we did that every time we had a possibility of thunderstorms in the southeast (of the US) we’d (have to) do that basically every time we played golf,” Russell said.
Tyler Dennis, a senior vice president of competitions for the PGA Tour, said: “We have a professional meteorologist that’s on site every week on all of our tours, forecasting the weather.
“The safety that goes along with it … is critical to us. When it comes down to suspension of play … we don’t leave any room for error there. Safety is a huge priority for us.”
A statement from the PGA Tour was issued shortly after the six injured fans were taken to hospital.
“At .:45 p.m., there were two lightning strikes at East Lake Golf Club; a tree near the range/15 green/16 tee was hit, and debris from that strike injured four people,” a statement from the US PGA Tour read.
“EMT tended to those fans and two others immediately and transported them from the property via ambulance for further medical attention. Our latest report is that their injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.
“The safety of our fans, players and partners is of the utmost importance. We will provide further updates as they become available.”