By Ted Bishop
FRANKLIN, Ind. – It was early March in central Indiana. We had been experiencing an extremely mild run of winter weather. The forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday: highs near 65 degrees, with a 60 percent chance of rain both days. The result: no rain either day. Once again, the forecast had killed our tee sheets as we had only a handful of players on two beautiful late-winter days.
This has been a common lament from golf-course operators for the past couple of decades as weather forecasting has become more dramatic, with Doppler radar, colorful graphics and movie star-like meteorologists. A forecast that highlights potential bad weather can keep many residents from scheduling outdoor activities. Golfers live by the weather, and all of us in the golf industry feel as if we often are at the mercy of the forecasters.
Golf is big business in Indiana. The game generates $900 million-plus for the state economy, supports about 21,000 jobs and more than 400 courses.
Angela Buchman is a five-time Emmy Award-winning meteorologist at WTHR-Channel 13, NBC’s affiliate in Indianapolis. On many nights, she leads the news with the weather, delivers her weather report in the middle of the 30-minute program and then closes the segment with more weather. Many viewers would consider Buchman to be the face of Channel 13.
Buchman has a sound understanding of her forecasts’ impact on the golf business because her husband, Mark, plays as much as three times per week.
“We fight about the weather all the time,” she said, laughing. “Mark is very negative about the forecast because he doesn’t take the time to dig out the details from his weather app, and I think a lot of people are like that.”
That’s when I knew I could learn from the state’s best weather forecaster.
Buchman pointed out how deceptive the “percentage of precipitation” can be. If a forecaster is only 50 percent sure that precipitation will occur, and expects that, if it does occur, it will produce measurable rain over about 80 percent of the area, the chance of rain is 40 percent. (PoP equals .5 x .8 which is .4 or 40 percent.) Measurable precipitation can be as low as .01 inches.
Buchman says she never uses the percent-of-precipitation calculation in her forecasts and that golfers should pay little attention to the figure. She also says that anything beyond two days out in a forecast “is hats off because anything can still happen.” So, another piece of advice from Buchman is for golfers not to let their weekend golf plans be influenced by the seven-day forecast.
“My suggestion to golfers is to take the time to dig out details,” she said, citing pivotalweather.com as a resource. “You can access the same type of models that we use. Use the GFS (global forecast system) and HRRR (high-resolution rapid refresh) icons to project radar models. It’s similar to what I look at when preparing my forecast.
“There are plenty in my line of work who wish for bad weather. Weather forecasters should prepare people and protect them, not create higher ratings for themselves.”
Golf-course operators also should dig for weather information and create weekly or daily weather blogs that will help educate their players. There needs to be a nationwide movement to get golfers to forget the percentage of precipitation and discount the seven-day forecast. Golfers also need to know how to use their weather apps more efficiently. All of this should result in more rounds being played.
The weather blog at The Legends Golf Club starts this week. Thanks to Angela Buchman, my new friend and old weather foe.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga