Golf Hazards: Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac

imageUnder Decision 1-4/10 of the Rules of Golf, when a ball that comes to rest in a dangerous situation—near an alligator, for example—a player may, without penalty, drop a ball on the nearest spot not nearer the hole that is not dangerous.

But the USGA also has decided (in Decision 1-4/11) that the same rule does not apply to patches of poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac.

Clearly, the overlords of golf need to get out past the finely manicured lawns of their tony country clubs. Here on the public courses of Michigan (and other locations), these plants all too frequently border our fairways and greens.

And they’re clearly a threat to a player’s health. For many, even casual exposure to those plants can result in severe illness.  For others, the result is a severe rash that can result in infection. Even mild cases are annoying and not to be wished on your enemies.

imageSo until the USGA changes it’s ridiculous ruling,  golfers in the real world need to keep a sharp eye out for the big three of poisonous plants in North America: poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.

For identifying these plants, the best rule of thumb is “leaves of three, let it be” (that won’t help you with sumac, however).

Poison Ivy appears as a shrub or vine along the ground, or climbing on trees or poles. The leaves come in groups of three, are pointed and glossy. The edges can be either smooth or toothed. They start red in the spring, turn green in the summer, and then to various fall colors as the weather gets colder. You may also notice greenish-white flowers and white-yellow fruit in hanging clusters.

Poison Oak looks like poison ivy, except that its leaves are lobed.

imagePoison Sumac is a little tricker. It appears as a tall shrub or small tree with alternate leaves with 7-11 leaflets arranged in pairs, and an additional single leaflet at the end of the midrib. Yellowish green flowers and whitish green fruits hang in loose clusters. You may confuse this with the more common and harmless staghorn sumac.

The best solution for exposure is immediate treatment. The traditional treatment is to wash the area with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, and then with soap and water. Exposed clothing should be washed, since the urushiol from the plants can last for years. There also are quite a large number of commercially available products that work to prevent a rash.

If you get a rash, your doctor ls likely to prescribe a hydrocortisone creme, or even an oral antihistamine. I’ve always had luck with calamine lotion (the pink stuff). Some traditional treatments have also included oatmeal baths, and baking soda salves.

It’s best just to avoid the pants altogether. When your ball lands in a suspected patch, leave it there (the urushiol will be on the ball), ignore the stupid USGA ruling, and play it as though you had landed in a herd of alligators.

5 thoughts on “Golf Hazards: Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac”

  1. Informative posting on our poisonous plants.  I may actually recognize them next time.

    Pappy’s comment is spot in.  A local rule solves the problem.

    In the absence of a local rule, there is nothing in the Rules of Golf that specifically states one should receive relief from a dangerous situation.  The USGA relies on the idea of equity when one encounters a point not covered by the rules (Rule 1-4).

    In some places it is not uncommon to find dangerous critters wandering or nesting in the fairway or rough.  Relief from those situations is fair and reasonable.  If my ball rolls near a pair of Canadian Geese and their hatchlings, unless they are willing to move, I will take relief far enough away to prevent an attack.

    One rarely encounters poison ivy in the fairway or rough.  If I hit a shot into a patch of poison ivy in the woods, my ball is very likely unplayable, regardless of the presence of the ivy.  As such, I should proceed under the unplayable ball rule.  If I truly believed that I had a reasonable opportunity to play a shot, I might consider, in equity, taking free relief from the situation (unless I am playing in an organized competition).

  2. First, in response to the previous replyer-  I am more than willing to pay a $5 bounty for every one of those Canadian Geese, those horrible excreters.  I suppose I will even offer $15 for every hatchling.  This species is a scourge of the earth and needs to be eradicated.  (Just kidding about the bounty, but not the intent).

    Second- I concur in the thanks in posting this with the pictures.  Confirmed- it is poison Sumac growing up my wall of the garage – that’s good to know before I go tearing it down. 

    As a child, I was told many times by my dad that I was standing near or in Poison Ivy.  I never learned to spot the stuff, because it never bothered me.  At some point he just started sending me into bushes on errands of cleaning stuff out, since I wouldn’t get the rash and he would.  I found out that my childhood immunity was no longer when I was about 35 or so and developed a horrible rash after playing golf one day, and the doctor told me I had a reaction to poison ivy.  I didn’t know it was in that rough, cause I never cared to learn how to spot it.  So thanks for the pictures!


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