Water jugs on course can be hazardous to your health

Golfers who think they know about water hazards need to take another look. This time, the hazard comes in the form of drinking water that sits in a jug. Bottled water or fountain water is fine, but if you’re thinking about taking a sip out of a freestanding container during a round, it could be hazardous to your health.

That’s the aftermath of a recent incident at Thunderbirds Golf Club in Phoenix that caused a widespread stomach virus. More than 80 golfers, many playing in a youth tournament, were stricken July 16-25 with gastrointestinal ailments, including vomiting. One of the players, a 15-year-old, died, though the direct cause of death couldn’t be traced to the virus. The likely cause of the outbreak is believed to be one or more maintenance workers who were sick at the time they filled the drinking water jugs.

Nils Beeman’s death July 19 sparked an investigation of 157 golf courses in Maricopa County.

Looking into how course staff handled ice and drinking water, county health officials found substandard practices at 94 of them, a failure rate of 63 percent.

“The only reason the 63 percent wasn’t higher,” said health official David Ludwig, “is that a good number of the courses weren’t using jugs. They had bottled water or drinking fountains.”

The inspections turned up no relationship between price or private ownership and water quality. The investigation had an immediate effect in Maricopa County. Ludwig said all courses that failed changed how they delivered water to golfers. Thunderbirds now gives each golfer two free bottles of water from an outside vendor.

Maricopa’s Environmental Services Department has since issued a wide-ranging set of rules for water, ice and dispensers. The new procedures encompass water sources, types of containers, their cleaning and storage, how to fill dispenses and personal hygiene.

Although regulations vary from county to county, health experts contacted by Golfweek’s sister publication, Superintendent News, said that maintenance workers should not fill drinking water containers or handle ice that is put into them.

Only food and beverage workers should dispense water, whether in 10-gallon jugs or in bottles from an outside vendor, they said. Otherwise, it’s safer for courses to rely upon piped drinking fountains or bottled water.

At Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort, Brad Kocher, CGCS, vice president of golf course maintenance, said his courses have installed water fountains. Also, he said, new course construction calls for a water fountain every three holes. “Except for water coolers carried by the rangers, we have eliminated fillable water coolers on the course,” Kocher said. “All of our water is from chilled drinking fountains.”

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