Golf Course Defibrillators


The number one cause of death on the golf course is sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Several factors contribute to this statistic. First, many golfers are older. According to the National Golf Association, people ages 50 and older are golfing in higher numbers than ever before. Second, 82 percent of these older golfers are male and males 50 years of age and older are at an increased risk for SCA. Third, because golf courses are often remote and large, getting to an SCA victim quickly is difficult. It may take an EMS vehicle 3 – 5 minutes to arrive at the golf course and getting to the victim may take an additional 3 – 5 minutes. Every minute that passes during a sudden cardiac arrest is another 10 percent closer to death for the victim. Because of these reasons, many golf courses are now starting automated external defibrillator (AED) programs as part of their safety response plans.


In West Des Moines, Iowa, emergency department personnel started an AED awareness campaign to help them decide where AEDs should be placed throughout their community. Golf courses became their number one priority because of the high potential for SCA on any given day. After attending a free AED informational meeting held by the West Des Moines EMS department, Jackie Lark of the Des Moines Golf and Country Club, decided that an AED program needed to be implemented at his club. Two automated external defibrillators were purchased in 1999. One was placed in the maintenance center, the other at the clubhouse. Forty members of the club were trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and on how to use the AED.

CPR is an important skill to have as it helps keep the blow flowing through a victim’s body and brain during sudden cardiac arrest. But an automated external defibrillator is the only way to restart a heart that has gone into ventricular fibrillation (VF). VF is when a person’s heart begins to beat erratically and then stops beating altogether. When this occurs the victim quickly loses consciousness and eventually stops breathing. CPR can help but the only way to prevent brain damage and/or death is to defibrillate (shock) the heart with an AED. Today’s AED units are technologically advanced and tell the rescuer if defibrillation is needed and when to administer it.


Since sudden cardiac arrest events are not uncommon on the golf course, and since quick response with an AED could prevent brain damage or save a life, it's important that golf courses have at least one AED on-hand and that staff receive both CPR and AED training. Informing golf course patrons where AEDs are located is also vitally important. It could mean the difference between life and death.

In 1998, Edward Schuster, M.D. became one of the first people in the U.S. to implement an AED program at his country club in Stamford, Connecticut. Dr. Schuster, a cardiologist, was dismayed by the statistics of sudden cardiac death on the golf course. He resolved to do something about it. Now, when Dr. Schuster goes golfing at his club, he knows that all the managers and many of the club’s employees have been trained on the use of the AED and that someone with AED training is always working at the club. The unit has been placed in the clubhouse and mini-transistor radios have been placed throughout the golf course so golfers and other visitors to the course can call for help in case of an SCA emergency.

Once an AED program has been established, and employees of the club or golf course have been trained in CPR and on the use of the AED, the next most important step is to make sure the patrons of the club or course are aware that an automated external defibrillator is available onsite.

The clubhouse at Ebel Golf Course in South Bend, Indiana houses an automated external defibrillator. The AED was put into use on April 14, 2010 when Jim McKinnies collapsed on the 11th green while playing a round of golf with his brother Tim. 911 had been called and the ambulance was on its way, but Mr. McKinnies’ heart had stopped beating when the AED and John Jennings got to his side. A fellow golfer had run into the clubhouse, grabbed the defibrillator, and asked if anyone knew how to use it. Mr. Jennings, a firefighter who happened to be in the clubhouse, did. Mr. Jennings hopped onto the golf cart with the man and the AED and rode out to Mr. McKinnies. He had no pulse when Mr. Jennings reached him. Mr. Jennings placed the defibrillator pads on Mr. McKinnies’ chest and the AED unit instructed him to deliver two shocks. By the time paramedics arrived, McKinnies’ heart had resumed beating. He was rushed to the hospital and has since made a full recovery.

If the club or course has a membership list and/or a newsletter, notices or articles can be included periodically informing everyone of the AED program. Clearly marking the AED unit where it is placed can help too. And for courses that install call or emergency boxes throughout the course, making sure they are clearly visible is of the utmost importance.

The Montclair Golf Club in West Orange, New Jersey has five call boxes located in their golf course rain shelters as well as one in the on-course restroom. Calls from those boxes ring in the courses’ starter shed and at the front desk reception area. The employees who work in both those areas have all been trained in the use of the AED.

The most important thing to remember when dealing with a sudden cardiac arrest emergency on the golf course, is that time is of the essence. Beginning CPR treatment, and having an AED close by to administer defibrillation, is necessary to prevent brain damage and/or death. Sudden cardiac arrest can strike without warning and can happen to anyone no matter what their age or physical condition. However, men who are older than 50 years old do have a higher risk of suffering from SCA. Sudden cardiac death in this demographic may be able to be prevented though. Using an AED within the first 3 – 5 minutes is the only way to restart the victim’s heart and give the person a fighting chance at surviving and surviving without brain damage. Equipping golf courses with automated external defibrillators makes good sense when it comes to preventing the number one cause of death on the greens.