Will Georgia's Record Pollen Count Affect the Masters?
The Southeastern United States is particularly smothered in yellow pollen right now. In fact, allergy specialists and weather experts call Spring 2010 the worst season in recent history for pollen allergy sufferers. Augusta National, the site of the world-famous Masters Golf Tournament, boasts thousands of different trees, plants and grasses, so could this affect how the world’s best in golf play the game?
Bill Leslie, of WRAL (Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville NC) radio, mentioned a friend of his named Walt Howard who grew up in Augusta and regularly attends the Masters. He describes the setting by saying, “There will be times during the tournament, when the wind is up, you’ll see those yellow/green dust storms rolling through the fairways! After a day on the course, you can actually feel the pollen in your teeth, crunching like grit!”
The pollen is especially bad this year because of the colder winter in the South. Many plants and trees were delayed in blooming, particularly oak trees which are now coinciding with pine trees and other flowering plants to great a “perfect storm” of pollen. “The season is actually just picking up,” said J.P. Levins, executive Web Producer for Pollen.com.
There are many oak trees located at Augusta National, with the most famous oak tree being located on the golf course side of the Clubhouse. It is about 145-150 years old and is a favorite gathering place for visitors. Oak trees produce 3,000 to 6,000 pollen particles per cubic centimeter – it only takes 10 particles to trigger an allergic reaction.
The entrance into Augusta National is lined with 61 large magnolia trees and is appropriately called “Magnolia Lane.” The pollen from these beautiful trees also cause moderate respiratory allergies. The sap and the leaves can also irritate the skin.
The pine trees at Augusta are loblolly pines, shortleaf pines, slash pines, longleaf pines, and the Eastern white pine. According to Weather.com, all pine trees contribute to airborne pollen counts but are seldom a cause of acute allergic reaction. The 30 varieties of azaleas throughout the course are also not known to cause symptoms in most people.
Tiger Woods is among many professional golfers who suffer from seasonal allergies. A 2002 informal poll found several players who suffer from itchy, watery eyes and sneezing. The symptoms can affect concentration, sharpness of swing, and the ability to read putts. Antihistamine medications may not help because they leave a golfer drowsy or impaired.
"To compete and do well on the PGA TOUR, you need to be in control of your game and your body," said Steve Elkington, a 10-time TOUR winner and allergy sufferer who is not playing in this weekend’s Masters Tournament. "Seasonal allergies can diminish your concentration, whether you are a golfer or a golf enthusiast."
It will be interesting to see how the weekend fairs for those golfers who suffer from seasonal allergies. A Thursday night rain in Augusta has helped to wash away pollen piles, but may not relieve allergic symptoms right away, according to allergy experts at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Weather.com predicts days in the mid to upper 70’s, sunny with no chance of precipitation, and winds that could gust up to 30 mph.