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Know Your Botanical Golf Hazards “FORE” an Itch & Pain-Free Summer of Golf
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Know Your Botanical Golf Hazards “FORE” an Itch & Pain-Free Summer of Golf

We’ve all at some point in time, gone in search of a lost golf ball; sometimes tho — we unknowingly ended up finding more than we bargained for! Because what appeared to be harmless foliage, was in fact Poison Oak, Poison Ivy, or Poison Sumac. Read on to find out if that greenery is indeed just harmless weeds and leaves or something a little more sinister…


Although poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac may look different, the root of the “itch” is the same—the chemical Urshiolm. Urshiolm is found within the sap of these plants and exposure to this sap causes an allergic reaction with the skin, known as contact dermatitis.

However, it’s very important to note that even if you don’t come into direct contact with one of these plants, ANYTHING that has touched the plant can cause contact dermatitis. So using your club head to push away an offensive plant in order to retrieve a golf ball is not advised since that will coat the club head in sap; and more likely than not, that golf ball will already be coated in the same irritant sap. Also, every part of the plant is poisonous, in every season, even winter, if your skin makes contact with the sap.

GOLF RULE: If your ball comes to rest next to any of these irritant plants,  you can’t take relief without penalty!

Poision Ivy

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is found across the United States and grows nearly everywhere!

The following four characteristics are adequate to identify poison ivy in most circumstances:

(a) clusters of three leaflets

(b) alternate leaf arrangement

(c) lack of thorns

(d) each group of three leaflets grows on its own stem, which connects to the main vine

Various rhymes describe the characteristic appearance of poison ivy:

“Leaflets three; let it be” is the best known and most useful cautionary rhyme.

This one applies to poison oak, as well as to poison ivy

“Hairy vine, no friend of mine.”

“Berries white, run in fright” and “Berries white, danger in sight.”

Seasonal Colors

The leaves also do change colors with the seasons and will turn red in the spring, green in the summer, and then into various fall colors as the weather gets colder. You may also notice greenish-white flowers and white-yellow fruit in hanging clusters.


Note the Following: A rash usually won’t appear for at least a day after initial contact/exposure to the plant.

Poison OakPoison Oak

Poison oak is also found throughout the United States and is in no way related to the oak tree.

Deep green leaves that are divided into three leaflets that are 1.4 to 3.9 inches long with scalloped, toothed, or lobed edges. They generally resemble the lobed leaves of a true oak, though they tend to be more glossy. Leaves are typically bronze when first unfolding in February to March, bright green in the spring, yellow-green to reddish in the summer, and bright red or pink from late July to October. White flowers form in the spring, from March to June. If they are fertilized, they develop into greenish-white or tan berries. Poison oak can grow as a dense shrub in open sunlight or a climbing vine in shaded areas.

Poison Sumac

Poison Sumac

Poison sumac, grows exclusively in very wet or flooded soils, usually in swamps and peat bogs, in the eastern United States as far west as Idaho and Canada. Poison sumac has numerous leaves (ranging from 7-13) and the veins from which the leaflets grow are always red. The plant grows as a shrub and produces fruit that is a small white or grey berry and its flower is yellow.

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