DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — When pop-up storms started threatening East Lake, officials suspended play at 4:17 p.m. They evacuated the golfers but the urgency for the spectators didn't appear to be the same.
"We want people to take shelter and leave, but a lot of times they don't," Mark Russell with PGA Rules and Competition said.
When play was suspended, spectators were told to take cover or take shelter.
"We opened up hospitality areas that were grounded, other places like that," Russell said. "You have a lot of people and you have to do it quickly and, a lot of times, people don't take shelter."
Spectators at the 16th hole were waiting out on the course.
"We were waiting for the players to come back. We were taking shelter from the rain," Shelly Gouchie said.
"Lightning literally struck right in front of us. We were under a tree," Derek Helt said.
Spectators weren't forced to evacuate until after the lightning strikes which caused debris to injure six people. But officials said course meteorologists were monitoring the storms.
"We can suspend play and get people out of here," Russell said. "But a lot of times, we're on the positive side and we can play golf and get lucky."
Officials never directly commented on an evacuation plan.
"The moment we saw danger, we suspended play," Russell said. "We got the players off, the volunteers off, we did everything we could."
In this case, spectators weren't forced off the course before the lightning strike even though play was suspended. That's in contrast to our experiences at Augusta National where officials and volunteers force patrons off the grounds for their safety.
The PGA insisted it was encouraging fans to take shelter but never said it was mandatory.