Furnace Creek Resort, located 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas and 275 miles northeast of Los Angeles in Death Valley, boasts the lowest golf course in the world at 214 feet below sea level.
Murray Miller, one of the date-palm caretakers at Furnace Creek, set up an informal three-hole golf course in the pastures of the Greenland Ranch in 1927 to give the miners from the nearby Borax mines something to do in their spare time.
In 1931, a nine-hole course was developed around the ranch and date-palm orchards. It was the first grass golf course in the California desert.
During the summers, when the course was closed, the fairways were irrigated and leased to a rancher who would run about 150 head of cattle on the course. During the winter golf season, a small flock of sheep kept the fairways properly “mowed.”
In 1968, noted designer William F. Bell expanded the course to a full 18 holes. Perry Dye of Dye Designs reworked the course in 1997, when a state-of-the-art irrigation system was installed to allow the course to remain open all year.
Furnace Creek Golf Course has been recognized by Golf Digest magazine in its list of “America’s 50 Toughest Courses.”
Presidents Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan played major roles in the process of having Death Valley finally designated a National Park in 1994.
Hoover signed Proclamation Number 2028 in 1933, creating Death Valley National Monument, and Reagan was the last, but most famous, host of “Death Valley Days”–a dramatic series on radio and television that ran from 1930 through 1966 and brought Death Valley into households across the country every week.
Don’t be fooled by the wide-open fairways and the length of the course, which plays to a par of 70 and a relatively short 6,215 yards from the back tees. From there, the course has a USGA rating of 74.7 with a slope of 128.
The Panamint and Funeral Mountains, two of five ranges that ring Death Valley, frame the golf course.
The fifth and sixth holes, totally reworked by Dye, along with No. 7 provide a stretch that is the highlight of the front nine.
The 573-yard fifth hole is a par-5 dogleg right that wraps around a line of tamarisk trees running down the right side of the fairway, which rises slightly halfway to the hole and then slopes down to a diabolical green.
The drive from the back tee on the par-4, 440-yard sixth hole–the most difficult on the course–must carry more than 200 yards over a lake to a fairway that doglegs to the left. There is bailout room to the right, but then you must deal with a series of Scottish-style mounds.
No. 7 is called the “Goalpost Hole,” because the drive must split two large trees in the middle of the fairway, 150 yards from a two-tiered trap-door green, which drops off dramatically in the back.
The finish is strong, with the funky 17th hole, only 310 yards, and the 414-yard 18th hole, which has three of only 10 bunkers on the course.
The Devil’s Golf Course, located a few miles from Furnace Creek, is a piece of unusable land named by someone with a perverse sense of humor. It actually is an expansive salt field created by evaporated bodies of water, and you actually can see the crystallization process at work.
The closest golf courses to Furnace Creek are China Lake Golf Course, located at the Naval Weapons Center in Ridgecrest, and Trona Golf and Social Club, a nine-hole layout in Trona. Both are just outside the western entrance to Death Valley.
The luxurious mission-style Furnace Creek Resort, located on a hill overlooking the golf course, was built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company and opened in 1927.
The Furnace Creek Ranch, which was built as a working cattle ranch in the 1880s, offers hotel rooms, cabins, duplex apartments and a campground.
The Panamint Springs Resort and Stovepipe Wells Village in Death Valley offer resort accommodations and camping sites.
The Resort and the Ranch offer outdoor swimming pools that are naturally heated by warm springs that keep the pools’ temperature at a comfortable 82 degrees. Guests also can enjoy tennis on the lighted courts, horseback riding, walking, jogging and hiking.
ON THE WEB: www.furnacecreekresort.com.
–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre