Editor’s note: Like snowflakes, no two golf courses are alike. But through nature, quirks of design, previous land use and necessity, some golf courses are more “unalike” than others. Over the next several months, Superintendent magazine takes a look at a few of the game’s playing fields that have more than their fair share of quirks and distinct characteristics. This month, we feature Furnace Creek Golf Club.
There is no warmer place in the United States than Death Valley, which would not appear to be the best place to build a golf course. But sitting 214 feet below sea level is Furnace Creek Golf Club.
The average daily temperature at Death Valley in July and August is 115 degrees Fahrenheit, with the nation’s highest recorded temperature of 134 degrees measured a quarter mile from the golf course on June 19, 1913. Average rainfall in a year is 1.5 inches. Of the 10,000 rounds played annually, 95 percent are in the peak season between October and May.
It is likely the course would not exist if it weren’t for borax mining in the early 1900s. The mining company built a resort for officials and guests to provide entertainment and recreation. Date farmers in the area built three golf holes in 1927 with expansion to nine holes in 1931. In 1968 William Bell completed the layout to 18 holes, and Perry Dye renovated it in 1997. The course measures only 6,236 yards, but the ball doesn’t travel as far since it is 214 feet below sea level. Feedback from golfers indicates drives go 10 to 20 fewer yards than at sea level.
Another oddity is that it is managed by a person who grew up in upstate New York, where it was commonplace to be “snowed in” for days at a time. Golf Course Superintendent Chris Bessette moved to California after graduating from college and held a variety of golf course positions before interviewing at Furnace Creek in 2001.
“I really did not know what to expect,” Bessette says. “I mean, this is the middle of nowhere where the temperature is hot — really hot. Why would anyone want to work here? But I thought it was absolutely beautiful, and I did not face the hassles of adjacent homeowners, restrictive local ordinances or competition from other golf courses. It took a few years, but I am used to the heat now. And when it gets too hot, we go inside.”