Join us on a video tour of Furnace Creek Resort
and Death ValleyDEATH VALLEY, California -- If you look hard enough in golf, you’ll find something to brag about. You could be the best golfer at your club, or if that doesn’t work how about on your street? But try this one on for size. Have you ever golfed at the lowest course in the world?
I just checked that one off at Furnace Creek Resort in California’s Death Valley. At 214 feet below sea level, Furnace Creek is the lowest course in the world. And I’ve now played it, meandering through its interesting holes alongside wandering coyotes with a breathtaking desert landscape as a backdrop. But as interesting as it is to actually need a little more club – as opposed to taking less club at high altitude which I’ve previously experienced – Furnace Creek is a really fun play on it’s design merits. And the après-golf activities are different than any I’ve ever experienced.
Let’s start with the course. It’s a par-70 stretching out to 6250 yards but playing closer to 6500, especially on a cool winter morning. Over the years the original William Bell design has been tweaked a bit – the latest redesign having been overseen by Perry Dye. With postage stamp greens and many fairways lined with mature Tamarisk trees, the course demands that you think your way around, and have a good short game. There are several demanding par-4s like the 6th and 11th, both in the 440 yard range. My favorites, however, were the short ones, where accurate tee shots will leave you with short wedges and hopeful chances at birdie.
After my round I learned about various Hollywood stars like Martin Sheen who have strolled the fairways and practice range. (Sheen evidently just liked banging balls around with a single club.) Furnace Creek’s Director of Golf, Kip Freeman, shared a story with me about Phil Mickelson’s father buying a young Phil his first full set of clubs right there at the Furnace Creek golf shop. Evidently the family was on vacation and Phil had reached some milestone at which point his father promised him the clubs. Thinking the small shop might not have a left-handed set they went in, and to Phil’s delight there they were.
THE FURNACE CREEK RESORT
Somehow I always knew I would play Furnace Creek, and stay at the resort. I visualized a western-style property with horseback riding and other related activities. The Ranch at Furnace Creek, located adjacent to the golf course and village is indeed replete with Old West fixtures that might make you feel like you’re in an episode of “Death Valley Days.” There is a General Store, Saloon, Borax Museum, and a post office where you can get your postcards sent with postmark from Death Valley.
But it’s the Furnace Creek Resort’s other property, a four star Spanish-style beauty up the hill from the course (at sea level) called The Inn at Furnace Creek where we stayed and which I recommend, even if it means splurging a bit for the higher nightly rate. The rooms are charming (get one with a deck looking out at the mountains if you can) and the warm spring-fed pool is one of my all-time favorites. There’s nothing better than getting into 86-degree water, just as it came from the earth. It just feels therapeutic. At night, under the stars and flanked by warm fires on either side, the experience is sublime.
Dining is a pleasure in the Inn’s main dining room, or outside on the deck. It’s just formal enough, without being stuffy. (Tee shirts are not allowed, but casual clothing is fine.) We enjoyed perfectly cooked Filet inside one night, and amazing omelets the next morning, as the cool morning warmed to shirtsleeve temperature just in time for site seeing. The service was spot-on; the staff at the Inn is obviously not content with being the only four-star dining for hundreds of miles – they want you to return.
SITE SEEING AND ACTIVITIES
Rather than give you a complete travelogue, I’m just going to suggest that however you get to Furnace Creek, some driving (or a flight into the resort’s private airstrip) is going to be required and at least three days and two nights should be planned – hopefully more.
Even if you’re just into the “stay and chill” aspect of visiting an old fashioned 4 star resort, you need to see the breathtaking scenery just 7 miles down the road at Zabriskie Point, where sunrise and sunset are perfect times to watch the eons old rocks change color right in front of you. And you’ve only got to walk about a hundred yards from the car to soak in the best view.
Less than a half hour away is Badwater Cove– where a stream of salty water is all that’s left of the dried up New Hampshire-sized body of water that once filled the valley. It’s interesting to walk on the deck and look up almost three hundred feet to the adjacent cliff where a sign marks “sea level.” On your way back to Furnace Creek, don’t miss the beautiful paved one-way road called “Artist’s Drive” where even your basic four-cylinder economy car can experience the feeling of driving through a postcard.
A MORE ADVENTUROUS ROUTE, BY JEEP
There are signs all around Death Valley warning four-wheelers to stay on designated roads. Right across the street from the Inn is Farabee’s Jeep rentals where $195 gives you access to one of these four the day. So, we wondered, why rent a jeep if we have to stay on designated roads anyway?
We found the answer in the rugged nature of the jeeps that they rent, the good advice Farabee’s crew provides, and the GPS spot device that comes with each vehicle. As one of the crew said before we left for the 28-mile off road trek through Titus Canyon, “I wouldn’t take MY daily ride through there.” The rocky one-way road winds it’s way through some really rugged terrain, with switchbacks and drop-offs just scary enough to inspire some serious out loud self-coaching. “You can do this,” I told myself as I switched to low gear, “You’ve driven on worse.” (My wife, who has been known to offer occasional driving advice, was nothing but supportive, holding her occasional screams to a minimum.) Indeed, Farabee Jeep Wranglers are so solid that if you’ve driven in snow or done any four wheeling at all, the drive will seem like a breeze. Most of the 28 miles is quite gentle, and there are a number of interesting stops along the way such as a gold mining town, where 300 hopefuls took up residence at the urging of false advertising only to leave a year later with nothing.
If you’re not sure of your driving skills and want to more-closely experience the awesomeness of the largest national park in the contiguous United States, Farabee’s offers ride-along tours where you can let there experts do the driving while you enjoy the scenery. I’m not much of a hiker, but Death Valley is a hiker’s paradise, just bring plenty of water – especially in the peak of summer when high temperatures are regularly over 110 degrees.
2.5 hours from Las Vegas; 4.5 hours from Los Angeles; 5.5 hours from San Diego - plus a private airstrip, fueling station on site – inquire with resort.
The Ranch at Furnace Creek: Nightly rates starting at $150; open year-round.
The Inn at Furnace Creek: Nightly rates starting at $350; open Sept. through May
Death Valley has a subtropical desert climate with hot summers, mild winters, and dry air year-round. In July of 1913, the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth was measured at Furnace Creek – a balmy 134 degrees!