Low-High Golf: From Death Valley to Mammoth Lakes

Low-High Golf: From Death Valley to Mammoth Lakes

Written by: , April 11th, 2016

How to Play the Extremes Like Nowhere Else on Earth

When hardscrabble farmers working the floor of California’s Death Valley in the early 20th century decided to build a homemade three-hole course for their own amusement, they probably harbored no illusions that it would someday morph into a world famous attraction for the golf community. But it has done just that.

Set on the floor of Death Valley National Park, some 214 feet below sea level, Furnace Creek holds the unique title of the world’s lowest-elevation golf course. Just as golfers relish the added distance that comes with thinner air at high elevation layouts, Furnace Creek punishes with shots that simply do not travel as far as they do at or above sea level — which means just about every course on earth. And that’s hardly the only challenge to playing here: while spring and fall offer absolutely perfect golf weather, with no rain and temperatures in the 70s and low 80s, gluttons for punishment come in the summer when triple digit temps are normal. The highest temperature ever recorded, 134.1°, was set here in 1913.

But despite its unique records and fearsome reputation, which attract golfers from every corner of the globe the way a marathon attracts runners, Furnace Creek is a surprisingly lush and beautiful course, full of creeks and ponds. The environmentally friendly design caters to wildlife and has won a hard-to-obtain Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary certification for its green practices.

After a round here, many golfers yearn to return to high-altitude golf, where shots travel so far they boost the ego. But only a handful take on the ultimate challenge – experiencing both in a single day.

It is entirely possible to wake up early and play Furnace Creek first thing, and then head back out of the Valley and into the mountains, all the way to the Sierra Star golf course at Mammoth Lakes – the highest-elevation layout in all of California. The “Top of California,” Sierra Star reaches over 8,000 feet above sea level, a tree-lined parkland beauty offering mountain vistas almost everywhere you look. Even modest hitters who normally eschew the back tee can tackle the 6,700-yard tips here, which play more like 6,000 on a normal course.

With its record elevation, Furnace Creek visitors are guaranteed the “lowest round” of golf of their lifetimes, while Sierra Star might well provide them with their longest drives ever. To experience both in one day is something that simply cannot be done anyplace else.

For more information and reservations, visit oasisatdeathvalley.com/furnace-creek-golf-course or call 800-236-7916.

For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.

A former Gold & Silver medal reviewer for Golf Magazine, and editor of “The Golf Insider” travel newsletter, Larry Olmsted has written on golf and travel topics for two decades.