The weather experts bummed out summer vibes (or, added to them, depending on one’s perspective) with the report that 2018 is on pace to be the fourth hottest year on record.
What to do when it’s just plain stupid hot? Play golf! And while you’re at it, check out the hottest course in the U.S.
Furnace Creek Golf Course at Death Valley is 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, 4.5 hours from Los Angeles, and 5.5 hours from San Diego, which puts it square in the middle of Hell, or so it feels. Before you reach for your scorecard, reach for a forecast first.
At 214 feet below sea level, this 18-hole par 70 course is the world’s lowest elevation golf course. That means heat. Lots of heat.
The hottest air temperature ever recorded – EVER recorded; like, on Earth – was 134 degrees Fahrenheit (57°C) in Death Valley (Furnace Creek) on July 10, 1913. During the heat wave that peaked with that record, according to the National Park Service, five consecutive days reached 129° F (54°C) or above.
Still wanna tee off there in summer?
The greatest number of consecutive days with a maximum temperature of 100° F or above was 154 days in the summer of 2001, says the Park Service. The summer of 1996 had 40 days over 120° F, and 105 days over 110° F. The summer of 1917 had 43 consecutive days with a high temperature of 120° F or above.
As July turns the page into August, consider that The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports an average Death Valley July high of 116.5, and an average topper of 114.7 during August. On average.
Before we get back to golf, just exactly why is the Death Valley heat so extreme?
“The depth and shape of Death Valley influence its summer temperatures. The valley is a long, narrow basin 282 feet below sea level, yet is walled by high, steep mountain ranges. The clear, dry air and sparse plant cover allow sunlight to heat the desert surface. Heat radiates back from the rocks and soil, then becomes trapped in the valley’s depths,” the Park Service explains. “Summer nights provide little relief as overnight lows may only dip into the 85°F to 95°F (30°C to 35°C) range. Heated air rises, yet is trapped by the high valley walls, is cooled and recycled back down to the valley floor. These pockets of descending air are only slightly cooler than the surrounding hot air. As they descend, they are compressed and heated even more by the low elevation air pressure. These moving masses of superheated air blow through the valley creating extremely high temperatures.”
So those are the technical reasons why it’s so hot.
Why then would anyone play golf there?
“Let’s start with the course. It’s a par-70 stretching out to 6250 yards,” Pete Wlodkowski of AmateurGolf.com described. “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.”
The course even has some fun with its truly unique environment. Every year Furnace Creek teams up with Sierra Star Golf Course to offer the Hell2Heaven Golf Challenge on – of course – the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice.
Everything starts literally at the break of dawn that morning in June (June’s average high in Death Valley is 109.9°F) at 214 feet below sea level, and the final putt comes as the sun sets over Sierra Star, California’s highest elevated course, nestled at 8,000 feet in the majestic Eastern Sierra at Mammoth Lakes after a 4.5-hour journey between courses. The epic round is indeed “a golf challenge that cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world,” as Robert Kaufman, chief architect of the Hell2Heaven Golf Challenge, told golftipsmag.com in January of 2018, and the event also benefits the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Southern California Golf Association Junior Golf. The tournament is open to golfers of any skill level.
Furnace Creek itself, meanwhile, has all the quiet a golfer could hope for.
“The thing that struck me most about the course was how desolate it felt. I played alone and was the only one on the course,” wrote a Yelp reviewer from San Francisco, who also noted that the low altitude affected his tee drives as the ball didn’t carry as far and “suddenly, mid-flight, it would seem to hit a wall.”
“Twice, I saw coyotes(?) – and they were not shy. They’d run within probably 20 feet of me and just stare at me. If I had not been on a cart, I probably would have quit the round right then!”
Bringing water is an obvious must, mostly because odds are no rain is coming. None. Zip. Nada. No rain was recorded in the years of 1929 and 1953, according to the National Park Service. The driest stretch on record was only 0.64 inches of rain over a 40-month period from 1931 to 1934.
Hop online right now to book a tee time at Furnace Creek. Spots are available throughout August, with tee times going daily through to about 10:45 a.m. A tee time that late in the morning means a foursome would stroll in from an 18-hole round at just about 2:45 p.m. PDT, which meant a then-temperature of 117°F on July 31.
“The Tamarisk trees provide great shelter at the lowest, and possibly hottest, golf course in the world,” another Yelp reviewer, this time from Livermore, California, wrote. “I’d suggest a 6:00 AM Tee Time to avoid the heat.”