The Oa­sis at Death Val­ley

From a lofty perch at The Oa­sis at Death Val­ley, Bill Wal­ton, Hall of Fame bas­ket­ball star, side-stepped his “Hol­land” bike, looked out over Death Val­ley and said, “This is Mother Na­ture’s play­ground.”

Golf Vacations - - Contents - by David R. Hol­land

Fur­nace Creek Golf Course

DEATH VAL­LEY, CA – From a lofty perch at The Oa­sis at Death Val­ley, Bill Wal­ton, Hall of Fame bas­ket­ball star, sidestepped his “Hol­land” bike, looked out over Death Val­ley and said, “This is Mother Na­ture’s play­ground.” Lit­tle won­der the 6-11 for­mer UCLA cen­ter loves com­ing to the desert, spend­ing weeks at a time, en­joy­ing a place where he can get away from crowds, go on 100-mile bike rides, swim laps in the warm springs fed tiled pool -- all be­tween his com­ment­ing gigs on Pac-12 (“Con­fer­ence of Cham­pi­ons”) games for ESPN. Things were a lot dif­fer­ent way back in the olden days. When the gold fields of Cal­i­for­nia lured 49ers to trek west­ward one party of pi­o­neers en­vi­sioned a short­cut. Des­per­ate for water they stum­bled into an oa­sis. They found sal­va­tion in the springs at Fur­nace Creek, but as the strag­glers climbed out of the val­ley over the Panamint Moun­tains, one of the men turned, looked back, and said “Good­bye, Death Val­ley.” So a lot of years have passed by since that ill-fated ex­cur­sion. The Oa­sis at Death Val­ley was orig­i­nally called Fur­nace Creek and is a true Amer­i­can oa­sis where 80,000 gal­lons of an­cient wa­ters rise to the sur­face ev­ery day. Even­tu­ally the land was pur­chased by the Pa­cific Bo­rax Com­pany that mined and hauled bo­rax out of the val­ley with the famed Bo­rax 20 Mule Teams of the 1880s. The mules and min­ers were based at Fur­nace Creek. Tran­si­tion to the 1930s and be­yond when Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties found and en­joyed the Fur­nace Creek Inn and its soli­tude. The names in­cluded Ronald Rea­gan, Wil­liam Pow­ell, Claudette Col­bert, Bette Davis, John Bar­ry­more, Jimmy Ste­wart and many oth­ers, stayed at the spec­tac­u­lar lux­ury oa­sis. Guests also in­cluded hon­ey­moon­ers, in­clud­ing one es­pe­cially well-known pair – Clark Gable and Ca­role Lom­bard. To­day, The Oa­sis at Death Val­ley has a lot to brag about. The grand re-open­ing, held in De­cem­ber, was a huge suc­cess, with bil­lion­aire owner Philip An­schutz of Xan­terra Travel Col­lec­tion present along with Wal­ton.

Fur­nace Creek Golf Course:

You will shoot the low­est round of your life Lo­cated within the three mil­lion acres that is Death Val­ley Na­tional Park, and de­clared as the low­est golf course on earth at 214 feet below sea level, this lay­out has a sto­ried past, and has a promis­ing fu­ture with 100 mil­lion dol­lars spent on the re­sort. My group was eye­ing a rain fore­cast but that soon be­came no rain, but a sand­storm. What the heck, they once hosted “The Heat­stoke Open” here and this day was a com­fort­able sweater day tem­per­a­ture.

I had a great time on the 6,236-yard, par-70 lay­out be­cause at that al­ti­tude the ball doesn’t travel as far. What a co­nun­drum to my usual al­ti­tude ball strik­ing at home in Colorado. Also, watch for coy­otes that might snatch your golf ball. The re­cent up­grades in­cluded a fo­cus on water con­ser­va­tion and the tran­si­tion of 15 acres of main­tained turf to desert with low-water-use na­tive plant­ings. Still, palm and tamarisk trees frame the fairways and desert moun­tains are vis­i­ble from all ar­eas of the course. Tag the course with a “Cer­ti­fied Audubon Co­op­er­a­tive Sanc­tu­ary” by the Audubon Co­op­er­a­tive Sanc­tu­ary Sys­tem (ACSS) -- the 42nd course in Cal­i­for­nia and the 630th in the world to re­ceive the honor. Fur­nace Creek Golf Course was one of Cal­i­for­nia’s first desert cour­ses and ac­tu­ally had a short ver­sion in 1927, when date palm farm­ers laid out three holes, then ex­panded the course to nine by 1931, to pro­vide some fun af­ter work time. Although sur­rounded by bar­ren and des­o­late land, it sits on an oa­sis so there is water to sus­tain the course.

Her­alded course ar­chi­tect Wil­liam F. Bell (Tor­rey Pines) added a se­cond nine in 1968 and Perry Dye, son of hall of fame de­signer Pete Dye, came in for a ren­o­va­tion and re­design in 1997 and in­stalled a full ir­ri­gation sys­tem. Dye also added sub­tle mound­ing and re-con­toured greens to the al­ready fun lay­out. Water comes into play on nine holes now and four sets of tees pro­vide an en­joy­able chal­lenge for play­ers of all skill lev­els. De­spite the trees, ponds, green grass and oa­sis look only die-hards want­ing to chal­lenge them­selves play in 115 de­gree heat of a July or Au­gust day. This is a fun golf course, but don’t ex­pect Pine­hurst, Peb­ble Beach or even The Broad­moor, which in­ter­est­ingly is a sis­ter course owned by the same Xan­terra Travel Col­lec­tion. Fur­nace Creek Golf Course was rec­og­nized by Golf Di­gest in their list of “Amer­ica’s 50 Tough­est Cour­ses.”

Burg­ers and hot dogs are also tasty at The 19th Hole -- an open-air venue that of­fers a va­ri­ety of food op­tions and looks out to the golf course. I once in­clude an area where you could just drive your cart up a ramp to or­der food and drink.

The 2018 Re­nais­sance of The Oa­sis at Death Val­ley

Orig­i­nally built in 1927, the his­toric, four-di­a­mond mis­sion-style Inn at Death Val­ley is even bet­ter to­day af­ter a ma­jor $100 mil­lion dol­lar in­vest­ment. The prop­erty fea­tures 66 up­dated rooms, ren­o­vated fine din­ing restau­rant and cock­tail lounge, new Tran­quil­ity Spa, ve­ran­das with panoramic views of Death Val­ley and the Panamint Moun­tains. Lav­ish gar­dens, and a stun­ning spring-fed pool (nat­u­rally at 85 de­grees) bor­ders a new café and ca­banas. There are 22 pri­vate, one-bed­room ca­sitas, pro­vid­ing a new level of guest ac­com­mo­da­tions. In ad­di­tion, the brand-new Mis­sion Gar­dens of­fers a space for quiet re­flec­tion or the ideal lo­ca­tion for a wed­ding or other spe­cial event. The en­tire prop­erty is now adorned with amaz­ing West­ern art, and the out­door ter­races are shaded and fur­nished to pro­vide a true in­side/out­side ex­pe­ri­ence. The Ranch at Death Val­ley also emerged af­ter ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions, in­clud­ing a trans­for­ma­tion into a mis­sion-style town square, com­plete with a court­yard and wel­com­ing re­cep­tion area. New re­tail and food and bev­er­age fa­cil­i­ties cre­ate a cen­tral hub for en­ter­tain­ment and so­cial­iza­tion by pro­vid­ing an ice cream counter, west­ern saloon, re­tail store and Bo­rax Mu­seum ar­ti­facts.

Night Skies

Death Val­ley is one of only eight des­ig­nated “gold tier” In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Parks in the United States where stargaz­ers can ac­tu­ally see the Milky Way with the naked eye. If you are plan­ning your trip specif­i­cally around night sky view­ing, check with the re­sort about po­ten­tial as­tro­nom­i­cal events. Also, re­mem­ber to check the moon cal­en­dar. Stars are best viewed on moon­less nights.

Din­ing and ameni­ties

Din­ing op­tions in­clude The Inn Din­ing Room, Last Kind Words Saloon, Inn Pool Cafe and 1849 Buf­fet.

More ameni­ties

• Lo­cated next to the Na­tional Park Vis­i­tor Cen­ter • Spring-fed pool that is con­sis­tently 87 de­grees • Com­mu­nal fire pits • Ten­nis, bas­ket­ball, and vol­ley­ball courts • Horse­shoe pits • Play­ground for the kids • Horse­back rides and car­riage tours • Rent a Jeep to ex­plore the park So how hot does it get? On July 10, 1913, when Death Val­ley hit 134 de­grees, a record was posted – the hottest air tem­per­a­ture ever recorded on Earth. But if you go to Death Val­ley in many months of the year it can be in the 70s. My visit had temps in the 60s. The Oa­sis at Death Val­ley is just 120 miles north­west of Las Ve­gas, Nevada and 275 miles north­east of Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia. It is a place to get away from it all. And you might just have a con­ver­sa­tion with a Hall of Fame bas­ket­ball player. Bet Bill Wal­ton is thrilled we just told the world about his hide­away.

Early pho­tos even show sheep graz­ing in the fairways – na­ture’s first mow­ers.

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