The Inn at Death Valley

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Discover the Furnace Creek Golf Course, which sits at an amazing 214-feet below sea level.

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The Inn at Death Valley’s golf heritage dates back to 1920s.

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The Furnace Creek Golf Course at Death Valley

The par 70 18-hole course sits at 214 feet below sea level in one of the most arid parts of the world. Yet, natural springs flow through the grounds to provide a surprisingly lush golf experience.

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Located 214 feet below sea level, the Furnace Creek Golf Course is the lowest-elevation golf course on Earth. Lush palm and tamarisk trees frame the fairways of this fantastic 18-hole, par-70 facility. the course is also set within the three-million-acre Death Valley National Park, which make it seem like it is within a gorgeous desert oasis. The golf course itself dates to when The Inn at Death Valley was under development in the early 20th century. The Pacific Coast Borax Company specifically opened The Inn at Death Valley nearby in 1927, hoping to attract business to its Death Valley Railroad. Owned and operated by Death Valley mining magnate Francis Marion Smith, the railroad transported borax from mines scattered throughout the area. Another borax magnate, Richard C. Baker, eventually took control of the railroad during the 1920s. By this point, the railroad was in dire need of additional revenue. Baker thus began running passenger trains along the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, which ferried tourists who wanted to experience the natural beauty of Death Valley.

Not long thereafter, one of the Inn’s date-palm caretakers, Murray Miller, set up a three-hole golf course to give the local borax miners something to do in their spare time. Miller’s course proved popular with the resort guests, too, and in 1931, a nine-hole course was developed around the neighboring date-palm orchards. Impressively, it was the first grass golf course to open in the California desert. Then in 1968, renowned golf course designer William F. Bell expanded the course to a full 18 holes. Bell himself the son of golf course architect William Park Bell. Both known as “Billy Bell,” they were well-known for their work designing award-winning championship golf courses across the West Coast and American Southwest, especially in California, Arizona, and Nevada. Further work on the prominent course commenced during the 1990s, when golf course architect Perry Dye–son of renowned 20th and early-21st century golf course designer Pete Dye—instituted his own designs throughout the layout. (Bell and Dye golf courses are still regarded as being some of the best in the world, and can be found at historic hotels across the United States.)

Around the time of Perry Dye’s redesign, a high-tech irrigation system was installed. Using recycled water from the resort’s spring-fed swimming pools, the state-of-the art plumbing allowed the course to remain open all year! In 2017, Furnace Creek Golf Course underwent another round of renovations that made it more environmentally friendly. Fred Dickman, Director of Golf Course Maintenance and Hotel Grounds for The Broadmoor, oversaw the entire project. (The Broadmoor is also another member of Historic Hotels of America.) Today, it is water neutral and features more native foliage. Athletes familiar with the course include basketball star Bill Walton and Australian golf champion Steve Elkington. In fact, Elkington actually played the course for his television show, Secret Golf. Golfing icon Phil Mickelson received his first set of clubs at the Furnace Creek Pro Shop, too, which were purchased for him by his father. To young Mickelson’s delight, the shop sold clubs for left-handed players. He went on to win six major PGA Tour championships—three Masters titles, two PGA Championships, and one Open Championship.

  • About the Location +

    For thousands of years, various tribes of Native Americans occupied the confines of today’s Death Valley National Park. The earliest indigenous people left little evidence behind of their presence, save for unique petroglyphs scattered about on various local rock formations. The Timbisha eventually moved into the region and established some of the first enduring permanent settlements in Death Valley. Due to the dramatic seasonal change in temperature, the Timbisha followed periodic migration habits that saw them temporarily relocate into the mountains during the summer months. Nevertheless, the valley remained sparsely populated, even as American settlers began pushing toward the Pacific Coast throughout most of the 1800s. Those pioneers actively avoided the area following the highly publicized ordeal of the Bennett-Arcane Party wagon train. Part of a much large convoy of families heading west amid the California Gold Rush, the members of the Bennett-Arcane Party became convinced of a supposed short-cut through the valley. Unfortunately, the tip proved to be a gross exaggeration. The Bennett-Arcane Party ultimately spent four months stumbling around the area, losing many of their wagons and oxen along the way. When the group finally left, one of its members uttered, “Goodbye, Death Valley.” The line spread quickly and cemented the valley’s status as an incredibly inhospitable place within America’s collective imagination.

    Nevertheless, a few enterprising individuals eventually settled in Death Valley upon learning of its rich mineral deposits. Several dozen mines soon opened up next to lodes of gold and cooper, as well as numerous evaporates. But the most prosperous mining operations excavated borate, an ingredient used in many cleaning solvents during both the 19th and 20th centuries. The first borate mines opened under the direction of Eagle Borax Works in 1881, although it soon had to contend with several competitors just a few years later. The greatest of those newer corporations was the Pacific Coast Borax Company, established by Francis Marion Smith in 1890. Smith and his Pacific Coat Borax Company ran most of their mines around a series of borate deposits that resided below the surface of Furnace Creek. Luckily for Smith, the layer proved to be incredibly rich in borate. Soon enough, the company was transporting pounds of borate every day. The sheer amount even prompted Smith to operate his own freight trains, called the “Death Valley Railroad” and the “Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad.” (The Tonopah & Tidewater itself extended for hundreds of miles all over southern California and even into parts of Nevada.)

    Over time, the members of the Pacific Coast Borax Company grew concerned over the fate of its borate mining operations. The company then shifted toward promoting tourism into Death Valley, convinced that contemporary Americans would come to appreciate its beautiful scenery—especially if they all had a wonderful place to stay. The Pacific Coast Borax Company thus began constructing the Furnace Creek Inn near the grounds of its former mines during the mid-1920s. It also engaged in an energetic marketing campaign that sought to dispel the reigning myths of Death Valley. But the advertising carried another goal that the Pacific Coast Borax Company hoped to achieve. Genuinely concerned about the valley’s conservation, the business wanted to have it protected as a U.S. National Park. Working alongside the head of the National Park Service, the Pacific Coast Borax Company succeeded in changing the commonly held views of Death Valley. The campaign even produced numerous grassroot movements that spurred the federal government to finally make Death Valley a national park in 1933.

    Elevated to an official national park in 1994, countless people have traveled out to Death Valley over the years. Indeed, the park’s unique tranquility and scenery have even inspired Hollywood directors to shoot their films on-site. (The long list to movies to use Death Valley as a cinematic backdrop include such titles like The Bridge Came C.O.D., 3 Godfathers, One-Eyed Jacks, and parts of George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise.) Among the most enduring popular attractions within Death Valley have been Zabriskie Point, the Badwater Basin, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Guests have also been amazed by the sailing stones of Racetrack Playa, which glide across the desert sand seemingly on their own! Manmade structures have allured many travelers, too, most notably a palatial manor known as “Scotty’s Castle.” Built gradually over the 1920s and early 1930s, Scotty’s Castle was once the summer retreat for a Chicago-based insurance tycoon named Albert Mussey Johnson. Johnson had first learned of Death Valley from a con-artist named Walter Scott, who had erroneously convinced him to invest in mines throughout the area. Despite the earlier nature of their relationship, the two became best friends. The name “Scotty’s Castle” was an homage to Scott himself, which the two pretended to have lived in the manor as part of an inside joke that they would play on unsuspecting guests.


  • About the Architect +

    William F. Bell Jr.: While many golf course architects have worked on the Furnace Creek Golf Course over the years, the most prolific has been William F. Bell Jr. One of America’s most prolific golf course designers, William F. Bell Jr., hailed from a family of renowned golf professionals. Indeed, the Bell family had been involved in the creation of championship-caliber fairways since the early 20th century. Bell’s father, William P. Bell, worked on his first course as the greenskeeper of the prestigious Pasadena Country Club right before the outbreak of World War I. He used the experience at Annadale to obtain actual work constructing golf courses alongside the renowned Willie Watson. Among the many outstanding courses that the senior Bell designed while working with Watson were the Hacienda Golf Club and the San Diego Country Club. William P. Bell even managed to help renovate the esteemed fairways at the Annadale Golf Club, specifically the redesign of its numerous hazards. But Bell finally decided to branch out on his own during the 1920s and began designing his own courses throughout the American Southwest. At first, Bell sought advice from another architect named George C. Thomas to perfect his designs. Perhaps one of the best designs he created with Thomas’ help was the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. In fact, Bell impressed Thomas so much that the former aided the latter on his own projects, like the course located at Ojai Valley Inn (which is also another member of Historic Hotels of America.) But by the time of the Great Depression and World War II, Bell had designed several courses on his own. Over time, he took his son, William F. Bell Jr., on as his apprentice and the two continued to work on golf courses in the western United States. In 1953, Bell Jr. assumed control over the family design firm, which he proceeded to run over the next three decades. Bell Jr. eventually designed over 200 courses throughout the country, including the fantastic set of fairways at the Furnace Creek Golf Course. His talents also facilitated Bell’s respected membership in the American Society of Golf Course Architects and even became its president for a time in the late 1950s.


  • Famous Historic Golfers +

    Bill Walton, MVP basketball center who played for the Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Boston Celtics.

    Steve Elkington, winner of 17 professional tournaments, including the 1995 PGA Championship.

    Phil Mickelson, winner of six major golf championships, including the Masters Tournament, the British Open, and the PGA Championship.


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