When I was 8 years old, I got a surprise present in the mail from my grandma … a jar of ashes from the eruption of Mount St. Helens on the edge of the Oregon-Washington border.
At the time, she lived near Portland, Ore., roughly 80 miles away from the blast that shook the Pacific Northwest on May 18, 1980. For days afterward, ashes rained down on her car parked in the driveway. She bottled them up and mailed them to her grandchildren in Michigan.
It fed my fascination with volcanoes. Did you know, according to the Smithsonian Institution book, “Volcanoes of the World: Second Edition”, that 1511 volcanoes are considered active? That means they’ve erupted some time in the last 10,000 years … in other words, about as active as my gym membership.
Aspiring PGA Tour pros did discover a real fire-breather, though, in March at the 2017 Guatemala Stella Artois Open, a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event. While the Volcan de Fuego, one of Central America's most active volcanoes, fumed above, players hit shots on the range at the Fuego Maya Golf Club at the La Reunion Golf Resort. My first thought: How do you concentrate when you could be incinerated at any moment?
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. Golf courses and volcanoes live in harmony around the world. This story is merely a snapshot of where the two mix in America. I could have written about volcanoes and courses in Asia, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina and other exotic locales, but how many sane American golfers will drag his/her sticks to these remote places to play? Not many. So here's a look at lava golf in the U.S.:
It’s Wilder out West
All of America’s most dangerous volcanoes dot the more volatile West Coast and Hawaii.
May is actually Volcano Preparedness Month in the state of Washington since Mount St. Helens awakened again in 2008. It ranks as the second-most dangerous volcano in America, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Of the three courses nearby, the Three Rivers Golf Course in Kelso is the most unique. It was actually constructed in 1983 with the spoils of the eruption dredged from the adjacent Cowlitz River. It drains better than its local competition, including the Lewis River Golf Course in Woodland and the Mint Valley Golf Course in Longview. That gave Three Rivers an edge during record-setting rains this spring. Currently, Mount Rainer – rated third among the most dangerous - is at rest. Druids Glen Golf Club, about an hour away in Kent, provides the best combination of interesting golf holes with a good view of the mountain, although the Enumclaw Golf Course is slightly closer. The skies cleared up just as I was leaving Druids Glen after a round in 2011, allowing me to take this photo:
Oregon is a hotbed of volcanic activity … and golf. The Resort at the Mountain in Welches sits just 15 minutes from Mt. Hood, rated fourth on the USGS’s most dangerous list. The first of the nine-hole loop at the 27-hole resort dates to 1928, making it “Oregon’s first golf resort”. The South Sister (no. 6 on the USGS list) is the crankiest of the “Three Sisters”, a volcanic hotbed spanning 115 square miles west of Bend. Every golfer knows that Bend must be on their bucket list with the Crosswater course at Sunriver Resort, Tetherow, the Nicklaus course at Pronghorn and the Glaze Meadow course and the Big Meadow course at Black Butte Ranch. There isn’t much golf near Crater Lake, no. 10 on the USGS list, but the closest option (64 miles south) is still pretty good: The Running Y Ranch Resort, an Arnold Palmer course in Klamath Falls.
California’s interior has two volcanic threats – Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak, rated fifth and seventh by the USGS. You can actually drive the 100 or so miles between the two on CA-89, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. Overlooking Lake Siskiyou, Mount Shasta Resort is a mere five miles from Mount Shasta’s peak, featuring a 6,035-yard, par-70 course at an elevation of 3,500 feet above sea level. Most of the public facilities within 50 miles of Lassen are nine-holers; The lone exception being the Gold Hills Golf Club in Redding.
Every Hawaiian island was formed by volcanic activity, essentially leaving every course in the islands with some sort of views of a volcanic peak. All the best volcanic action these days takes place on the island of Hawai’i, a.k.a the Big Island.
I regret not teeing it up at the Volcano Golf & Country Club while visiting in 2014, although my wife and I had fun hiking instead in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, home to two active volcanoes, Kīlauea (the most dangerous in America, according to the USGS) and Mauna Loa. We explored the still-steaming Kīlauea Iki Crater lava lake before finishing inside the Thurston Lava Tub back near the parking lot. Now that the Halema‘uma‘u Crater is spewing active lava flows into the ocean, it’s time to go back again.
Forget bunkers or ponds. The golf courses lining the Kohala Coast near Kona use the rugged black rock from old lava flows as their primary hazard. On one hole of the Jack Nicklaus-designed Hualalai Golf Course, players hit through or over a gate of rocks to reach a hidden green. For the old guys playing in the PGA Tour Champions’ Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, it’s easy. For the golfing guests at the nearby Four Seasons, not so much.
Tourists flock to play the ocean holes of the Mauna Lani Resort Francis H. Ii Brown South and North courses. Some of the rock-lined inland holes are just as intriguing. The Kings’ course by Tom Weiskopf rules Waikoloa Beach Resort. Meanwhile, the Beach course by Robert Trent Jones Jr. heads toward the ocean for its signature, par-5 seventh hole. Further up the coast from the airport are the stunningly beautiful and stunningly tough Mauna Kea Golf Course by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the more playable Hapuna Golf Course by Arnold Palmer on higher ground.
If you happen to hit one crooked, local legend says if you yell out the name of ‘Moke’ the Menehune (a tribe of small, mischievous dwarfs who live hidden from people in the forests), he might just throw your ball back into the fairway after a fortuitous bounce off the rock.
Volcano golf in...Indiana?
And I’ll leave you with this nugget from the Hoosier state. Leave it to Pete Dye to build bunkers so ferocious on his demanding Pete Dye course at French Lick Resort that they’ve been nicknamed "volcano bunkers." They’re essentially mountainous mounds with a small pit of sand in the peak. They’re more dangerous than Mount St Helens and Kīlauea combined - at least to a scorecard anyway.