Words by Casey BannonPhotos by Christian Hafer, Geoff Cunningham
Light / Dark
“This just isn’t going to work,” I announced, ripping off my cotton polo.
I expected it to be hot. It was a golf course called Furnace Creek, located in Death Valley. But 101 degrees at 5 a.m.? Outside of a coffee, nothing should ever be that hot that early.
Our plan was to tee off at Furnace Creek—the lowest golf course on earth at 214 feet below sea level—at 6 a.m., then race four hours north and 8,000 feet above sea level to the first tee of Sierra Star Golf Course—the highest one in North America—by 3 p.m.
For myself and the 30-plus other maniacs who agreed to participate in this reckless golf mission, this meant a few things. First and foremost, we would have to keep moving—to stay on schedule, sure, but with every minute that passed, our chances of being scorched to a morning crisp increased.
(The temperature there spiked to 128 degrees the week after our trip.) Second was hydration: Heatstroke is no joke. Third, we had to pack strategically.
Furnace Creek Golf Course | 6 a.m. | 101 Degrees | Death Valley, California
From the time balls were in the air above Badwater Basin to the final hole-out among the stately pines of Mammoth Lakes, the temperature was expected to drop roughly 60 degrees. A true wardrobe dilemma.
Most importantly: We’d have to be some serious golf sickos.
Play this game long enough and you’re sure to add a few odd feathers in your cap. Some, like a 100-hole hike or solstice marathon, are sheer tests of stamina. Others, like finagling a double-header along 17 Mile Drive, are badges of bragging rights and big Rolodexes. A few, like camping outside the gates of Bethpage or showing up to the St. Andrews starter before the sun comes up in the hopes of walking on a classic, just make for good stories. Whatever shape they come in, these feathers all belong to the same flock.
US 395 N | 11 a.m. | Central California
“Have you played here?”
“Have you gone there?”
“Have you heard of this place?”
Often more than even the strokes counted, these adventures stir our golfing souls. We swap buddy-trip memories and highlight reels like some form of redeemable golf currency. We open our figurative passports for all to see, hoping someone has the same stamp or, even better, asks how we got ours.
Maybe we do this for pride. Perhaps it’s for clout. Or to remind ourselves of where we’ve been and where we’d like to go next. But this trip, The Rally, was about none of that. Our motivation was much simpler: We did it because we could.
Very few places in the world allow you to feel the full scope of Mother Nature’s moods in a single day. Fewer let you live to tell the story. By our count, only one lets you keep score while doing it. The fact that you can experience all of that and play 36 is a damn miracle. We had to go.
Sierra Star Golf Course | 3 p.m. | 67 Degrees | Mammoth Lakes, California
I was pondering this sentiment on the 14th tee—now clad in the lightest, most breathable T-shirt I could find—at Furnace Creek when a voice stopped me in my tracks.
“Is this a tournament or something?” a woman shouted from the steps of her mustard-colored condo. She was snapping pictures of us sickos with her phone, her spare hand shielding her eyes from a searing sun.
“Kind of!” I shouted back before peeling off down the fairway.