Episode 5 - Death Valley

Secret Golf's Steve Elkington visits Death Valley and plays golf at Furnace Creek Golf Course, world's lowest course at 214 feet below sea level.

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-The goal of golf is to shoot low. This week's episode of "Secret Golf" this is a whole different kind of low. Welcome to Furnace Creek, Death Valley.

NARRATOR: "Secret Golf" is rolling your way.



THEME SONG: It's "Secret Golf." It's what I'm looking for.


THEME SONG: It's why I get up every morning call my good-timing friends. It keeps me coming back for more. "Secret Golf." We're headed down the road.


THEME SONG: We just know you know the big show.


THEME SONG: Going looking for the heart and soul. We'll go until the wheels fall off. It's "Secret Golf." Shh. It's a secret.

DAVID BLACKER: Death Valley was kind of a thing that they always played off of marketing-wise. They always made it sound mysterious.

DOMINIE LENZ: People assume the worst, but it's everything but that. It's wide open skies and absolute beautiful scenery that changes by the moment.

-What you really find is, once you get here, it's just an incredible place.

STEVE ELKINGTON: Death Valley National Park, California-- it's a real tourism place. All the-- you know, tons of people are coming here for lots of different things. You're looking at the salt. They're looking at the distance out below sea level. They're playing golf. They're hiking. There's just a lot going on out here.

-We have five major mountain ranges, five different sets of sand dunes, and 1,000 different species that live in the park.

STEVE ELKINGTON: And then, of course, the biggest thing of all is the star gazing at night.

DOMINIE LENZ: Star gazing at Death Valley is one of the best places you can do that in the world.

ROB LAMBERT: This is called a cigar galaxy. Do you see color?


ROB LAMBERT: What colors do you see?

STEVE ELKINGTON: Well, I'm looking at, like, a light peak.

-OK, ionized hydrogen emits a red light, and so those stars were born out of that cloud of hydrogen gas right there 12 and a half million light years away. So the light that's striking our camera here tonight started this way 12 and a half million years ago. Sort of hard to wrap your head around that, isn't it?

-Can't do it.

NARRATOR: From millions of miles away to a couple of a hundred feet below sea level, Elk finds that a golf course in the desert isn't just a mirage.

STEVE ELKINGTON: The golf course is the most interesting thing for us because that's what we came here for, but it's 214 feet below sea, level and it's awesome. It's just like a little oasis.

-Most people that come to play Furnace Creek golf course for the first time think it's a desert golf course, and it's not that at all. We've got grass tee to green. We've got huge trees all over the place. The thing that happens as you play is, because of the course is below sea level and the elevation is so low, that the ball just doesn't travel as far.

-Well, the air is saturated here because we are so low. So there's actually a dense air, and that poses more friction on the ball.

-You can get the ball in the air, but as soon as it apexes, it's coming down, and it's coming down hard. You can get a little distance, but you're not going to get much [INAUDIBLE] at the bottom end of it.

-If you look at the course yardage from the blue tees, it's 6,215 yards, but if you come and play it, even if you add 10% because of the elevation, that brings it up to about 6,800 yards, which is a pretty good test.

NARRATOR: The irony of Death Valley lies in the hands of the characters that bring it to life.

-But, uh, my grandmother used to call me [INAUDIBLE]. My name is Don Forehope, the assistant superintendent in the golf course here at Death Valley, California. Being Native American, being born and raised out here, I am very familiar with the land. And the way that I was brought up was always about preservation and conservation.

NARRATOR: Golf in Death Valley brought a new sheriff to town in the '60s, and with him an interesting trademark would develop on the course.

HAROLD: I was in law enforcement for 30 years. The last 12 I was the sheriff of the county. And when I retired, I didn't have anything to do, and I saw one of these whirligigs, so I bought it. And I brought it home, and I told the wife I think I'll make some of those. And she says to me, you can't even cut a straight line, but you don't have to cut these straight. But it's a fun retirement for me. Then you get around to golfing now and then, too, you know, so. If I can learn something, fine, I'm all for it.

-My crew will tell you that you do not get to play with me unless I get to fix your grip. I always fix people's grips. Grip the club. Grip. Grip. Grip. If I grip that club-- grip right down there. Grip. We've got to get the grip right. Left hand grip is totally different than the right hand grip. The left hand grip is dominated by the meat of the back of the hand goes under that-- under this meaty pad right there, and across, and catches that finger there. So it's a balance situation right here.

The right hand is totally different. I like it down in the tips, and it's a two step process. Tips down so that the palm is behind the club. The palm is back here so that your brain when you're coming down to the-- to hit the shot, you can hammer the right hand. Everybody's scared of hitting it with the right hand because they think they'll hook it.


-But what if you could hit hard, and it didn't hook. It just went straight. Would that be good?

-Oh, that'd be awesome.

-And that's the grip. We'll not twist the face, and you'll be able to play golf that way. Does that make sense to you have, Harold?

NARRATOR: No expedition to Death Valley would be complete without a stop to the lowest point in North America.

-That, my friends, is sea level up there, some 282 feet above where I'm standing, and this is Badwater Basin.

-Badwater Basin is the residual spot of an ancient lake that once filled Death Valley. Today it is a plain old salt flats from the evaporation of the lakes and from the water that drains into Badwater Basin.

STEVE ELKINGTON: You know why they call it Badwater. There was a guy that his donkey wouldn't drink out of it or something. So he put on the map that it was bad water. As you see out there, that's all salt. Essentially that is like a salt ice skating rink three feet thick, and underneath is 200 foot of water-- the second biggest aquifer in California.

NARRATOR: In an area truly unique to the northern hemisphere, it's no wonder that it's home to one of Death Valley's rarest animals.

-I'm searching for the Badwater snail. Are you looking for the little snail? There's a snail that lives in here/ have you seen the Badwater snail? There's a snail lives in here. It's called Badwater snail.

-I don't see it. [INAUDIBLE] see [INAUDIBLE].

-There's not much to see. No trees. It's just all salt and snails. Have you tried the salt today? You didn't? It's good. Everyone who's been contacting me through social media want to know if the ball goes shorter from below sea level.

-It does.

-It does?

-So you should be using a driver from here.


-[INAUDIBLE]. I got to kick down a club or two.


-Is there a percentage you guys talk about up here or not?

-We usually use club length.

-Yeah. That's--

-One club.

-One club. So it's a 10 percenter.

-That's about it.


-This is a nice looking hole here. This is a par three across water. What are you going to let it go? 150?

-We roughly play about that.

-OK, Harold. You get a stroke.

-I think Steve was just kind of taking his age into consideration.

-Wouldn't go for two, would you?

-No, not-- not today. No begging on the first hole. You gonna use that new grip?

-I got it right there.

-I see it. Nice, Harold. You let it leak a little. That's a good shot. Well done. Little seven iron. 150.

-Yep. Here we go. A little draw, too. Get real technical about it.

STEVE ELKINGTON: Oh, mate. You made the first hole in one ever at "Secret Golf" show. Please go in. Wow.

DON FOREHOPE: Oh, that'll work. Oh, that's a good looking shot.


DON FOREHOPE: Oh, putt off.


-He followed my line perfect, and he wound up right beside me.

-I see you played a little safe over here to the right, but that's-- that's to be expected.

-Usually I-- I try to hit the green. Really and truly I do. It doesn't always work that way.


-Oh, look at this man.


STEVE ELKINGTON: OK, very nice. Well played. All right, Don. We got out-- we got our work cut out for us. Harold's got to putt through three to two.

-So you want me to show you the line?


-Are you a good putter?

-No. Horrible putter. Oh, I didn't even hit that.

STEVE ELKINGTON: That kind of confirmed it. I thought it would come back over more.

DON FOREHOPE: A little bit. Put it in, Harold. Put it in.

STEVE ELKINGTON: Look at this guy.


-There it is.

STEVE ELKINGTON: There's the three and two. Great putt. That's one up.

-Should have deducted three strokes from Steve. That would have been more viable. Put him in the hole first without giving us strokes. Let him play from behind. See, that's the way we should have done it.

NARRATOR: In a lush two oasis surrounded by a vast desert rests an elegant hideaway rich in American history.

-The beauty that we have here at Furnace Creek is the fact that it is an oasis. it's built off of the water from a natural flowing spring that comes out of the creek just behind us. It came about because of the 1849 gold rush, and so the 49ers came out here in search of gold, didn't realize they were trampling all over this white mineral called borax. And so borax was discovered, and Frances Marion Smith was the big borax king of what they called white gold.

He actually decided that this would be a great tourist mecca, and they wanted to utilize the railroad that they had built for the borax and for the minerals, and so they built this inn. In 1927, it opened to the public with 12 rooms, and it was built originally back in that day as a luxury resort.

STEVE ELKINGTON: Beautiful surrounds, porches, and viewing areas so you can look at the stars at night and then take advantage of this wonderful little oasis centered right here. So you can go just come straight down to the golf, or you can take one of these trails, or do whatever you want right out of Furnace Cree Inn. Awesome place.

NARRATOR: In an area known for its rigid salt formations, the next stop on Elk's expedition to Death Valley showcases a different type of terrain some deem devilish.

-We're still in Badwater Basin, and as we're going by, I saw that-- Devil's Golf Course.

-The Devil's Golf Course is not really a place to play golf.

-From here, it doesn't seem like they have a very nice looking clubhouse, and I definitely don't see a 19th hole.

-It is made up of polygons of earth and salt.

-And what happens is those salt polygons form, and expand, and contract, and so what you end up with is this-- this chaotic formation of salt and dirt.

-This is where the salt evaporated quicker and at an angle, and it's pushed up, and it's made this terrible looking golf course. Will you take my picture? Over here they have a sign, and they left the club there if you want to have a few swings. And I notice that it's a-- it's a Bruce Devlin, who was my hero growing up in Australia. Great name. My first thought is I need to fire the green keeper. You know this is a golf course here, right? Do they have any golf courses like this where you're from? Me neither. Can't do anything with this. So Harold, we got the whirligigs up top, mate. Tell us a little bit about that. You-- you-- this is a hobby of yours. A little folk art.

-Yeah, folk art. Does he talk kind of funny, or it me?

-No, I think it's both.

HAROLD: A lot of these are the stuff I draw myself. I plane it. I size it. I cut. Then you go from there to the finish.

-Do you do a chicken?

-I can do a chicken.

-Will you do me a chicken?

-Yes, I will.

-The second hole of our smackdown here at Furnace Creek, Death Valley is number seven. All right, Harold. Put you one down there. Get a stroke on this hole, too. Wow.

-I had a good drive there. I think probably the new grip helped there.

STEVE ELKINGTON: All right, Donnie. Oh.

HAROLD: That's a nice one.

-That'll work.

STEVE ELKINGTON: I don't even see it.

HAROLD: Oh, that's a good ball. He's going right over the top of it. That is a great looking ball, Harold.

-Can you hit 70 yards, Donnie?

-I hope so.

STEVE ELKINGTON: This could be big time.

HAROLD: Looks good.

DON FOREHOPE: All right.

-Should I land it down on top and let it run, or all the way?

HAROLD: Probably best just to land it close to the top.

-I'm not gonna take your word for it. I'm going all the way.

HAROLD: Oh, yeah. Compromise.

DON FOREHOPE: Good shot.

HAROLD: Nice shot.

STEVE ELKINGTON: See the little pro spin there at the end? You see that?

DON FOREHOPE: I did see that. I did see that.

-Both the guys were great trash talkers. I love that. So this is not a piece of cake, is it?

-None of them are a piece of cake when I putt.

STEVE ELKINGTON: Just checking, sheriff. Stretch it out, baby. Come on. Look at this putt.

HAROLD: Come on. Come on. Come on.

DON FOREHOPE: Get there.

STEVE ELKINGTON: OK, Donnie. I'm gonna give you that. That's a four for you.

DON FOREHOPE: Nice. That's what I'm talking about. I'm all about it. You know, I'm all about smack talk, you know. If you can bring a little more competition to the game, you know, as long as you don't upset the person you're playing with. You know, it-- it could bring the game up a little bit. It snaps hard to the left.

-Thank you.

DON FOREHOPE: Oh, doggies.

HAROLD: Uh-oh.

DON FOREHOPE: Take it. I'll give you that.

-Yeah, OK.

-That's a gimme.

-That's a gimme.



HAROLD: That's a gimme.

-There was a below sea level effect on that putt right there.

-[INAUDIBLE] just gave the pro a gimme.

NARRATOR: Located on the east side of the valley is a stunning, undulating landscape unlike any other.

STEVE ELKINGTON: This is called Artist Drive. They named it Artist Drive because the mountains here look like an artists palette.

-Artist Drive is about an eight mile sinuous road that goes through a myriad of different landscapes.

-Now that-- that's called the artist's palette. That was volcanic action millions of years ago, and all those minerals bonded, and it's created a natural artist's palette.

-It has a lot of sedimentary rocks and volcanic ash, and in the artist's palette, as we call it, there are numerous colors made up of different minerals found within the rock.

NARRATOR: As the "Elk-pedition" rolls on, in typical Elk style, he re-christens the most spectacular view point in the park.

-Zabriskie Point. The manly beacon. The golden valley.

-Zabriskie Point is what we call our badlands, and it does look like the South Dakota Badlands in that it's made up of a lot of sedimentary rocks, and these rocks have been eroded away at different levels and different rates. So it shows a lot of different kinds of formations.

STEVE ELKINGTON: All these shadows and all these deposits of different minerals that have gotten together create all this wonderful contrast of colors, and as it arose from the rain or whatever, it lets off it's beauty with different mineral colors, and that's what we're seeing there, aren't we? Isn't that what we're seeing?


-Park ranger lady told me that.

CHERYL CHIPMAN: No, I did not.


-On this side of the road had this huge expanse of these beautiful golden, um, you know, hills, and they're all creased in. It looked like a giant stomach, so I called it the golden intestine. Hey, that's the golden intestine right there. Really? Oh, that's awesome. So I renamed something while I was here, as well. Harold, you're one up with one to go. This could be like newspaper headlines if you [INAUDIBLE].

-Whoa, newspaper headlines. That's one thing I never made--

-Good for you.

- --was the newspapers.

-Will be today.


STEVE ELKINGTON: Yeah, well played.

DON FOREHOPE: There you go. Good ball.

-Oh, yeah. Beautiful.




-Beautiful. Blue flag, and it's uphill.


-That blue flag [INAUDIBLE] 200, about 210 [INAUDIBLE].

-I don't want to sound embarrassing because this is going to be a stupid question, but we're below sea level, so how come we're going up? We're-- so you really tricked me there a little bit with the 200 feet below sea level, and now we're going back uphill?

-Well, yeah, no--

-We're going towards sea level.

-[INAUDIBLE] won't be that much. No. Looking good.

DON FOREHOPE: That's a great looking ball.


STEVE ELKINGTON: That's the best shot I've ever hit in my life.

DON FOREHOPE: Oh. Did you see that?

HAROLD: Beautiful.

DON FOREHOPE: You see that?

-Woo! Harold, you're playing like a pro.

-Nice. Woo!

-Oh, Donnie.

-Nice. Nice. Nice.

-Donnie, good job, mate.

DON FOREHOPE: Thank you.


HAROLD: Got to go, baby.

STEVE ELKINGTON: OK, he's giving us a little bit of a door. OK, I hate to do this to you guys. You guys are nice-- nice guys and everything. Please come back.


STEVE ELKINGTON: What is it doing?

HAROLD: Nice putt.

-Made my birdie and was left. The stage was set for Harold.



-He did it with so much--

-He did it.

-Thank you for the [INAUDIBLE]. You know, I didn't think anything of it.


-Like I told him, I fill out the scorecard first so I don't have to worry about doing-- no, I-- I never really thought-- just playing with him was great. I never thought about winning or losing, just playing, you know?


-Pleasure all my.

-Native Death Valleyan.

-That's it, sir.

-Thank you very much [INAUDIBLE]. I think they appreciated the fact that we came all the way out here to see their course, and it's definitely going to take some stories back with me about being out in Death Valley. We took a drone today, which was pretty cool for me because I had never been around a drone. We pulled a drone all the way up to where the sea level was, and when you see how high up sea level is, well, then you'll get an idea of why it's-- why we're down there. That's ridiculous how below sea level I am right here.

We found a few characters that were pretty unique, and we learned lots of things. I've heard of a-- I've heard of drive in movies, but this-- this is a new one. It's got, like, this ramp. I mean, every golf course in America should copy this ramp. It's like foo foom. Up into the snack bar. You literally could take a-- take you burger bun and just, like, put it-- put it on there without even taking your foot off the gas here. It's, like, seriously unreal. Here's the winner.

-Oh, yeah? So who lost? Oh, loser buys?

-Loser buys. It's definitely gonna take some stories back with me about being out in Death Valley, and people are gonna ask me what it's like, and I'm gonna tell them they should come out here and, uh, play golf. And they should see the stars. Maybe even go for a hike up in some of this stuff.

NARRATOR: On another episode of "Secret Golf."

STEVE ELKINGTON: The reason we do this show is we only film people that have passion for golf.

NARRATOR: Join us in hot-lanta as meet a journeyman pro who went toe to toe with golfing greats.

LARRY MOWRY: So here I am now playing the senior tour and beating Arnold Palmer and Gary Player head to head, and having them putt out to get out of my way, uh, reminded me that, uh, you know, this is like striking out Babe Ruth.

NARRATOR: Watch two masters of the game teach one another a trick or two.

-My aiming point should be right in there. [INAUDIBLE]

-Yeah, but-- but I don't want--

-I know you don't any throwaway. I know that.

-I don't want that.

-No, you want that.

NARRATOR: And learn how a woman in a male dominated sport shot her way inside the ropes.

STEVE ELKINGTON: I want her in our show because I want people to know that she was there with Tiger. She was there with Norman, all these guys, and she has got it in her head, but she's also lived that-- that-- she's that sound. She was there. She was right there.

NARRATOR: "Secret Golf" with Steve Elkington has been a presentation of Secret Golf Incorporated. Shh. It's a secret.