2003 IS HERE!

2002 RECAP

(2001, 2000, 1999)




A Short History of the Black Rock Self-Invitational Desert Classic

by Doug Keister
[the true Playa Golf history buff can check out A Short History of Mark's Island, as well]

The desert rat loves the desert because there is something about it that he can not explain or even name.
Edward Abbey The Ancient Dust (1976)

Remember that the yield of a hard country is a love deeper than a fat and easy land inspires, that throughout the arid West the Americans have found a secret treasure....a stern and desolate country, a high bare country, a country with a beauty not to be found elsewhere.
Bernard DeVoto The Year of Decision:1846 (1942)

The royal and ancient sport of golf has been amazingly saved from it’s sissy status by a world-beating golf course in the middle of a HOT-AS-HELL DESERT in the heart of Seppoland (the United States)......The Anvil’s a top course on account of there’s no bushes or rocks or grass to get in your way...and ‘cos it tests your very mettle...
from The Picture (a very strange Australian magazine, Dec 1992)

Golf is one of those sports that seems to inspire a certain degree of lunacy in people. I am happy to be the co-founder of one of the most bizarre tournaments in the world. Let me explain. In 1988 I was looking for a creative way to celebrate my 40th birthday. I worked as a photographer in Oakland, California, but I spent a lot of time in Nevada. Especially the Playa of the Black Rock Desert. To mark my passage into the 5th decade of life, I wanted to do something out on the Playa, but wasn’t quite sure what.The answer ultimately came from my friend Lawrence Brown, a Bay Area attorney. He had some dusty old golf clubs in his garage that had belonged to his grandmother and suggested that we bury a couple of coffee cans on the playa and invite people for a "Golf Tournament". Neither Lawrence nor I had actually played golf since we were teenagers, so we reasoned that the vast expanse of the Playa would be a wonderful place to rediscover the game. After all, who wants to whiff at a ball or sail their shot off at a right angle to another fairway with a huge group of people watching?

The plan was set in motion, but it wasn’t easy convincing people to come to my "party". Most folks thought it somewhat odd that I would ask them to drive six hours from the San Francisco Bay Area, turn off the highway three miles north of Gerlach, drop down onto the Playa, follow a track in the dirt for ten miles, then chase a golf ball around on the sun baked clay surface. Nevertheless, after a bit of arm twisting and cajoling, I did find two other players and three gallery members. Lawrence and I proceeded to lay out a three hole course in the searing heat of June 1988. Our plan was to play a nine hole tournament; three times around our three hole course.

One of the other players, Doug (D.B.) Boilesen, suggested that we should play a scramble style "best ball" tournament. Both players on two-person teams hit their shots, use the better one and pick up the other ball. This turned out to be a great idea since all four of the players were quite rusty. Our hooks and slices on the pavement smooth surface rolled hundreds of yards in the wrong direction. Luckily Lawrence brought a bicycle that we could use to retrieve the errant shots.

When someone actually drove a ball straight it was a thing of beauty. We all looked in awe as the golden sphere (we did have the foresight to bring orange balls) cut through the cobalt blue sky, hit the Playa and rolled and rolled...and rolled. After a while the magic of the Playa took hold and we found that we were thoroughly enjoying hitting the ball on a course that had no out-of-bounds, no water hazards and where 150 yard putts were routine. We wound up playing only six holes, but vowed to come back the next year to finish the job. Well, we did come back the next year and have come back every year since, usually around the summer solstice.

Each year we brought a few new people and now the Black Rock Self Invitational Golf Tournament has a small, but regular following. This year there were 14 2person teams. There's room for more! Over the years improvements have been made. The course, christened Lucifer’s Anvil, has 9 permanent holes - all of which are painted each year with unique artistic treatments (biodegradeable paints, of course). One of a kind trophies by Bay Area glass artist Mary White are awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishes. There are score cards and other graphical materials, like this web site, and - as long as the Playa isn’t under water - the course is open all year. A word of caution: it may be a little difficult finding Lucifer’s Anvil on the 600 square mile Playa. Best to participate in the tournament, so you can find the course during the "regular season".

The press has been noticing the tournament for several years now. It's been featured in two page spreads in Golf Digest both in 1992 and 1993. Following Golf Digest’s cue, newspapers and magazines in England, Australia, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Thailand, Japan, Mexico, Italy, The Netherlands and Hungary have picked up the story. ABC-TV (KGO Channel 7 in San Francisco) and Fuji Television from Japan have done segments on us. This year Sports Illustrated picked up the story in their July 1998 Golf-Plus issue.

Over the years the tournament has attracted players from California, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas and Australia. Some play only one year, so they can add Lucifer's Anvil to their list of links they have challenged, while others come year after year. What is true for all participants is that they always have a story to tell after they've survived a round playing in one of the worlds' most unique golf tournaments, the Black Rock Self Invitational.

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