Life inside the ring of fire

As the wildfires in Northern California continue to burn, golf courses are closing, while residents ponder what to pack during evacuations.
Would you save your clubs packing for a natural disaster?

SAN JOSE, Calif. - The California wildfires you see nightly on the national news are hitting too close to home.

So far, I'm one of the lucky ones, but the evacuation orders are flying around the SCU Fire Complex, the third-largest fire in state history with nearly 350,000 acres consumed as of Aug. 24. It has been within 3 miles of my house since Aug. 20. Living in a large urban area along the southern rim of America's 10th-largest city, I never envisioned a wildfire so savage that my home would be in danger. I always figured wildfires were the problems of residents living in traditional fire zones inland or secluded homes tucked into forested hillsides. But in 2020, nothing is sacred or safe.

The area golf industry is being affected in various ways. Boulder Creek's golf community in the Santa Cruz Mountains has been under siege from the CZU Fire Complex, which has burned 74,000 acres as of Aug. 24. Some homes along the public Boulder Creek Golf Course have already been lost, but the status of the course itself or the clubhouse is not clear. The famous Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz and its surrounding community have also been evacuated.

The LNU Lightning Complex, the largest fire spread across more than 350,000 acres, is running amok across California wine country, which has been hit hard in recent years. The private Fountaingrove Club in Santa Rosa is currently rebuilding its clubhouse that was lost during the Tubbs Fire in October 2017. Northwood in Monte Rio, the nine-holer by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, has "temporarily suspended all golf operations" due to smoke. The Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park also closed Aug. 24 for "poor air quality". Silverado Resort in Napa remains open.

I've seen posts online from friends and businesses on the Monterey Peninsula urging tourists to stay away in order to clear the roads for first-responders dealing with the Dolan, River and Carmel fires (combined more than 60,000 acres burned) and to open up hotel rooms for evacuees. Farther up the coast, the Half Moon Bay Golf Links announced its closure until Wednesday for the same reasons.

The 36-hole Coyote Creek Golf Club in Morgan Hill had a fire spark up Aug. 21 that resulted in "a loss of property near the 17th and 18th hole of the Valley" course, but the cart barn and course were saved by firefighters, according to a statement on its website. The Santa Teresa Golf Club in south San Jose where I live was eerily quiet Aug. 24 with relatively few golfers on the fairways, many, no doubt, scared away by the heavy smoke and unhealthy air quality.

It's been a chaotic and stressful couple of days. On Aug. 20, I spent three hours taking videos of every room in the house and taking pictures and listing items in a document for insurance purposes. My wife and I packed essentials - food, clothing, photo albums, pet crates - by the front door in case the fire came calling in the middle of the night. With so many major fires raging throughout the Bay Area, firefighters are out-manned by Mother Nature.

It's a strange feeling taking stock of your life under duress. What's important? What's not? What worldly possessions would you be willing to sacrifice to the flames? You don't have to live in California or Arizona to face these hard questions. You could be evacuating from a hurricane on the East Coast, Florida or the Gulf Coast or escaping a tornado in the Midwest.

Packing under duress

All my golf memories came flooding back as I scoured the house for what to pack. I have so much memorabilia from two decades of working in the golf industry that I couldn't take it all. None of it is valuable, per se, except to me. That was probably the most eye-opening part of this whole exercise: Just how little of what I own is truly worth anything. Nobody is sentimentally attached to their most expensive possessions: Bedroom furniture, flat-screen TVs and appliances.

The "Wall of Balls" holds 600-plus logo balls.

Sadly, my collection of 1,000-plus logo balls was not on the must-save list. Too bulky, and they could be replaced. A few autographed balls and hats, though, did make the cut, as did my two hole-in-one balls and ace certificate from Trump Turnberry in Scotland. My clubs would have been one of the last things to be packed. If there wasn't room, I could live without decade-old irons and an outdated driver.

It would have been painful to leave the rest of the golf stuff that I collect: 1,200 scorecards and yardage guides, favorite golf shirts and hats, dozens of framed golf photos and pin flags hanging in my "mancave" in the garage and the 400 or so golf books. Maybe the purging would have been a blessing. That's how I was ready to justify the loss: a de-cluttering of my life.

Meanwhile, my wife gathered up photo albums of the kids and passports and other important documents. My daughter grabbed her favorite lacrosse stick. Everybody had their electronics. Counting two cats and two dogs, that was about it for space in one, possibly two, SUVs.

It's all still sitting by the front door ready to go. Considering this is just the start of wildfire season, at least I'll be prepared for next time. I'm not looking for sympathy through this ordeal. Californians live under the constant threat of wildfires and the "big one" (an earthquake). It's just a way of life here.

I'm writing this to get you to think about what's important in your life and to always be prepared. It's a good life lesson, especially in a pandemic. You never know when the world as you know it might be taken away. Natural disasters can strike anyone, anywhere. For sanity's sake, I think all of us can agree that 2021 can't get here soon enough.

What stuff - particularly golf items - would you save from your home under the threat of a natural disaster? Let us know in the comments below.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Thank you for your excellent article. My husband and I have been playing Boulder Creek for almost 40 years and it has much sentimental value to us...I wanted to play this week only to learn that the course is closed due to fire damage. I don't know how much, but I found out that the fires in the area were caused by arson. Four individuals have been arrested. Pipe bombs found by investigators. This angers and saddens me beyond words.

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I love Boulder creek golf course there is no other course I have played in a redwood forest. Very peaceful and beautiful. I have lived in the santa clara valley my whole life and this is the worst fire we have ever had by far. Big Basin is right above Boulder creek and is the oldest park in Ca.

Commented on

I have a collection of 200+ golf balls from the various courses I have played, plus Arnold Palmer autographs and pictures, that are enjoyed. However, pictures with my son at courses we have played together--i.e. Pebble Beach, Kiawah Island, Stream Song, Bay Hill, etc.--are the "treasures" I would try to protect. We have caddies and walk those courses and hopefully I've built a golf tradition he will continue with his daughter.

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I'd save my family. Everything else is replaceable.

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Just commenting about the ongoing wildfire and Pasatiempo Golf Course. My parents built their first house on the corner of Sims Rd and and Pasatiempo Dr. in 1960. I was 7 years old when we moved in. My playground was the the tree on the 13th hole and the canyons of the course. Searched for golf balls and sold them on 13th hole to help a friend by a pony. Swam everyday during every summer at the community pool. There are so many good memories of my childhood and I pray that my beloved Pasatiempo doesn't end up a desolate waste. I'm so sad to hear about the evacuation. Please keep me informed about what's happening in Pasatiempo!!! ❤😭

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Great article!!! Well said! Be safe!

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Golf-related? Maybe a couple of autographed books, but everything else can be replaced.

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Life inside the ring of fire