Golfers are a dedicated - and delusional - bunch.
They will play on through just about anything. I've slogged through torrential rain and howling winds in Scotland and Ireland and stinging snowflakes and hail at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. But playing golf with the threat of a volcanic explosion looming? That's a new one.
A handful of golfers were scheduled to tee it up Friday, May 11, on the Volcano Golf Course on the Big Island, while the nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed due to concerns over volcanic activity at the Kilauea crater.
Situated on the rim of the active Kilauea volcanic crater, the Volcano Golf Course lies in the cool Hawaiian highlands 4,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, with sweeping vistas of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The 6,547-yard course, which dates back to 1920, will remain open for the foreseeable future, according to Ken Yoshitomi, a member of the office staff who answered the phone Thursday.
"Personally, I don't feel too badly," Yoshitomi said when I asked him if he felt safe. "The residents here haven't evacuated or anything."
Kilauea has destroyed 36 structures — including 26 homes — since May 3, when it began releasing lava from vents about 25 miles east of the summit crater, according to an Associated Press story published at NBCNews.com. Scientists warn that an explosion powerful enough to hurl ash and boulders the size of refrigerators miles into the air could happen at any time in the coming weeks.
"We know the volcano is capable of doing this," Charles Mandeville, volcano hazards coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey, told the AP, citing similar explosions at Kilauea in 1925, 1790 and four other times in the last few thousand years. "We know it is a distinct possibility."
The Hawaii Tourism Authority has been working hard to combat misinformation about the impact the volcano is having on the island, hoping to assure tourists that it is still safe to visit. A page on their website has the latest updates, including what to do if 'vog' (volcanic smog laced with sulfur dioxide) becomes a problem.
The lava flows are in an isolated region of the island opposite the Kona-Kohala coast, where most of the island's best golf resorts and courses reside. I last visited the 'Big Island' in 2014, first with my wife in January and then in December to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mauna Kea. My wife and I actually stayed at the Kilauea Lodge near the Kilauea rim after exploring the still-steaming Kīlauea Iki Crater lava lake and the Thurston Lava Tub. It was one of the most memorable days of my travel writing career.
I put my hand near a steaming vent, almost suffering a serious burn, a foolish reminder of how dangerous volcanos can be. Let's hope life on the island returns to normal before anything drastic happens. It's my favorite Hawaiian island and I've still got friends living there. Like millions of mainlanders, I'll be watching the news anxiously from afar.