But there are some folks on the island seemingly undeterred by Kilauea’s eruption. They’re playing golf. Or climbing trees on golf courses to get a better view of the plumes of smoke from fissures in the Earth’s surface.
Getty photojournalist Mario Tama got a tip from a local source Wednesday early afternoon that the volcanic crater at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park was spewing more ash into the air than other hot spots on the island.
Tama rushed to the park, then drove around to the nearby Volcano Golf and Country Club for a clearer view of plume.
“I was assuming it would be empty and it would provide a clear vantage point,” he said in a phone interview. “I didn’t realize there would be folks there. There were a number taking in the view. Clearly some locals know that was a good spot to see the activity, but it never occurred to me that I’d actually see folks playing golf as this was happening.”
He hadn’t noticed a group of players teeing up their balls, until they called out to him and asked him to step off the fairway.
“I walked over to the left and they started to tee up and that’s when I shot those photos,” he said. “I still can’t understand it. They seemed to be completely nonplussed. I don’t even recall them even looking at [the volcano]. They were completely focused on their game.”
And all things considered, Tama said, there was no reason to be concerned. The plume looks like it’s several dozen yards over the golfers’ shoulders, but Tama shot the photograph with a telephoto lens, which alters depth perception. The plume is really several miles away. He couldn’t feel any Earthshaking or seismic activity normally associated with an eruption. The wind was blowing away from the course, so there was no smell of that sulfur dioxide, either.
It wasn’t even especially hot, said Tama, who has been on the Big Island for 11 days already documenting the eruption.
“Even though it was visually insane, it didn’t feel like there was a massive sense of urgency to get out of there,” he added.
He ran back to his rental car and uploaded the photos to the Getty wire, then ran back out to the course to keep shooting. When the golf photos — he only took a few of them — came across his laptop screen, he thought they were neat photos, but never imagined they’d become so jaw-droppingly popular.