Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club in Wickenburg, AZ
Tee Time: August 21, 2015, 11:15, 100 F, partly cloudy
Designer: Bill Brownlee and Wendell Pickett, 2015
Playing Partners: Sean Cohan
Tees: Blue, Par 71 (70.6 rating/134 slope/6,486 yards)
Course Handicap: 9 (8.0 index)
Stats: 77 (36-41); 36 putts; 9/13 fairways; 11/18 greens; 0 penalty strokes
If Phoenix is the sun, then the 101 freeway is like the orbit of Mercury. The 202 is Earth or Mars. The newly discovered 303 is like Neptune. That would place Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club, in this Valley of the Sun solar system, somewhere out where Pluto resides. And just like Pluto, the journey out to this distant location is well worth it. Located in a new housing development in Wickenburg, this might be the most exciting thing to come to this part of Arizona since all the gold was mined out of Vulture Mountain many years ago. The course just opened in 2015 and I can guarantee you’ll be seeing it rated on a few lists in the near future. For now, while the houses are still being built and sold, the plan is to stay open to the public for a couple years. Just like the gold, come out and get it before it’s too late.
The opening hole is a 411-yard par 4 dogleg-right that isn’t easy. I know, that’s some amazing insight. The par-3 2nd is 172 yards to a green you can’t see from the tee thanks to the mounds and sand traps between you and the putting surface. The 402-yard 3rd is named “Old No.7”. This is due to the dogleg-left layout of the hole looking like the number 7 and not because they provide shots of Jack Daniels on the tee. But, maybe they could consider it. Enjoying some whiskey while taking in the view of the green that’s framed by the scenic hillside beyond would be pretty relaxing. Cecil’s Pond, in honor of the recently departed lion of the same name, is a par 3 of 165 yards over a very large body of water. Sand traps spoil any bailouts to the left, making the only safe miss a shot over the green.
The 5th is a tough par 5, 568 yards and requiring three good shots to have a chance at the green. A long dogleg-right, there is a wash to carry about 50 yards short of the green. The most spectacular view from any spot on the golf course is that of the 7th tee. Looking east out to the rolling Wickenburg Mountains from the tallest tee box here is really a great sight. The hole itself is just as enjoyable, a reachable 513-yard par 5 if you place your drive in the right spot near the bottleneck of the fairway. The 8th is a par 3 with sand traps guarding all four corners of the green 167 yards away. The 9th is an insane hole to finish a roller coaster front nine stretch that includes three holes each of par 3’s, 4’s and 5’s. The 556 yard hole goes straight uphill from the landing area off the tee and levels out to the green. It’s definitely one of the many holes here that might get easier with a few rounds under your belt.
The backside opens with a 10th hole far away from the clubhouse. It’s a course where the phrases “outward nine” and “inward nine” are accurately used. This par 4 plays downhill 339 yards and has the second best view off the tee on the course, after the 7th. The 11th is a short, uphill par 3 that has lots of little undulations to make your shot take unpredictable kicks upon landing. The par-4 12th has a tough approach shot uphill to an elevated green. The longest of the five par 3’s is 220 yards over a massive lake that wraps around three sides of the green. The front sand trap is a large beach that puts its sandy shores right up to the water. I might come back and park a chaise lounge chair with a glass of lemonade and watch how many triple bogeys get made here.
A dangerous par 5 is the 564-yard 14th, with water all down the left side from tee to green. It can be a big score if you’re not careful. The par-4 15th is a relatively straightforward hole of 382 yards. The 16th is a downhill par 4 of 404 yards with a narrow fairway and a tiered green protected by two bunkers. The final par 3 is the 197-yard 17th with a very wide green. I got lucky and missed my shot left to a left pin position. The hill on that side fed right down to the flagstick, but I missed the putt and made a par. Sean took a slightly more treacherous route and made a triple. The closing 18th is 555 yards back to the clubhouse after a scenic ride on horseback (or golf cart) through the countryside. With a grassy berm behind the green, this will be a fun spot to watch tournaments come to a close. I’m sure all the club members in the future will enjoy a drink (I’d think only whiskey or tequila are appropriate liquors here) while watching their buddies try to seal the member-guest.
Sure, the valley has dozens of awesome golf courses much closer to my house in Scottsdale than Wickenburg Ranch. At 84 miles, it’s the longest I’ve had to drive from my house to a course and it is worth every mile. Took me about an hour-and-a-half from the east valley, and some of the directions might’ve included “turn off the paved road”. When I first told Sean where the course was, he balked. But he agrees, this spot is so worth the journey out. Especially if you’re the passenger and can nap and eat Jack-in-the-Box afterward. Plus, at this point you’re so close to Las Vegas you might as well keep heading up and spend the night there.
The milder temperatures (compared to the furnace that is Phoenix) allow for receptive bent grass greens that roll so true that you’ll never want to leave them. That’s why I had three three-putts. The course is almost perfectly designed. The mounds and bumps around the course are placed to reward good shots with little paths to the fairway and pins while bad shots are punished, sometimes severely so. The scenery is comparable to nearby Quintero, maybe even better. This is the type of desert landscape that evokes thoughts of the Old West, the gold rush and lone cowboys. And for now, with all construction on several houses still in the early stages, it has the feel of a boomtown sprouting up. The views will have more luxury homes in the future, but right now you get many uninterrupted vistas of the hills beyond. Even better is the view of my scorecard! Started with a “4” on the first seven holes en route to going even par on the front nine and an eventual six-over 77.
#6, Par 4, 310 yards, 7-handicap, My Score: 4
My favorite hole is the par-4 6th. It’s got two ways to attack it. Layup with a short shot to the wide fairway left of the lake and have a wedge over a sand trap left. Or you can just walk up and bomb it to the green. It’ll take everything you’ve got, but at the very least, the water and sand trap straight ahead isn’t too tough a carry. I was surprised Sean, whose preferred golf strategy most closely aligns with John Daly’s, didn’t go for it. But today, the breeze was coming straight in and the choice was made for him.
Layout: A; such a good variety of shots out here, with different bounces and tricky greens that will never play the same way twice
Amenities: B-; well… it’s still brand new so it’s a little spartan. But they’ve got a temporary clubhouse, driving range and putting green. I bet when it’s complete this grade bumps up a little
Staff: A; the cart lady helped find my ball, which was above and beyond. Maybe she should’ve stuck with us to help Sean out…
Difficulty: B; it can play narrow, and is very tough on first-timers. The greens are fair and there’s nothing tricky
Scenery: A; on a day like today, with brilliant blue skies to complement the lush golf course and craggy mountains, it’s perfect
Value: A; $55 for Arizona residents during the summer trial period and a Travis Mathew golf shirt. That’s the steal of the year, even adding the cost in gas to get here
Overall GPA: 3.62 (A-); if you’re coming out here, let me know and I’ll come too