Wolf Creek Golf Club in Mesquite, NV
Tee Time: October 23, 2016, 1:00, 82 F, sunny
Designer: Dennis Rider, 2000
Playing Partners: CJ Phelan
Tees: Champions, Par 72 (70.9 rating/138 slope/6,309 yards)
Course Handicap: 11 (8.6 index)
Stats: 87 (41-46); 40 putts; 8/14 fairways; 10/18 greens; 2 penalty strokes
Many generations of video games ago (so like, 15 years) Tiger Woods’ EA golf games added in fantasy courses. My research is spotty, but it started in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 when they began adding fantasy courses, fictional settings that had these crazy holes in a mesmerizing setting. They were named Penguin Falls, The Predator, Emerald Dragon and Wallaby Creek, among others. Then, with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09, they added a new fantasy course: Wolf Creek. Except this is a real place. It may seem like something only a video game designer could conjure up, but thankfully it was Dennis Rider who brought this fantasy landscape to life just an hour up the road from Sin City.
This was round 2 of the one day, two state, two time zone golf trip. We basically holed our putts at 18 at Sand Hollow at 1:15, then drove 45 minutes and teed off at 1:00. The afternoon before, on the drive up from Las Vegas to St. George, we stopped by Mesquite Municipal Airport, which is right next to Wolf Creek. After a quick visit to the office to ask for permission, I took to the air with my little DJI Phantom 3 to do some aerial recon of Wolf Creek. At first, I had the camera pointed in the wrong direction, at nearby Oasis Golf Club. While still better than average, when I turned the drone around 180 degrees, it was incredible. Wolf Creek from the air is a scene that has be witnessed. Just look!
On the first tee it doesn’t seem so tough. It’s a relatively gently downhill par 5, just 504 yards, and you gain a lot of ground from the elevated tee shot. You may even start your round one-under-par. But then you come to the 429-yard 2nd. It’s a steep trek to the tee box, the toughest hike I did all year, and then this is what you look at:
If you didn’t buy a yardage book or have any previous knowledge of the course, well, you may be S.O.L. You want to aim left of the only visible sand trap. You’ll find your ball if you don’t shank it. The 3rd is a ghastly par 3 of 175 yards. Straight uphill, the flag pokes atop the ridge like some Spanish expedition had voyaged up and planted it there. The green is some fifty feet above the tee. The 4th is uphill, a short dogleg-right par 4 of 307 yards. The preferred route is left, away from the 10 bunkers whose yawning mouths await those who cut the corner.
The par-5 5th places a premium on accuracy. A sharp dogleg left of 469 yards, a good drive that finds the fairway leaves less than 200 yards to the green. But too far or too short and the rough and angles make it a three-shot hole. The 6th is one of the flattest holes of the front nine, if not the flattest. Rolling along at 415 yards, a creek cuts the landing area and forces a layup. Then there’s the 7th, the shortest par 4 on the course at 281 yards. It’s about 10 to 15 feet downhill from tee to green and the shallow but wide green is driveable. Except for the deep pit, usually filled with water, that guards the front of the green. To the edge is about 245 yards, and the carry is at least 260 to make it safely. With this green only 24 yards deep and so wide, I like taking my chances of carrying the hazard and chipping it close for a tap-in birdie.
My favorite hole of the front 9 is the par-3 8th. It plays downhill 217 yards to the most beautiful green on the course, with the trickling creek snaking down to the front and left of the green.The 9th is a short par 4 of 303 yards, half of that a carry over the water hazard before an uphill approach shot.
The 10th would be a daunting tee shot on any other course, but at Wolf Creek it’s more of the same. A staggered waterfall flows into the pond next to the tee and there’s very little fairway to see from the tee box on this uphill, 446-yard par 4. The 11th is a very downhill par 3, 193-yards but plays much shorter. Let’s go live to Snoopy One for the blimp view of this green:
The par-5 12th is one of the nicest holes at this course. The view from the tee is expansive, with the contrast of the landscape and green grass very evident here as well as the gorgeous 544 yards of golf hole to be played. If that tee shot at #2 troubled you, then you’re really going to struggle with the 13th.
The set of tees we played are the furthest set to the right at this hole, which is a 341-yard par 4. The little grass you can see is off to the left, and needs a tee shot of over 200 yards to carry the water hazard. Or you can pick a spot on the ridge and blast it over the giant rock pile in front of you. Again, if you came into this course blind, you’d be S.O.L. on this shot. But I convinced CJ to trust me and launch it over a point some 45 degrees right of the safe line. I did the same and reached the green. This course is a lot of fun if you know the little secrets.
The 14th is a scary par 4 of 370 yards, a banana right-to-left hole with a split fairway and bunkers lining the whole left side. The easiest hole is the 116-yard 15th, a little chip shot downhill to a big green. It’s a nice respite from the gauntlet of the 12th through 14th. The 377-yard 16th is a dogleg right, with an expansive view of Mesquite from the fairway. The closing 18th is 295 yards, your last little bit after a bruising 6,000 yards in the previous 17 holes. A layup in the fairway and a pitch over the lake and waterfall and you’re done!
Wolf Creek can be very overwhelming and intimidating. For many golfers, the first hole might have be the most elevated tee box they’ve ever stood atop. These dramatic heights, both up and down, can mess with your distance control and when they’re this extreme, vertigo of course comes into play. It was obvious in the differences between how I played and how CJ played. I grew up playing on two golf courses with similar elevation swings, at Blackhawk Country Club. So the corner cutting, club selection and strategy felt very familiar to me. That and the many, many rounds I’d put in the EA Sports golf games, where I can card a 53 in 45 minutes without even putting down my beer. I had a blast, because nothing perplexed me. Then poor CJ, who knew almost nothing about the details of the course, nearly short circuited at some of these holes, trying to figure out what to do. He did have fun. I just thought it was interesting to see how two different styles of golfer approach such a dynamic golf course.
#17 Par 5, 527 yards, 6-handicap, My Score: 5
The final par 5 at Wolf Creek is its best. One of the biggest elevation drops from tee to fairway, water snips the hole into three sections. A good tee shot can leave less than 250 yards to the green, which is essentially on an island. Don’t take that second-shot layup lightly, either. You can top it into the creek, pull it into more water, or miss right into the bunkers. Take in the scenery and then focus if you want to finish the hole with the same ball you started with.
Layout: A; counting video game rounds, this was like my 1,844th loop here at Wolf Creek and it never gets old.
Amenities: A, gas golf carts!
Difficulty: A; even if you just putted the greens here, you’d still probably come in over par. Everything here is a challenge
Scenery: A; truly a one-of-a-kind experience
Value: A; $125 gets you a round at a perennial top-100 course
Overall GPA: 4.0 (A); of all the fun and games you can have in Las Vegas, the most fun you can have in Nevada is actually 86.5 miles northeast of the strip.
And here is a gallery of every hole here, because the pictures are better than anything I could ever write.