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Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club in Arizona now providing an affordable, excellent, Old West golf experience

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,
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Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club
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Water is a common feature on the picturesque Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club in Arizona. (Courtesy of Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club)

WICKENBURG, Ariz. -- The day of the college football National Championship game there was lots of Alabama crimson and Clemson orange buzzing around this Old West town about an hour north of Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium.

But at Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club the pace was slow, measured and tee times were 12 minutes apart. It mirrored the almost unbelievable seven-year grow-in period this residential community golf course took because of the economic downturn.

The only things frenetic were the lightning-quick, bentgrass greens.

On this cool January day, no championships were declared on the faultless, verdant rye fairways, but any avid travel golfer with his eye on competition lists knew Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club was deserving of its Golf Digest distinction -- no. 6 on its Top 10 Best New Courses in North America for 2015.

It had been nine long years since the last new golf course had opened in Arizona -- We-Ko-Pa's Saguaro Course in 2006.

Rugged terrain provide cowboy-tough backdrop

Located on the land where game-show host Merv Griffith used to run a dude ranch, Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club was landscaped in hardy high desert terrain by two amateur architects, Wendell Pickett and William Brownlee. That's right: not Nicklaus, not Palmer, not Crenshaw and Coore, not Fazio -- Pickett and Brownlee.

Three dude ranches are still in the area on historic Old West land within view of Vulture Peak where, in 1863, a 49er named Henry Wickenburg struck the slope with a pick ax, and for the next 79 years, more than $30 million worth of gold was dug out.

Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club, teamed with a new Trilogy residential development by Shea Homes, hopes to mine the next "mother lode" with a successful development.

Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club: Cooler than Phoenix

"Several things distinguish us," Head Professional Justin Henderson said. "Because of the higher elevation and relatively mild night-time summer temperatures, the course is able to maintain bentgrass greens year round.

"Those familiar with bentgrass understand what a tremendous difference it makes in putting surface quality, and the chance to experience it in Arizona is a special treat. Also, the 7,059-yard par 71 has a fun configuration of five par 5s and six par 3s. And, finally, the Arizona views are unforgettable."

Those views include Vulture Peak, massive saguaros, the occasional coyote and roadrunner, and rolling, rugged arroyo terrain that borders Prescott National Forest. You can be sure your new home is going to have all this without another neighbor's house blocking your panorama.

Probably the most memorable hole is "Big Water" -- the 246-yard, par-3 13th that plunges 100 feet to a green surrounded by water, a huge semi-circle bunker in front and bail-out only left. "Yikes" is the 595-yard 14th that has water in three places -- the drive, the mid-point on the fairway journey left, and front left and behind the green.

The notable risk/reward hole comes at no. 6, named "Gutz." It is only 343 yards at par 4, but the decision is to play safe or cut off a portion of the huge lake that blends into a massive bunker.

Charging $95 for Wickenburg residents, $105 for Arizona residents and $135 for out-of-state guests, the club opened last February with 100-straight sold-out days. Giving away a Travis Mathew polo and pullover valued at $170 helped, but top-10 golf courses in Phoenix and Tucson usually have $200+ green fees.

At the 15th tee, look left, and you can see the construction of an executive course with no opening date yet announced. Also, take advantage of the practice area that Golf Magazine named the third most inspiring in the U.S. Your view is an amphitheater bluff looking toward the Bradshaw Mountains.

Wickenburg Ranch, which offers memberships, hopes to go private in the future. It might be prudent to giddy up and visit soon.

Wickenburg Ranch: Stay and play

Wickenburg is such a scenic, Old West experience that any city slicker should consider a stay of more than a day. I'd head straight for Rancho de los Caballeros (ranchodeloscaballeros.com), a famous 1948 dude ranch that has a spa, nature horseback riding, jeep tours, trap shooting, saloon adventures, yoga, even a hidden gem golf course named Los Caballeros Golf Club. Bird watching at the Hassayampa River Preserve could be on the itinerary, along with the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.

Guest rooms are comfortable with all the conveniences, and Rancho de los Caballeros offers a full American plan of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But maybe the highlight of my day was walking outside after dark to see a flawless starry sky, complete with shooting stars you can only witness far from the city lights.

The experience made me flash back to earlier in the day when the conditioning of Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club was just as unblemished.

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Wickenburg Ranch golf courseWickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club - 14th holeWickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club 6Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club 14-2

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Love this course

    Ralph Johnston wrote on: Apr 2, 2016

    Great story. Thanks. This place has perfect conditioning. A bargain compared to those Phoenix resorts.