Course Review(s): Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club

Yesterday, I took a day trip out to the western style town of Wickenburg, AZ (about an hour northwest of Phoenix). It is kind of in the middle of nowhere, but it has some golf in addition to its ranches, and I was determined to play all 63 holes in town. Spoiler alert: I accomplished that goal!

The centerpiece of the trip was Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club. That will be the focus of this review. I will cover the “other” two courses in town (Los Caballeros and Wickenburg CC) in a separate review later this week.

The main course at Wickenburg Ranch is well regarded as one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets. I’ve never heard anything bad about it, yet it doesn’t get nearly as much attention as some of the more prominent Phoenix/Scottsdale courses. Naturally, it is much more isolated geographically and it is also still a very new course. 

The course actually has an interesting history reminiscent of Coyote Springs up in Nevada. It was originally designed and developed in 2008 by architects Bill Brownlee and Wendell Pickett as part of a larger residential development plan. However, the recession hit and development stalled out, so the course never officially opened to the public. They kept it maintained and allowed limited play until the economy picked up and they were finally ready to officially open it in early 2015. They still consider themselves semi-private, but public tee times are readily available most days of the week.

What many people do not know is that there are actually two courses at Wickenburg Ranch. There’s the main 18-hole regulation Championship Course (aka “Big Wick”) and then there’s a 9-hole par-3 course known fondly as “Li’l Wick.” You can be sure I was there to play both, though the timing was tricky.

I booked a 7:10 tee time on the course’s website and signed up for the Big Wick/Li’l Wick combo, which was the same price as the regular 18-hole round anyway. I had also booked a 12:00 time at Los Caballeros across town, so I was hoping to get both Wickenburg Ranch courses done in the morning, though I had the option to come back and play Li’l Wick later if needed. I found out the little course doesn’t open until 11:00 because of maintenance. However, its final four holes are lighted, so that offered me some flexibility.

I was paired with a nice local couple (residents and members of the club) and we teed off second behind a slower foursome. They eventually let us pass on the signature 13th hole. It sure was bad timing to have to rush on such a killer hole. Not to mention those doofuses standing by the green as I tried to take my pictures! Ultimately, we finished in a nice pace of about 3 hours, 40 minutes.

The Championship Course is incredible. Even though it kicked my butt, I loved every minute of it. It is such a beautiful and remote desert setting, so there is great scenery in every direction. The course offers plenty of significant elevation changes and views throughout. 

The layout offers a lot of diversity and challenge, with no two holes playing similarly. It is a great course from 1 through 18. At times, it is more forgiving than it looks. The greens are massive with lots of undulation, and there is always bail-out room if you know where to go. The key is knowing where to go. There are some awkward sight lines here, so pay attention to the GPS and aim for the appropriately named aiming posts. I hit several drives I thought were fine and ended up in the desert. Basically, hit to where you can see and be careful cutting any blind corners. 

There are very few flat lies throughout Wickenburg Ranch, which is a concept displayed most prominently on the unique par-5 9th named “Big Hill.” After your drive, the hole goes dramatically uphill and there is one of the steepest fairway sidewalls you will ever see if you are laying up. It funnels everything to the left (or backwards if you catch the wrong side of it). It defies description. Then, the approach is totally blind straight up the hill to a super-long pin.

I mentioned the par-3 13th, which is definitely the signature hole. It is a beauty and a beast. It plays downhill and looks out over the whole valley to the east. You hit over a big water hazard to a well-protected green. The only miss here is short. There is plenty of landing room short of the green and that’s because this hole measures 220 yards from the blue tees (246 from the blacks)! It was extremely windy all day in Wickenburg, so a severe cross/head wind on this hole made for some serious intimidation. I was playing the blue tees. I hit a full driver as well as I could and still came up about 20 yards short.

Following the 13th is maybe an even prettier hole, the par-5 14th. It requires a demanding tee shot over water and to what looks like a very narrow landing area (more room than you think). Then, you have to navigate around another water hazard on your approach. The lay-up shot is no picnic either because the fairway gets really narrow at one point. It is a fun hole where a big number can add up quickly.

Really, I could probably highlight half the holes on this course because so many of them were memorable. 

One thing I like about Wickenburg Ranch is that there are six par-3s. That always makes me happy. However, they are all challenging. I was a little bummed after the first four par-3s were all about the same length from the blue tees (160-170 yards). So, I figured a short-ish one would be coming up on the back nine. Nope. I already noted that the 14th is a beefy 220. Then, the 17th is a paltry 197 yards. Six par-3s is great, but it sure seems like you would have one short-ish design (under 150) in the bunch.

The course was in excellent shape. They just hosted the Arizona Senior Open on Wednesday and Thursday, so it was conditioned for that level of play. The tee boxes were perfect. The fairways were fantastic. If you look really, really hard, you might see a tiny light brown spot here and there, but overall it was incredibly lush and green here. The rough was well manicured throughout, cut low and not penal at all. The fringes were cut as tight as the greens at some courses. The greens were firm, yet receptive enough—rolling smooth and pure at fast speeds. The greens on a few of the shorter holes were a bit pock-marked, but nothing that affected putts. 

My only gripe with the course conditions was the bunkers. The sand is very coarse with a lot of rocks and pebbles. One bunker I was in was also very damp, so it was like hitting out of wet concrete early in the morning. The sand (arguably gravel?) itself was well kept and raked, so the coarse style sand here is purposeful. Other than maybe staying put in the wind, I don’t understand why they would have it on such a top-shelf course.

Other than the bunkers and perhaps the lack of a short-ish par-3, I don’t have anything negative to say about the Wickenburg Ranch golf experience. The course was awesome, the facilities were fantastic, the conditions were exceptional and the staff was great. They were all very friendly and helpful. The prices here aren’t cheap, but you get what you pay for. It is truly a must-play course!

Some pictures from Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club (Championship Course) (5/6/17):

But wait, there’s more!

I was able to play Li’l Wick very quickly (too quickly, in fact) after finishing on the Championship Course. The little course is about a 5-10 minute cart ride from the main clubhouse. I think I spent longer driving down there and back than I did on the actual course because I had my other tee time to get to.

The vibe of Li’l Wick is very laid-back. If it’s busy, you just sign up on the chalkboard by the bar and wait your turn to tee it up. It’s meant to be a fun hangout area with a little golf on the side. There are speakers throughout the course playing music. There are “chill stations” with hammocks and comfy swinging benches. Here, it’s all about having fun and would be really cool with a big group.

I mentioned they don’t open until 11:00, which is odd. I guess it’s because of maintenance schedules, but it seems weird to open so late (especially in the summer heat). They do stay open later, though, so it probably gets most of its play in the evening time anyway.

Li’l Wick is set up to offer as much challenge as you want from a par-3 course. The greens are very big and feature some funky shapes and undulations, just like on the big course. This offers a wide variety of potential pin placements to make the course play differently every day. 

There are three sets of tees on Li’l Wick to suit any skill (or desired challenge) level, especially if you feel the need for some short par-3s after playing the big course. There are the forward Spur tees, where no hole is over 100 yards (64-91 yards). In the middle are the Bullet tees, with holes ranging from 86 to 144 yards. Then, the back Revolver tees stretch out, with holes ranging from 88 to 187 yards. All the tee markers are cool iron representations of each wild west tee name. Different tee boxes and teeing angles give you lots of options to try if you play the course a lot. 

The course was in very good condition, just like its big brother. The greens were well-kept and rolling smooth at the same quick speeds. Tee boxes and other grass areas were nicely maintained. Ultimately, Li’l Wick is great complement to Big Wick.

Li’l Wick is definitely worth checking out if you are spending any quality time at Wickenburg Ranch. It would be hard not to have fun on this course, and the more friends you are with, the better. I wish I had more time to hang out and fully enjoy the experience, but I am still glad I got to play it.

Some pictures from Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club (Li’l Wick) (5/6/17):

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