Golf Vacations - - Front Page - By David R. Hol­land

WICKENBURG, Ariz. – Wickenburg Ranch Golf & So­cial Club, the first new golf course to open in Ari­zona since We-Ko-Pa’s Saguaro Course in 2006 is a prime ex­am­ple of why Ari­zona started mar­ket­ing it­self as a win­ter get­away al­most 100 years ago.

The land is vast, wild, rugged and avail­able.

As Greater Phoenix grew and sub­ur­bia set in, soli­tude was re­placed by hus­tle and bus­tle. But Wickenburg Ranch has a re­newed life­style for those who yearned for starry nights, four-sea­son ad­ven­ture, and lots of land and plenty of room to spread out.

Like sad­dling up a trail weary pony, Wickenburg Ranch Golf & So­cial Club pro­vides a slow pace. Tee times are mea­sured 12 min­utes apart. No one is there to rush you.

It mir­rors the al­most un­be­liev­able seven-year grown-in pe­riod this res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity golf course took be­cause of the eco­nomic down­turn.

The only things fre­netic are the light­ning quick bent-grass greens.

I played on a cool Jan­uary day en­joy­ing fault­less, ver­dant rye fair­ways and smooth rolling greens. And any avid travel golfer with his eye on com­pe­ti­tion lists knows Wickenburg Ranch Golf & So­cial Club was de­serv­ing of its Golf Di­gest dis­tinc­tion -- No. 6 on its Top Ten Best New Cour­ses in North Amer­ica for 2015.

Lo­cated on the land that 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 Player, 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 axe 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,” said Justin Hen­der­son, head pro. “Be­cause of the higher el­e­va­tion and rel­a­tively mild night-time sum­mer tem­per­a­tures the course is able to main­tain bent-grass greens year round.

“Those fa­mil­iar with bent-grass un­der­stand what a tremen­dous dif­fer­ence it makes in putting sur­face qual­ity, and that the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence it in Ari­zona is a spe­cial treat. Also, the 7,059 yards, par 71 has a fun con­fig­u­ra­tion of five par fives and six par threes. 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 semi­cir­cle 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.

Com­bine the $95 rate 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 Ten 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 USA. Your view is an am­phithe­ater bluff look­ing to­ward the Brad­shaw Moun­tains.

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

Stay and Play Wickenburg is such a scenic, old west ex­pe­ri­ence any city slicker should con­sider a stay of more than a day. I’d head straight for Ran­cho de los Ca­balleros (www.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 of a big city.

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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