Ride the range or the fairways at Rancho de Los Caballeros

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rancho de Los Caballeros is considered one of the top ranch resorts in theUnited States and it's only about 50 miles northwest of Phoenix in the townof Wickenburg.

But even if you aren't interested in riding horses and pretending to be a cowboy during a long stay, you can still enjoy the ambiance of this rustic place for a day by playing its highly rated semi-private golf course, designed by Greg Nash and Jeff Hardin. At the rancho, whose name by the way means "ranch of the riding gentlemen" when translated into English, you'll find historic-looking adobe buildings decorated with cowboy chic.

Lots of dirt roads shaded by mesquite still serve the ranch, and some of thefairways on the course border the horse trails and corrals.

Once upon a time, travelers from California had to pass through Wickenburg on their way to Phoenix. But after the highways were changed and improved, Wickenburg was bypassed as a result, and now seems a long way off the well-beaten path. That road change was a great gift to this little town where you will feel as if you're traveling back to what Arizona was like in the 1940s and '50s.

In fact, the ranch has been there for 55 years and the golf course for about25. "The resort was an old-fashioned Western dude ranch," says Carlton Blewett, director of golf at Los Cab. "But as times changed and the fascination with dude ranches faded, the owners thought it would be a good idea to build a golf course to increase traffic."

The course itself is bordered by desert areas, but has a traditional feel with fairly generous landing areas and very few forced carries, Blewett says. A slice or hook, however, can easily land you out of bounds.

These are not big flat fairways though; there are lots of gentle rolls and knolls. Although many tee boxes are elevated, you end up having to hit uphill to get to many of the greens. The greens are also well-bunkered so you'll need to hit a number of high lofted shots on your approaches. But you'll need only a conventional exit strategy to fly out of the sand as the bunkering is fairly shallow. Wickenburg is at about 2,000 feet so your ball should travel slightly farther due to the altitude.

The front nine is gentler than the back so count on scoring well at the start to make up for any miscues on the back nine. After an easy start on the first two holes, you come to a par-3 with one of those elevated, turtle back greens that this course is known for. From the back tees, No. 3measures 156 yards, but if you hit your regular 150-yard club, you'll be10-plus yards short. Watch out for the false front on the green as well that may make you think you're a lot closer than you actually are. In fact,sloping and dipping greens make all the par-3 holes difficult here.

No. 5 is a par-5 monster, 531 yards from the back tees and 420 from the forward. You hit from an elevated tee box downhill to the landing area, but you have to sail over mesquites and greasewood to get there. Then you have to sail over a hill and back uphill to reach the green. On this hole as on many of them, Vulture Peak can be seen in the distance, a 3,700-foot hunk of stone. The peak is named after the Vulture Mine, discovered in 1863, by Henry Wickenburg. The mine proved to be one of the richest treasures of gold in Arizona history.

On the front nine, No. 7 is another tough par-5, 569 from the back and 400from the forward. Its fairway curls dangerously around a lake on the left on its approach to the green. You can try to cross a bit of the water to try to reach the green more quickly, of course. If you're too chicken for that, be careful that you don't go too far right as the fairway narrows down near the water.

When you make the turn to the back nine, the look and feel of the course does change. Fairways are narrower; desert and rocks fill many OB areas. The13th is one of the more popular holes on the back, says Blewett, not because it's easy. It's a testy, tough par-5 (598 yards from the back tees and 443from the forward) also known as the signature hole for the course. The fairway takes you up and down three times and requires some blind shots before you near the small undulating green. Some say this is one of the toughest par-5 holes in the state.

Even though this isn't a desert-style target course and even though the reare generous landing areas in most cases, Los Cab has a very modern feeling.

The verdict

Don't come to Los Caballeros with the idea that it's a 25-year-old pushover.In fact, this course could be tough on your handicap. The rating/slope from the back tees is 73.5/138 where the distance is almost 7,000 yards; even the men's mid-level tees are ranked at 71.4/132.

For an older course, conditions are excellent, much better than at many newer courses in the Phoenix area. The greens are super-fast, so bring your best putting stroke.

Where to stay

Staying at Rancho Los Caballeros is a great option for the whole family. The resort is open from fall through spring, although the golf course is open all year round. Rates are high but include three meals a day per person and offer you a host of activities: hn or norseback riding, bird watching, children's activities and desert trail rides and hikes. Call (800) 684-5030. Web site: sunc.com. There are three other guest ranches in to wearby: the Flying E (888) 864-2650; the Kay El Bar (800) 684-7583 and the Wickenburg Inn and Dude Ranch (800) 942-5362.

What else to see

Wickenburg has a historic district downtown that includes the DesertCaballeros Western Museum at 21 N. Frontier St.

You can also drive out Vulture Mine Peak Road for a few miles to the Vulture Peak Trail and climb to the summit of the town's favorite mountain. It's a moderately strenuous four-mile round trip to a saddle about 1,000 feet above the trail head.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Rancho de Los Caballeros

    Charles Knox wrote on: Apr 30, 2012

    Rancho de Los Caballeros is one of the "hidden gems" in the Arizona golf repertoire. You'll have to hit every shot in the bag, have your short game in fine order and be able to read some pretty stellar greens to score here. But the views are great and the course is far enough removed off of the beaten track to feel like you're in a different land. The staff has always been extremely good; you're not in North Scottsdale anymore, ToTo. Food services are top shelf, as well. And the accommodations are so cool - it's a dude ranch, dude!! Lastly, the finishing 4 holes are as tough a finish as any in the state, public or private.
    Do yourself a huge favor if you have never played here. Go West and tee it up here. I promise you, once you have played this course, you will be back... most likely with some friends who haven't a clue as to how good it is. Much like we all were when we first pegged a ball on the first tee of Los Cab!