Ready to open at last, Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club looks worth the trek from Phoenix

By Jason P. Skoda, Contributor

Originally designed and developed in 2008 but never opened to the public, Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club finally began hosting golfers Feb. 7.

Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club
Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club sits about an hour and 15 minutes northwest of downtown Phoenix.
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Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club

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Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club is in the heart of some of Arizona's most dramatic Sonoran Desert terrain, you would hardly be able to guess that you're only about an hour from Phoenix. The golf course tumbles across rolling hills, stretching to more than 7,000 yards from the back tees. Each hole provides a different challenge thanks to the fluctuating elevations, which are complemented by strategically placed bunkers.

18 Holes | Private golf course | Par: 71 | 7059 yards | Book online | ... details »

WICKENBURG, Ariz. -- Legend has it the city of Wickenburg came to be when a miner -- Henry Wickenburg -- picked up a rock to throw at a burro in 1862 and found traces of gold.

There are several versions of the story, but it all ends up with the largest gold find in Arizona history. More than 150 years later there just might another gem in Wickenburg: It's been a long time coming, but Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club is finally ready for the public.

The unique aspect of this course is the fact that is was originally designed and developed in 2008 but was never opened to the public because the economic downturn didn't allow for a match with a home builder. So it was maintained as if it was ready to play daily and tweaked throughout the years as owners/designers Bill Brownlee and Wendell Pickett saw fit.

Pickett, a noted landscape architect with Greey Pickett Landscape Design, said at one point while waiting it out that he and some of his buddies set up a shop near the course, hired a ranch hand to do some work and played golf for days on end.

The estimate is that less than 1,000 rounds have been played at the course since its completion, but that will change with the opening on Feb. 7.

Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club: The golf course

One of the challenges will be getting Valley residents to make the trek -- while passing up some 200 courses for those in the East Valley -- to Wickenburg, which is about an hour and 15 minutes northwest of downtown Phoenix.

Once there, any perceived inconvenience of being too far away will be quickly forgotten by most once they see the condition and challenge of the course.

"We feel like it will find a place," Wickenburg Ranch Head Professional Justin Henderson said. "There a lot of choices for golf in the Valley, but the condition and design of the course brings a different experience."

Wickenburg, which plays at 6,935 yards from the tips and 4,977 from the ladies tees, is surrounded by the Prescott National Forest and is highlighted by Vulture Peak to the south. It is near canyons, rests between washes and there is plenty of elevation to mess with club selections.

The greens are huge and soft, the bunkers are plentiful and the elevated tee boxes give great views, especially the par-3, 197-yard 13th, which has a chance to become the signature hole, with its gorgeous lake view and big, two-tiered green.

"It's a tough challenge with elevated greens and tee boxes," Litchfield Park resident Todd Wilson, a 20-handicap, said. "It's more open than it looks on a lot of the tee boxes. It's a difficult course but not to the point that it isn't enjoyable."

In addition to the golf course, there is a plan to turn Wickenburg Ranch's current practice range into a nine-hole course once the clubhouse and practice range are complete.

The coolest concept of the deal just might be an elevated tee box near the outdoor fireplace where people will congregate after tournaments. The idea is it will become a popular hang-out where closest-to-pin bets will be made on the holes below.

Another feature that separates the course from others is the fact that the plan is to let only 72 golfers per day tee off in 12-minute intervals. Compare that to some of the packed-to-the-gills courses in the Valley, where it can take five hours to play 18 holes.

Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club: The verdict

The thing about the golf course is it looks like a natural fit within the landscape as nothing looks forced, out of place or tricked up.
In fact, about 8.5 million yards of land was moved to design the development pad, with about 500,000 yards to create the canyons and course.

You'd never it know it.

"That's the best compliment we could get," said Brownlee, who is a founder and partner in M3 Companies.

The course design fits perfectly into Sonoran desert landscape and feels about as natural as it can with saguaros, native brush, vistas and arroyos surrounding eye-catching, emerald rye grass fairways and bentgreen expansive greens.

Best-case scenario is it would remain looking just the way it does. But the reason it is now going public is because a deal is in place to begin Shea Homes' Active Lifestyle Division's Trilogy at Wickenburg Ranch, which will eventually change the look and feel of the area.

But hopefully not too much. Because right now it appears to be the natural land that Henry Wickenburg himself might have crossed on his way to finding the Vulture Mine.

Jason P. SkodaJason P. Skoda, Contributor

Jason P. Skoda started his career as a sports writer in Ohio after graduating Kent State in 1994. Since moving to the Phoenix area in 2004 he has cut his handicap in half while writing for the Arizona Republic, Ahwatukee Foothills News and East Valley Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

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