WICKENBURG, Ariz.—The golf course at Wickenburg Ranch is nicknamed Big Wick. That distinguishes it from Li’l Wick, a sweet little par-3 that’s set around The Watering Hole, a wonderful li’l spot where refreshments are readily available before, after and during rounds.
Big Wick is, well, aptly named. It’s a muscular 18-hole par-71 layout that plays especially tough from its 7,059-yard tips and plays longer than you think from its five other tee boxes.
Big Wick is the majestic centerpiece of Wickenburg Ranch, an ambitious new development in Wickenburg, Ariz., about an 80-minute drive northwest of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport.
Wickenburg Ranch aims to capture its share of the growing retirement/vacation-home market in sunny Arizona. Beyond golf, activities include tennis, pickleball and 13 miles of hiking trails. The development also includes a spa, pool and a variety of inviting dining and socializing options.
Nearby Wickenburg provides shopping, dining, health care and a rodeo grounds that’s a popular wintertime bivouac area among the pro-rodeo set. Horses abound in this area, which is ideal for riding.
In other words, this is your full-service Western experience—with all the allures the Arizona desert has to offer. And while Wickenburg Ranch is within easy reach of metropolitan Phoenix, it’s far enough out that it has a remote and easy-going feel.
Big Wick, though, sets up as the big draw. Golf Digest placed it among its Top Ten Best New Courses in 2015 and No. 4 among the best new courses in the U.S. And Golfweek has put it in its Top Five Best Courses to play in Arizona the last two years.
While a variety of memberships are available on what seems destined to become a private club someday, Wickenburg Ranch is very much open to public golfers. And its dynamic pricing policy provides some attractive options for golfers who want to test their skill.
And make no mistake. Big Wick is a serious test.
It’s an interesting layout of six par 3s, five par 5s and seven par 4s. But don’t be lulled by the extra one-shotters. They are filled with danger, especially because of Big Wick’s large and challenging greens.
Wickenburg Ranch’s championship course was designed by Bill Brownlee and Wendell Pickett. It was built in 2008 but tweaked for nine years by Brownleee and Pickett before its formal debut. They say it’s designed to be enjoyable for all skill levels but high handicappers are advised to bring a full complement of golf balls and patience.
The 6,000-yard white tees play tougher than their rating of 68.2 and slope of 125. So do the blues (6,486 yards/70.3/133) and golds (5,560 yards/65.8/116).
Then again, that seems to be a trend these days. I thought Sand Valley, the renowned new golf destination in central Wisconsin, also had curiously under-valued slopes and ratings. Whether they are merely off the mark, or there is some ulterior motive, I have no idea.
Either way, Big Wick has some free-swinging moments but tends to stick to target-golf challenges. Add in the majestic desert-mountain views and landscape, the course makes for a memorable round.
For example, the aptly named ninth hole, Big Hill, is a par-5 that starts with a generous landing area but asks for a well-placed uphill second shot. As you might expect on a hole named Big Hill, the green is located straight up the big hill. Longer shots into the green will require careful calculation.
And then there is No. 13, Big Water, which also has an accurate name. The tees of this par-3 are perched on a hill and play 220 yards from the blue tee, 194 yards from the white tee and 170 yards from the gold (forward) tee. A big pond lies between the tees and the green.
No. 13 plays shorter, of course, because it’s a serious downhill. And when the pin is tucked right, seemingly demanding a shot that bites off more of the water, no worries. The left-to-right sloped green will feed shots to that tucked-right pin.
Big Hill. Big Water. Big Wick. If you like your golf big, the championship course at Wickenburg Ranch is very deserving of your attention.
For more information, Wickenburgranch.com