WICKENBURG, Ariz. -- About an hour or so north of Phoenix is an Old West town, named for a Forty-Niner who struck out in California but found his fortune in Arizona. Henry Wickenburg discovered Vulture Mine, as it turned out, worth some $30 million in gold. Later, farmers and ranchers joined in to found the community in 1863; and in 1909, the town of Wickenburg was incorporated.
This sleepy town of 6,300 certainly has had its shares of ups and downs over the years. But over the past few decades, golf courses sprang up around the dude ranches, Western stores and bed and breakfast inns. Two of the golf courses are certainly decent enough in their own right, but to draw golfers away from the mecca of the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, which has more than 200 courses, is a tall order.
Now, there are three courses in Wickenburg, and the newest, a decade in the making, ups the ante. Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club, which plans to turn private in three years, opened to rave reviews in 2015 and may be one of the best golf courses in Arizona. Add in Los Caballeros Golf Club and Wickenburg Country Club, both semi-private, and Wickenburg becomes a legitimate golf destination.
Wickenburg is worth the drive
Not only is Wickenburg Ranch one of the best new golf courses to come online in the last few years, but it's also one of the best bargains. That was done intentionally. The course's developer wants to get the word out, so it was offering $95 green fees in peak season. (Many comparable Scottsdale courses are $200 plus.) The fee not only included golf on one of the most stunning courses in Arizona but a free shirt and pullover as well. The result were tee sheets (12-minute tee times) that were booked solid 30 days out.
The other two courses in the area are also priced less than $100, and they're good values. Los Caballeros, in particular, may surprise you. Very different from Wickenburg Ranch, Los Caballeros goes back more than 65 years when it was Rancho de los Caballeros, a family-owned and operated guest ranch resort situated on 20,000 acres of High Sonoran Desert.
The guest ranch embodies the spirit of the Spanish caballeros -- "the gentlemen on horseback" -- who explored and settled the Southwest. The Ranch has had additions and improvements over the years, including a wonderful and very scenic Greg Nash-Jeff Hardin golf course that opened in 1979. Playing just more than 7,000 yards from the tips, the course is always in excellent shape and features some of the best views in the Southwest.
The bonus is that you can also stay there, and there is talk that Rancho de los Caballeros will partner with Wickenburg Ranch for some golf packages.
The other course in Wickenburg is Wickenburg Country Club, a classic William P. Bell design that originally opened as nine holes back in 1950. Today, it's a par 71 that plays just less than 6,400 yards, an enjoyable test for most players with plenty of scenery to offer as well. With Los Caballeros and Wickenburg Ranch, the three courses make for a stellar weekend getaway.
And if you really want a terrific golf vacation, add Quintero Golf Club, a newer Rees Jones design (with rave reviews) that's on the way to Wickenburg.
Back to the Ranch
With no disrespect to Wickenburg's other golf options, Wickenburg Ranch is certainly the main draw. The course was actually originally completed in 2008 but didn't open because of the bad economy. Yet it was still maintained, so it basically had seven years of grow-in.
Designed by Bill Brownlee and Wendell Pickett, the course features five par 3s and five par 5s. There are elevated tees, sloping greens and plenty of scenery, including Prescott National Forest and Vulture Peak. And for now, there are no homes, although even when the community is built out, the homes will be set back enough from the golf course that they won't come in play. Oh, and the greens are bentgrass.
There are also plenty more lodging options. While Wickenburg Ranch doesn't have anything to offer in that department, in town you'll find bed and breakfasts, independent motels and a couple more dude ranches.
There are plenty of places to buy Western wear and dine on Southwestern cuisine, and a few interesting tourist attractions. One of those is the Jail Tree, a 200-year-old mesquite tree located at the corner of US-60 (Wickenburg Way) and Tegner Street that served as the town jail from 1863 to 1890 when outlaws were chained to it. You can also take a walking tour of the historic downtown.