Featuring bentgrass greens, the Big Wick course at Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club is a Bill Brownlee and Wendell Pickett design with the somewhat unusual configuration of six par threes, five par fives and seven par fours.
Complemented by the floodlit Li’l Wick 9-hole par three course, Big Wick opened for public play in 2015, with fairways routed across a rolling landscape of canyons and arroyos close to Vulture Peak and Prescott National Forest.
Holes with water hazards don’t feature too often here but when they do they’re pretty spectacular – at the par three 13th (“Big Water”) for instance, where a large lake hugs the right side of the green, and the par five 14th (“Yikes”), with ponds on either side of the fairway.
From a pure facility perspective -- Wickenburg Ranch provides a slew of first-rate offerings. Start with turf conditions -- clearly done well and on par -- no pun intended -- with the upper echelon of layouts found in the greater Phoenix / Scottsdale area.
Second, a superb practice facility -- for both getting warmed up for the round and to work on one's game afterwards.
Third, the club eschews stuffiness. There's a genuine "welcome" vibe and the inclusion of an engaging par-3 layout is a wonderful addition to the main 18-hole course.
Fourth, there's no intrusive housing -- thus far -- and the off-course views clearly grab one's attention.
The flip side of the equation is a heavy anchor around the course's neck and that deals with the core design. The routing includes no less than six (6) par-3 holes and five (5) par-5 holes. This means a limited number of par-4 holes -- seven (7) in total. Par-4 holes form the backbone of any layout and when you limit the number to just 7 it's incumbent that each of those in existence really carries the day. That's not the case here.
The opening hole, belies what I just mentioned but it's more of an aberration. Golfers need to be ready for the rigors of what this slightly turning to the right opener calls upon players to execute.
Having 6 par3 holes is not in itself an issue but it becomes a major drawback when the design of the holes follows a fairly similar pattern. Wickenburg Ranch has a number of holes featuring elevated tee pads placed on high points -- then with a descent in the terrain -- before often rising to an elevated area where the putting surfaces are located. This is done - again and again -- when playing. Creating 6 truly differentiated par-3 holes is no small task and Wickenburg fails to do just that. From a shot values standpoint -- the architectural premise is based on repetition rather than creative imagination. The saving grace is that a number of the par-3 holes have quality internal movements and being in the right place is central to minimize the strain in trying to two-putt them if one's approach lands too far away.
The strongest suit for Wickenburg rests with a few of the par-5 holes. The first one encountered comes at the 5th and the fairway is appropriately tapered to combat long hitters from simply letting it rip without the marriage of distance and accuracy joined at the hip. The sad part is that the design style of the 5th is nearly replicated with the 7th -- again turning to the right and featuring a green located on the far side of a desert wash that needs to be crossed.
The par-5 9th is rather unconventional because the 2nd shot is literally played - UP-hill to the max. The hole does stand out but not in a manner that causes rapture.. The par-5 14th is more conventional but hardly noteworthy. Fortunately, the closing hole is a quality finisher -- but once again you are confronted with a desert wash to cross with one's approach to the green.
When you only have 7 par-4 holes you are limited on the versatility such holes need to provide. A number of them commence from elevated tee pads to fairways below and this pattern gets a bit tiresome.
The bunkering pattern at the course is also rather elementary-- in terms of placement and presentation. Far too often the bunkers are decorative in nature and have little real strategic calculus.
Keep in mind, for many coming to Wickenburg Ranch the superb conditioning will provide the perfect anesthesia for what is lacking on the design front. Most people can relate to a course in more glowing terms when the turf presentation is at a high level -- even when the overall design is ho-hum. Wickenburg Ranch is akin to a western cowboy movie that provides plenty of shootouts, horse riding yet is devoid on meaningful dialogue. In sum, Wickenburg Ranch is the total flip side of what one finds at Apache Stronghold in Globe.
I concur with Mark in his review about the pace of play. When I was present a good number of people needed to be on the par-3 "Little Wick" layout instead of the main course.
Wickenburg Ranch has garnered plenty of acclaim in such a short time but for architectural connoisseurs the net result will be a head scratching moment on what might have been. Wickenburg Ranch is akin to a restaurant that celebrates the presentation of the food but fails to provide the actual flavor and taste that ensures lasting memorability.
M. James Ward
About an hour and a half from Scottsdale just outside of a small town sits Wickenburg Ranch, a Trilogy Resort Community. This housing development boasts impressive facilities for the area starting with a lovely clubhouse with indoor/outdoor dining of splendid views, an art center, a ballroom, a fitness and exercise center, a huge tenniss/pickleball area, hiking trails, a terrific driving range, and a bonus nine hole par 3 course known as Little Wick. Little Wick is about a seven minute cart ride from the main clubhouse to the first tee and is one of the better par 3’s one will play. Nestled in the middle of this par 3 course is a lovely dining/bar area known as The Watering Hole situated between two ponds. There are numerous wonderful vantage points near Little Wick to relax and have a cocktail as music plays throughout the round. Little Wick is a gem of a par 3 with elevation changes, tucked pins, lovely greens sitting across the water, humpy/rolling greens. We met golfers who were spending their time playing it two-three times that day.
I mention all of this because the 18 hole course needs to be special given all of these distractions. It is.
BigWick, the name for the eighteen hole course, is what one would expect from a “resort” course, albeit better than most resort courses not located along an ocean. I use the term resort as there is a stay-and-play option. It is advertised as one of the best conditioned golf courses one will play and that is certainly true. The temperature is milder here in the summer versus Scottsdale and the Bentgrass greens are the better for it. It is non-traditional with six par 3’s, five par 5’s and seven par 4’s playing to par 71. The course is routed through canyons and arroyos with a lot of elevation change. The views from the higher points are very good here with Vulture Peak catching one’s eyes multiple times. Evidently they still pan for gold near there. The Prescott National Forest is also viewed from the higher points.
The course was routed and built by William Brownless, a founder and partner in M3 communities, one of the developers of the site, and Wendell Pickett of Greey Pickett Landscape Design. The course was built over a seven year period, laying essentially dormant for much of that time with perhaps only 1000 rounds played. Mr. Pickett has more of a background in golf courses in the area, including work at Superstition Mountain and Quintero where he focused more on the routing as opposed to the strategy. More recently the duo worked together to develop their “third” course, which is the seventh course at Desert Mountain appropriately titled “course number 7” which plays to par 54 and is 3114 yards. It is a hybrid course designed simply for fun (you can use putter for your tee shot on many holes) as well as a test of one’s short game.
As to Big Wick, it debuted in 2015 as one of the best new golf courses in the USA. It shows up on many lists of “best residential golf courses” as well as ranking high in Arizona. It is a very nice golf course, albeit with a few items that detract from the course. I will get later to its many strengths, more so in the commentary by hole.
The first critique I have has nothing to do with the course, but with the target for the pace of play set at 4:20. Our round took 1:50 – 2:46 with the second nine at a glacial and frustrating pace. It is easy to spot the reason because there are many couples playing the course where time is not a concern. Indeed the group two ahead of us on seventeen had a woman hit a poor tee shot on the par 3, knocked her second into a front bunker, tried three times to get out, picked up her ball, and when her partner and other couple finished putting out, decided to place her ball next to the front bunker and then took five more to finish. At this point, the light bulb went off in my head and my frustration with the pace ended. I found it quite charming to see the laughter and what looked like smiles from 200 yards away on their faces as one couple walked arm in arm off the hole. But if one wants to stay in rhythm with a steady pace, it would be best to secure an early tee time. If one wants to prioritize the social experience with golf being the conduit, then this is the place for you. One thing I have learned at resort courses is that if you set a target of 4:20, most people will find a way to extend it 20-30 minutes longer. I did not find the back nine to be more difficult than the front nine so I think it is merely a question of people enjoying themselves. I doubt they write down their scores. Indeed, none of the scores in that group two ahead beat double bogey on seventeen and the eighteenth. The goal here is making shared memories with friends and loved ones.
I do not know how many homes had been built as I played it on February 23, 2021, but the plan is for somewhere between 1600 to as many as 3000 homes. In most cases, the homes will not impinge upon the playing of the course as the houses are set back from the course or placed on hills above the holes. However, once the build-out is complete, it is likely that one will notice the homes a lot more which will detract from some amazing views. For the most part, the routing has the holes nestled below these ridge lines with numerous holes rising and falling among the hills. But after playing the very uphill par 5 ninth and the drop-down tenth, it seemed to me that the routing had to accommodate the priority of housing.
It is unlikely many would opt to walk the course given the many uphill and downhill changes in elevation as well as a few lengthy walks from green to the next tee. If you like to walk then be prepared for a lengthy walk up and down some steep terrain. The ninth hole is nearly straight uphill, one of the steepest holes I have ever seen. Ten goes down nearly as much. It is obvious the architects were forced into using this land. These two holes are memorable for their steepnessbut it is not quality golf.
Having said that, the architects deserve credit for developing a fine routing given their constraints both in regard to housing and the tremendous movement in the land.
My main critique of the course is in the bunkering particularly near the greens. Many of the bunkers are the same “round/oval” shape and are too often placed at the front to block access to the green. The architects did a better job of bunker placement and shape on Little Wick versus Big Wick. The number of bunkers in total is good. However, too often I felt I needed to hit the same shot into a green and was looking at a green that I had played before.
We had a day of difficult pin placements for people who do not know the course. Some of the pins tucked behind these bunkers were inaccessible. Even if one had a gap or sand wedge in their hands, there was no ability to stop a ball from rolling off an edge about 7-10 yards off the green. In some cases the tilt of the green are the opposite of what they should be given the green surrounds. On other courses, the mounding near the green can be a benefit, but for our pin locations, that was never the case. Obviously, the members here would know that getting to some pin locations cannot be attempted. It got a little frustrating/annoying when a chip near a green that would lead to a potential makeable putt became a challenge to two putt. This was not a case of coming in from the wrong angle/side, it was due to the placement of bunkers and the slopes of greens for pin placements that were overly difficult.
However, the greens are large offering numerous pin placements on every green. Whereas we had a day where we walked off a green saying to each other, “can you believe that pin location?” I am certain on most days that is not the case and the greens become playable.
Turning to the features of the course that were good are the routing having a nice mixture of long and short holes for their par, a good use of water on several holes that provoke a decision as well as a challenge, really good movement in the land, large greens, an appropriate width of fairways, some stunning views, a nice mixture of straight holes and several doglegs some of which are sharp and some more gentle, and with more normal pin placements a definite opportunity to attack certain sections of the green either for birdie or to save par. The course begins and ends well and other than nine and ten, does not have two consecutive “weaker” holes. The two architects deserve a lot of credit for this course, which will stand up over time and is nearly perfect for the community, although not as perfect as Little Wick which is a 10 on a 1:10 scale.
The course is 7023 yards, par 71 rated 73.5/145. We played the Blue tees at 6486 yards rated 70.7/137. There are four sets of lesser tees. The ratings seems a bit high as to slope although they made sense for our day’s pin locations.
1. Par 4 – 441/411. This is a lovely starting hole although a long walk/cart ride from the putting green or driving range. From an elevated tee you look down a canyon to a fairway set well below the houses ringing the hill on the left. The fairway is rolling creating several valleys. The hole bends to the right with an outer corner bunker. The green is very long and I wished I would have paced it off to see if it exceeded 60 yards. A bunker goes down the left side of the green which has a front left hump and a lot of swales.
2. Par 3 – 209/172. I disliked this hole. The hole plays from an elevated tee across lower ground to a green nearly level with the tee. The hole has five round bunkers left and center before the green with a back left bunker. One would think the play is to the right but there is a substantial hill that either stops a ball hit short or if it crests the hill sends the ball down quickly onto the green. However, the right half of the green sits on a higher tier due to a vertical spine. Balls hit right cresting the hill will come down the hill and are unable to stay on the higher tier. Once they reach the vertical spine the ball picks up even more speed. In essence, there is only one option here which is to aim for the center of the green. If you are trying to recover from the right side to a right pin you will do well to make a bogey. The hole lacks options.
3. Par 4 – 439/402. From another elevated tee this is a risk-reward hole for the longer hitters. It plays as a sharp dogleg left downhill with a waste area bisecting the fairway. There is a center bunker that actually serves as a guide point for average length players. For those playing too safely away from the higher ground on the left, an outer corner bunker awaits. For those who lack sufficient length but still want to shorten the hole, a left side bunker awaits. One can also run through the end of the fairway. The longer hitters might try to cut the higher ground of the left inner corner to reach the green. Indeed, there is perhaps 50 yards of fairway before the green. I am not certain there is any reason to take the risk but then it depends on the wind, one’s length and one’s confidence. The green has a single long bunker on the left but is one of the flatter ones on the course. It should be a simple par.
4. Par 3 – 183/165. This is the second loveliest par 3 on the course as the green is placed on the other side of a dyed bluer pond. There is a long bunker before the green opposite the pond as well as two deep bunkers to the left of the green where one might normally try to bail out. The green has a defined tier and slopes towards the water. If one is in one of those two left bunkers and the pin is front, it will require a delicate touch and likely a long one putt to save par. It is a good hole.
5. Par 5 – 622/568. This hole is a dogleg right with two fairway bunkers left off the tee. One should challenge those bunkers due to the slope of the fairway to the right. The fairway has several dips and rolls in it. Unless one is left the second shot is likely blind over tall cacti in front of you. The fairway narrows before the landing zone for the second shot. The green is placed well to the right after a wash and set on higher ground with a fronting bunker. The green has a thumbprint front left. The green narrows at the back with a middle hump and various tiers. There are three very good par 5’s on the course and this is one of them.
6. Par 4 – 343/310. For the longer hitter this sharp dogleg right likely presents a tempting target as the green sits behind a long pond and bunker at the end of the pond. The pond is on the right side of the fairway with a ridge to the left. The hole has two outer left corner bunkers. The green complex is sloped steeply towards the water with front roundish bunkers at both corners. The green sits below much higher ground surrounding it on three sides. For longer hitters, this hole is likely a thrill, but for me much like the third it seemed overly simple, albeit pretty.
7. Par 5 – 526/513. One of my favorite holes on the course as this plays like a double dogleg. The hole plays slightly uphill from the tee with an outer left corner bunker and one on the right. Unless one is on the left side of the fairway, the second shot is blind and the fairway narrows before widening again. There is a wash area that bisects the fairway about 50 yards from the green. The green is angled right to left and placed on higher ground with four round bunkers fronting the green. This is one of the better greens as it has four distinct sections to it, possibly more but balls hit from further out will likely be unable to stay on the green and will be off the back. Longer hitters trying to reach it in two as the front bunkers do not present a difficult obstacle.
8. Par 3 – 193/167. From an elevated tee one hits towards a green whose front is pinched by a triangular shaped bunker on the left front and a somewhat snaky one on the right front. Behind the green are two nearly round bunkers. It is a nice par 3 as the green has good inner movement.
9. Par 5 – 575/556. This hole is named “big hill” and that is an appropriate name as one climbs and climbs up and up. The hole does have a few “shelves” as you ascend but basically the second and perhaps the third are blind shots into a green that has a large bunker down the right side and one at the rear. The tee shot must navigate a bunker at the beginning of the fairway on the right that should not be in play. Farther up on the rise uphill is another bunker on the right that also serves more as a guide point than a part of the defense. The green is wide with a left side more shallow as well as hiding behind a mound. The green has a lot of swales and tiers. The member playing with us birdied the hole, I parred the hole after hitting a poor second and one-putting, while my partner hit two great shots, had a slight look at the green from the right side and hit a bullet at the flag on the left back. When we got to the green we thought my ball at one foot out was his….we found his had come all of the way off the green on the front right due to the swale. He made a bogey. If the designers picked this piece of property for this hole and the next, then one wonders why. The hole is out of character with the two previous par 5’s, and another fine one that comes later.
10. Par 4 – 385/339. You have climbed the hill, now you go down it. For bigger hitters there is a smaller part of the fairway that drops down parallel to the green which would sit to the left. For average length players they need to avoid a bunker down the left and one that is before a break in the fairway which leads to a drop of about 25 feet to the green. The green is nearly blind from the fairway unless one goes down that narrow right side. There is a round bunker at the front of the green and a substantial fall-off to the left of the green which also is the shallowest part of the green. I hit a lofted gap wedge to that tucked left pin that we thought was nearly perfect but the ball rolled off the left side and I had a difficult recovery shot. That front bunker makes any front pin position nearly impossible to get close to unless one is coming parallel into the green. Either widen the green or give more space between the bunker and the green.
11. Par 3 – 186/162. The only hole on the course with no bunkers plays over a valley to a triangular shaped green placed in a bit of a bowl on three sides. The shape of the green did not fit the land forms surrounding the hole.
12. Par 4 – 433/399. Along with the first, this is a lovely uphill par 4 playing longer than its listed length. The hole seems to go a bit right then left but overall it is straight. The fairway tilts to the right where two long bunkers are placed. The green is sharply uphill with two round bunkers at the front of the green, the right one being very deep and resulting in a blind shot should one find it. There is a final bunker along the right side of the green The green is appropriately shaped with a lot of little mounds.
13. Par 3 – 246/220. Probably the most picturesque hole on the course, this long downhill par 3 plays both over water along with the pond continuing down the right side. There is a long “v” shaped bunker placed at the water before the start of the green. There are also opposing bunkers on the sides of the green. The ‘v” shaped bunker is of the infinity variety bleeding into the pond and about 5 feet deep. I have seen this type of bunker on other courses such as at Silverleaf but it does not do much for me. It depends on what one likes. There is room to land the ball short of the green which is steeply sloped back to front and left to right. It is likely considered the best par 3 on the course.
14. Par 5 – 595/564. It is hard to pick a favorite of the par 5’s given the design and green complexes of this hole, the fifth and seventh. From an elevated tee one has what looks to be a long carry to a substantial drop down to the fairway. Water is on the right from the pond on the previous hole. The trees and vegetation are thick to the right and left of the fairway. But if one hits a good tee shot and also avoids the two bunkers on the left side, the second shot presents nearly as many challenges as a series of ponds eat into the left side of the fairway while the right side has various small rolling hills. The green is enormous with a front stretched round bunker at the middle, the pond eating into the left front of the green and continuing down the left side. Possibly the longest bunker on the course is on the right side of another triangular shaped green with a defined second half plateau. Much like the eleventh, we had a pin placed right behind the front bunker where any shot coming into the green cannot get close to it unless they are parallel. The twelfth through fourteen are three very good holes.
15. Par 4 – 416/382. This is perhaps the blandest hole on the course playing uphill a bit to a green that lacks definition behind it until houses are built. The green has a false front, a bunker on the left side and a round bunker on the right which again squeezes the size of the green at its front, which the designers use a bit too often on the course. “Bland” is not to imply that it is a weak hole, the comment is made as it is lacks the visual attractiveness of other holes.
16. Par 4 – 426/404. The final par 4 plays from an elevated tee with a steep slot down the left side. The hole sits well below higher ground on both sides. The hole tilts a bit to the left with a bunker on the right side of the fairway not in play for average length players. The green has a valley to its left and a bunker is placed into the hill on the right. There is another roundish bunker front left. The green has a pronounced tier as well as a mound on its right side. I would have liked the hole more had the green not been overdone.
17. Par 3 – 212/197. The final par 3 is almost a mirror image of eleven playing over a valley with a green placed into a bit of a bowl. There is a small round pot-like bunker at the front middle with another bunker placed too close to it to the right front of the green. Behind the green built into the hill is a long bunker. The ground falls away from the green throughout which leads to very speedy putts if one is above the hole. The green is too steep. One bunker at the front should have been adequate.
18. Par 5 – 614/555. Big Wick ends on a nice par 5, not quite in the same league as the three previously mentioned. You play across a large waste area and one must carry a wash as well as avoid the bunkers left and right. A ball landing in the wash will likely remain there. Going into the left bunker will create a blind shot. The fairway turns to the left and is rolling and heaving. A long bunker on the left pinches the fairway with trees and another bunker on the right. As one approaches the green they have to clear a center line bunker, another wash, and three fronting bunkers, with the small oval one perhaps the most difficult. The left front bunker is very deep and one will not see the pin unless it is in the front as the green is very large with a back to front slope. On any other course, this would be the best par 5 but I thought the other three were slightly better. Overall, the par 5’s are the stars here, save for the bad uphill climb on the ninth. This hole finishes well below the clubhouse which sits high above you but offering outside diners a few of people playing on eighteen.
Big Wick is a fine golf course in a beautiful setting. The design of the holes offer a lot of variety in both length, dogleg/straight as well as elevated/uphill tee shots. The course would be better if not for the ninth and tenth holes as well as more variety in the shape of bunkers as well as the placement of some. Some of the greens need to be stretched in spots and have bunkers relocated in order to use more of the green for pin placements as opposed to being inaccessible. This course might revert to a private course as the homes continue to be built. I think the two designers of the course deserve a lot of credit for a course that does offer a good mixture of excitement, strategy, and beauty.
This was our first ever desert course as we entered Arizona from the west travelling across the barren Mojave from LAX and then turning left off I10 to the town of Wickenburg. What an exciting adventure it was to play a course surrounded mainly by the local desert - as well as a few houses it has to be said. This is an undulating course with many outstanding holes winding through the desert and providing superb vistas of the nearby mountains. The ribbons of green were spectacular in the otherwise dry landscape. The par 3s were delightful as they seem well suited visually to a desert environment - especially with elevated tee boxes. The course was in great condition so all good on that front. The pro shop were friendly and welcomed us warmly. A terrific entree to Arizona golf, Big Wick compares favorably with all the good courses we played in Scottsdale.