The best way to explain Wolf Creek is to use a movie analogy. If Pine Valley or Cypress Point are the "Citizen Kane" of golf courses -- Wolf Creek is akin to "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The Mesquite-based course is an adventurous romp through one of the most incredible locations I've played. It's akin to a Martian landscape with golf holes included.
Now, it's important to point out Wolf Creek is not everyone's cup of tea.
For purists who insist courses can only be great when walking is on the agenda it's best to skip the rest of this review. Carts are mandatory at Wolf Creek and while the spacing of holes is not far from one another there are times when carts rides will be the equivalent of a roller coaster with speed bumps placed intermittently. I don't doubt that can be annoying but when you come to Wolf Creek there needs to be a suspension of the usual golf protocol one normally applies given the nature of the site and the holes found here.
Wolf Creek is a visual presence of immense proportions -- both internally and externally. The desert locale means there can be days when a zephyr of wind blows. At other times breezes easily exceed 40-50 mph -- mandating maximum shotmaking dexterity. Depending on the time of year you can have vast range of temperatures -- particularly during summer months when playing in 100+ degrees Fahrenheit is a daily event.
Wolf Creek is a steady diet of risk/reward type holes with a punishing desert landscape fully capable in swallowing errant golf balls. As I said at the outset the thrills you get at Wolf Creek is equivalent to watching Indiana Jones escape one harrowing situation and then finding himself smack dab into the next. There's sufficient room in the fairways but the line of attack one decides in taking is what sets things in motion. No doubt purists will find desert golf rather bizarre given the reality that such an artificial location begets design elements totally created by man to be included.
To borrow a famous line from one of Clint Eastwood's movies -- "A man's got to know his limitations" when playing Wolf Creek. False bravado will not impress the course one iota -- it will simply empty your golf bag of balls for foolish plays that have little or no chance in succeeding.
Wolf Creek starts with a good opening par-5. If the breeze is behind the player out of the southwest it's possible the strongest of players can reach the hole in two shots but the second will need to be laser-like in accuracy as the green is particularly narrow and well protected.
When you reach the 2nd hole -- you experience the first of a number of risk/reward type holes. You commence from an extremely elevated platform -- look west to the horizon and you'll see Moapa Peak in the nearby distance. Strong players can attempt to cut as much as they can stomach on this dog-leg left. Even if you lay-up the shot is fraught with danger if too strong. There's plenty to think about on this hole and the rewards are provided only with total commitment to the line of attack you ultimately choose.
One of the strangest holes comes at the 227-yard par-3 3rd. The hole goes literally straight up -- adding 2-3 clubs is often the best choice. To be charitable -- the hole is utterly bizarre.
The 4th, 5th and 7th all present clear risk/reward opportunities. Playing aggressively can reap big time gains if the execution is present. Fail to do so and the scorecard will include some hefty numbers.
The 6th is a quality par-4 -- a creek crosses the fairway and the green is solidly contoured for only the finest of approaches.
The key hole on the front side is how well one handles the long par-3 8th. Playing usually into the prevailing wind the hole has little margin for error. Water takes up three sides of the green with only a bit of room on the right. If the hole is played at the 150-yard tee the hole is eminently playable and frankly that's where 95% of the people should play. The back tee at just under 250 yards is only for those who are legitimate very low handicaps. If there was more bailout room -- especially to the right -- that would be fine. If played poorly from the tips the 8th will inflict mega punishment. Like I said -- the key is the tee location chosen.
The inward half of holes starts with a long par-4 that's quite strong. The par-3 11th plays into a box canyon green site and is impacted because of the elevated tee. The par-5 12th is a superb hole -- downhill off the tee from another elevated tee. Water left is in play for stronger hitters. If one shapes a right-to-left ball flight and catches the downslope you'll gain hefty yardage. The green is one of the best on the course -- narrow in front and even narrower the deeper the pin is placed. Making birdie here is no small feat.
The 13th is a short par-4 that dog-legs right with desert awaiting those who fail to clear the debris on that side. The smart play is playing the hole honestly.
The par-4 14th is the toughest two-shot holes at Wolf Creek -- turning left in the drive zone and protected by several bunkers on that side. The fairway is split between a lower and upper level with a strip of rough grass serving as a separator. The green is set on an angle and if the pin is placed in either the very front or rear areas presents a real challenge to get close. Oh, and I forgot to mention, the hole is usually into the wind which means solid ball striking is a must.
The par-3 15th is the shortest par-3 on the course. Playing normally into the wind the pressure to select the right club is critical. When the pin is placed in the far rear area it takes a courageous shot to get that far back. Desert encroaches from the right and a bunker hangs near the left side.
When you get to the par-4 16th -- you face a daunting tee shot -- back into the prevailing wind and what appears to be a very narrow landing area. There's sufficient room but the appearance of disaster either right or left can certainly play mind games with a player not fully committed to one's tee shot.
The 17th is another quality risk/reward hole. The tee shot that can stay as close to the left side as possible without being pulled or hooked can shorten the 2nd shot considerably. Those in position to go for the green will need to carry a water hazard that must be carried. When the pin is cut to the front it takes a bold play to get near it.
The closing hole is a bit anti-climatic. A rather pedestrian short par-4 and I've never been enamored with the garish waterfall feature to the left of the green. Chalk it up to Vegas / Nevada overkill.
Wolf Creek clearly pushes emotional buttons. As I said at the outset -- purists who favor golf in a prescribed manner will pan the course as being an 18-hole freak show. Not every hole at Wolf Creek works well but the shots and holes that do deliver are ones you'll long remember. Last I checked -- memorability is one of the key attributes when golf courses are discussed.
For the first time visitor the sweeping desert vistas and the landscape Wolf Creek provides will certainly be breathtaking in its scope. Fun golf is certainly present and for some it won't matter that they lost a number of golf balls in the process. I will say this in conclusion - a daily dosage of Wolf Creek would likely mean a good number opting to take up tennis or scheduling a visit to the psychiatrist.
Nonetheless, the thrill of pulling off a shot at Wolf Creek is totally exhilarating. Forget the scorecard -- relish the moments encountered. Just be sure to have plenty of popcorn!
The test at Wolf Creek is keeping yourself grounded on what one can and cannot achieve. I have played the course about a half a dozen times over the years and in those visits I've talked with many people who played the course and they enjoyed it -- although more than a few got butt-kicked big time. These same people also mentioned that any shot they attempted beyond their capabilities was treated swiftly and equally -- with certain punishment. No less than what one experiences at Pine Valley, Oakmont or Carnoustie.
Before anyone suggests I am linking Wolf Creek to those stellar courses -- I am not. I accept Wolf Creek for being a truly entertaining diversion -- like the Indiana Jones movies which were more about providing chills and goose bumps rather than being seen as Oscar contenders. Life is too short without a bit of grand adventure -- Wolf Creek is certainly that. Just be sure to hold onto one's hat and golf balls!
by M. James Ward
Date: March 06, 2017