Texas (TX) 77979,
- +1 361 893 5116
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10 miles NE of Point Comfort
Members and their guests only
Wolf Point Ranch lies around ten miles inland from the small port town of Point Comfort, on the eastern shores of Lavaca Bay, where a large petrochemical plant dominates the skyline. In this rather industrial environment, it’s hard to imagine that a natural, largely lie of the land golf course exists less than a 15-minute drive away.
Houston-based Mike Nuzzo designed the 18-hole layout in 2007 for Al Stanger, a local rancher, setting out the fairways within a massive 1,600-acre property that enjoys only a couple of metres of elevation change across the entire site. Live oak trees and Keller Creek are integral parts of the routing, with the wandering water course having an effect on eight of the holes.
To add variety to a somewhat featureless landscape, sixty bunkers of various shapes and sizes were added, with almost half of these sand hazards positioned as fairway traps. Half the greens have no sand protection within ten metres of the putting surface and three other greens are completely devoid of bunkers.
The entire project cost around $3 million, with a third of that sum spent on irrigation. Long grass wasn’t used to penalize players as the design brief was to construct a golf course for the client that would be varied, interesting and challenging for him playing there every day.
The owner supplied his own heavy equipment crews and scrapers were hired to excavate a 14-acre lake, using the fill to create the small hill that the clubhouse now sits on. A bridge contractor was brought in to take care of several creek crossing points and a shaper worked for six months to create contours and tie the fairways into their surroundings.
Green sites are built from native sands, requiring minimal sub-surface drainage, with a specialized dwarf Bermuda grass chosen for putting surfaces which Tom Doak has called “the best set of greens in Texas”. Small tees are sited close to the preceding green and (no doubt delighting purists) there are no cart paths to be found on this easy walking layout.
Wolf Point’s owner, Al Stanger, sadly died in July 2016 due to injuries sustained following a fall. Since the accident, course maintenance was cut back and a 475-acre parcel (including the golf course) went on the market in January 2018 for $7,700,000, which seemed a small price to pay for a golf course dubbed the “St. Andrews of Texas” and only one of eighteen courses featured in Tom Doak’s “Gourmet’s Choice” in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses Volume 2.
In November 2019, GOLF's "expert raters" listed Wolf Point in the next fifty of its World Top 100 for 2020/21. Golf course rankings and ratings clearly create desire and sell properties; in February 2020 Wolf Point sold through Concierge Auctions LLC for almost $10.7 million. We believe that Zach Peed II, President of the Dormie Network, was the highest bidder and the property has recently been renamed "TXO".
Mike Nuzzo commented as follows: “Al found me on Google – he says he considered working with Greg Norman, but thought I’d be more attentive.
Dianna [Al's wife] surprised Al on their way into Houston for dinner by stopping at a golf store and picking up a gift of golf clubs – that was when he started playing again, this was 6 months before he called me.
It was Dianna’s idea for Al to build his own course. Al was working on the ranch taking down all the trash trees to make it as pretty as possible. He was essentially an operator working many hours a day clearing the ranch. He’d come home with tired hips and ready for bed.
One day Dianna said since you spend so much time out there clearing trees, why don’t you just have someone build you a golf course – it would seem to be more fun. Al loved the idea.
Wolf Point was by far my first original project, I did spend 6 years as an understudy/apprentice to other architects/builders/owners/superintendents.
I was the one that took Al’s notes of a course to play every day without wasting time looking for lost balls to mean St. Andrews, with wide fairways, and #2 Pine Valley was my favorite green in the world.
That was how I pitched Don Mahaffey, the general idea St. Andrews of Texas, not to actually build a St. Andrews.”
I went to Wolf Point Ranch with very high expectations given the recent praise and recognition from Tom Doak and Golf Magazine. After playing the course twice I understood why most of the very few that have played it have praised it.
I easily place the course in my top five inland courses in the USA for most fun.
One caveat is that we did not get to play the course in its normal conditions. The area has seen a very wet prior six months and so the fairways were not firm and fast and the green speeds were perhaps 7. However, I would note that I would not like to see the greens go faster than a 10 as one might never finish putting on some of the greens due to the many humps, swales, and steep slopes near the falloffs.
I disagree with Bob McCoy’s excellent review in one regard; I thought the green on the par 5 fourteenth to be the “craziest” because of the significant knob on the front right where they put our hole location for round two.
The strength of the design and construction is that one can play anywhere they want. This is not a traditional golf course with defined teeing areas and yardages. One could make the course plays as little as 5000 yards and as long as 7500 yards. In our two rounds we changed where we teed off on every hole. In addition between our morning and afternoon rounds, the hole locations were moved on every green.
We were the only group on the property as the course continues to transition into new ownership. There is ongoing construction for both employee housing near the entrance as well as lodging off the fifteenth and eighteenth tees and along the seventeenth hole. This lodging will likely be consistent with the high quality of accommodations that the Dormie Network provides. I do wish that the lodging had been placed a bit farther away from the course as part of the charm of Wolf Point Ranch, currently called TXO, is the sense of solitude and calm as if one is playing/walking on a Savannah in Africa.
We were met at the airport hanger for an introduction then we drove our golf carts to the home of the former owner, where we had breakfast, lunch, and later a post 36 drink and snack.
Our group was fortunate to be joined by a friend who had played the course nearly twenty times before with the previous owner, Al Stanger. He served as our guide and often read the greens. We played the first round as a foursome in around 3:30, talking a lot about the course. For the second round, we changed to twosomes and finished in 1:42 hours as we had a 3 hour drive waiting for us.
The front nine is more open due to less trees while the back nine has more trees defining some of the fairways. While the fairways are wide, the rough is now tall grass. Under Mr.Stanger, all of this rough was cut down because he did not like to spend long to look for a ball and he particularly disliked losing a ball. Going into the tall grass now is a 90% probability of losing one’s ball.
I suppose some might criticize the course for having too many short par 4’s beginning with the opening hole but I would point out one could make the hole 150 yards longer. One has this option on nearly every hole. You can put a tee down next to the previous green should one desire, completely changing a hole from straight to a dogleg or leaving a semi-blind tee shot despite the flat terrain. For example the first hole might play only 320 yards and very straightforward but one could put their tee next to the eighteenth green and make the hole nearly 500 yards with a blind tee shot over a rise.
The bunkering is very good in both number, size and placement. There is not a lot of green side bunkers as the green surfaces provide more than adequate defense. But I liked the variety of the placement of the bunkers. On the par 5 third one plays to the right of the bunkers, then back to the left. On the par 5 fourteenth, one plays to the left of the bunkers. Several holes have center line bunkers that make the fairways a bit tighter as one has to choose a side. As mentioned, because one can put their tee almost anywhere, the bunkering and approach shots can become very different making bunkers more relevant or less relevant. By changing the tee location, green side bunkers that do not see, to be in play could become very much in play.
The green surfaces are the main attraction. Every green is good. I particularly liked the green on six, a longer par 4 where the fairway rolls multiple times from about 90 yards out leaving valleys of 10 feet and ultimately a “valley of sin.” The greens are so well done that there really is no need to describe one or two of them, because one then instantly thinks of another green with perhaps even more character. For example, the double green shared by eight and eighteen has a front central swale of perhaps six feet acting as a vertical Biarritz. The seventeenth green is amazing with ripples , mounds, and plateaus.
The course has only one forced carry which is the third shot into the par 5 fourteenth hole due to a wider part of the stream that fronts the green. It is also one of few elevated greens.
If one is a golf traditionalist, they will likely not rate this course very highly. But I would respectively say they are missing the point. If one loves to be able to essentially create a new course every day leading to a new experience because of new distances, angles, and different ways to approach a green, this is pure fun. I loved it.
I was unbelievably lucky to play this mysterious private estate course in the cattle ranching wilderness of Texas. It’s about a two-hour, 115-mile drive southwest of Houston about halfway to Corpus Christi. Port Lavaca and Point Comfort are given as locations by various golf magazines, but the nearest Google Maps position is the rural hamlet of Weedhaven, from where the course is just north.
Wolf Point Ranch is absolutely fascinating — and ultimately sad. I played it on Saturday, March 14 2020, the last day the course was available for play under its original ownership. Although one magazine had just rated Wolf Point the 87th best course in the country, Google Maps currently lists it as permanently closed. More on that later.
The story begins in the early 2000s with successful businessman Al Stanger and wife Dianna retiring to Texas and purchasing a 1,300-acre cattle ranch. Dianna, a non-golfer, suggested Al start playing golf again and after playing on a nondescript local course, Al decided to build his own course. In 2005 Al found Houston-based Mike Nuzzo, a retired aerospace engineer who had decided to become a golf course architect. Prior to Al’s call Mike designed the following courses: none.
Al and Mike hit it off because Al thought Mike was practical and not fancy. A couple of years earlier Mike had met golf course superintendent and construction consultant Don Mahaffey, who had significant construction, irrigation, drainage, and grow-in experience. Mike convinced Don to partner with him at Wolf Point. The two of them designed and built the course and Don became the course superintendent.
Al was the ideal client. He had money, was not interested in being involved in any part of the design, and was not in a hurry. I’ve been told by some well-known golf course architects that “time” is the “secret sauce” in creating a super special course. Al, an expert back hoe operator, already had most of the required heavy construction equipment on site. Equally important in the cost equation, Al’s ranch hands became the core of the construction crew. Later some became part of the maintenance crew. With all this in-house support what initially looked like an $8 million project was produced for just $3 million.
Al’s instructions to Mike and Don were to design an interesting and playable course for one twosome to enjoy throughout the year. Al wanted variety, wide fairways, and light rough to avoid spending time looking for balls. Most important, Al demanded that the greens have a lot of movement. In other words, build the St. Andrews Old Course on the Gulf Coast of Texas. And finally, keep construction and maintenance costs low.
With no time pressure and freedom to do whatever they wanted, it took 2 ½ years of construction and grow in. Part way through Al had a nine-hole course to play. The finished product debuted in 2008.
Year ‘round, every morning Al would play a very competitive money match with his buddy Dale. They would zip around in carts, playing in about two hours, and shooting in the low to mid 70s. There might have been a single foursome once a week. Officially no golf course raters were allowed, but a few did sneak on. As a result, Wolf Point quickly developed a cult following among golf course aficionados.
At 8:45 our threesome is on the elevated first tee by the family ranch house. It is a cloudy 65 degrees with a 10-15mph wind that would increase to a howling 15-20 mph for the rest of our first 18 holes. The wind subsided in the afternoon which allowed us to experience a relaxing, peaceful environment with no outside noises.
Our pre-round warmup consisted hitting a couple of shots on the par-3 8th tee adjacent to the parking lot and modest clubhouse. Al was not into practice so no range of any sort was part of his design.
There were a couple of groups spread out in front of us, so we basically had the course to ourselves. Our initial plan was to walk 36 holes carrying our clubs. Because of the compact design and flat terrain, the prospect of walking all 36 holes didn’t seem that daunting. Besides, the course has no golf carts and thus no cart paths. Plus, the idea of finding a caddy in this remote part of Texas would be ridiculous. However, if there was ever a course needing at least a forecaddie for a firsttime player, it would be here. Dave did his best to point us in the right direction, so at least we did not get lost walking from one hole to the next.
Behind the third green is a fenced off paddock containing three camels. Dianna likes llamas and camels. Thus, the camel picture. The picture also demonstrates the rugged landscape found in this part of cattle ranching Texas (scrub and some oak trees).
Coming off the 7th green, there was a pleasant surprise waiting for us near the clubhouse and 8th tee. The pictured Honda Pioneer 1000-5 would now become our mode of transportation for the rest of the day. Clubs were moved from our shoulders to the back of the Honda. I’ve had a ton of different types of golf experiences, but the Honda was a new — and welcome — one.
The score card shows a par of 71, but no yardages are given. Actually, there are no official tees. Al’s rule was the winner of the hole picks the location for the next tee. The unofficial yardage is 6,520 to 6,683 yards. The par 4s range from 285 to 510 yards, the par 5s 520 to 565 yards, and the par 3s 140 to 253 yards.
Keller Creek, the only natural feature on the property, comes into play on 8 holes. Thick vegetation covers the banks that twist and meander throughout the course. There are a number of forced carries over the creek on holes 14 through 17.
During construction local farmers brought in their own equipment and built a 12-acre lake. Not only does the lake satisfy total course irrigation needs, but the fill helped in course design. For elevation purposes, a large hillock was created for the Stanger’s’ ranch house as well as tees for holes one and nine. Then there is the shared 8th and 18th greens at 17,000 square feet. The rest of the fill was used to give the flat terrain interesting fairway contours. Finally, the big lake affects play on holes 1, 9 and 10.
The fairways are exceptionally wide and bordered by thin rough. A really wayward tee shot can find far rough with foot-tall grass and brush. The tightly mowed Bermuda 419 fairways and green surrounds play especially firm and fast. The fairways have a surprising amount of movement and waviness considering the flat terrain, and because they look so wide, from the tee it appears you can just blast away. However, you quickly learn that bunker location and severe greens put a premium on correct position for the proper approach shot angle.
Wolf Point Ranch’s surprising and key feature is bunker placement. There are 62 strategically-placed bunkers, but only 11 are greenside. Eight greens have zero bunkers. A few bunkers are hidden from view. Instead of greenside bunkers, there are humps, mounds, and hollows in front and around many greens. With all this ground movement, you immediately realize the pleasant feeling of having a variety of shot options including links-type run-in shots.
The creative greens and surrounds make the course. The green size is way above modern standards of 6,000 square feet. I very roughly calculated an average of about 9,400 square feet. The largest is the par-4 415-yard #2 at 12,600 square feet with a width of 45 yards. The par-3 #15 at 185 yards has a 10,000 square foot green with a depth of 52 yards.
Then throw in wild undulations that would make Tom Doak sing and you have a real challenge. Tom’s description is “relentless.” The ninth green was the most extreme. It is elevated with a steep ridge on the left falling to the right and then another steep right-falling ridge propelling the ball directly into the lake hugging the green. Equally wild is #17 with six humps. The Bermuda greens are maintained at a nine-to-ten speed. Even at that reasonable rate I’m not sure how many pinable hole locations can be found.
Wolf Point is as good as any links type experience in America. With total success here, it is amazing that no one else has hired Mike and Don to replicate their design approach, low cost construction, and inexpensive maintenance.
As of mid-March 2020, the new owner of Wolf Point is the Peed family of Omaha. The family owns Sandhills Publishing, Certified Piedmontese Beef, and Smart Chicken. In the last few years the family has invested in the golf course business by purchasing six high-end courses. The nationwide company is called the Dormie Network and is run by young Zach Peed II. So far, the family and company have been very guarded about their intentions for Wolf Point. There has been no announcement about rolling it into the network membership package. So, the mysterious Wolf Point remains extremely secretive. As for the camels, the latest report has them still on property.
In an isolated region of Texas southwest of Houston there is a private ranch named Wolf Point. The now deceased owner charted a private golf course which traverses across mostly flat land. This is not a golf club and won’t resemble anything you’ve seen before. Only a handful of golfers experience this course each year by prior agreement of the land owners.
To say you need to expand your mind to play here is an understatement. Most of the entire course is wide open with no features, just random flags in the flat horizon. You can hit to any target and tee off from wherever you like. There are no official tee boxes, just random platforms which you can hit from. It felt like I was hitting balls on a piece of land before the developer and architect had arrived to build the actual course.
The green-keeping is very basic and the routing not intuitive – but it does make sense the more you play it. You’ll certainly need a tour guide otherwise the course is non-descript. There are no signs, no tees – just flat land with gentle ripples. The greens have impressive undulation, and the back side has more trees to emphasize structure to the course. The trees also help frame a number of the greens so there is a sense of distance.
Why does this course exist? And what will its future be? Maybe only the camels that graze next to the fairways have the answers.