Course is centerpiece of peerless Rancho de Los Caballeros, one of the nation’s top dude ranches
WICKENBURG, Arizona (Feb. 25, 2021) – About an hour’s drive on the Carefree Highway north and west of Phoenix is the old gold-mining town of Wickenburg, named after Austrian prospector Henry Wickenburg. His quest for gold in the area was rewarded by the discovery of the Vulture Mine, where more than $30 million in gold has been taken from the ground over the past 160 years.
Throughout the foothills around Wickenburg are relics of other mines that stand as tribute to the pioneer miner and prospector. The town, which retains an Old West feel, is set amidst the northern reaches of the Great Southwest’s Sonoran Desert and is noted for its clean air, Western hospitality and high quality of life.
It also has one of the finest dude ranches in the country and one of the most fun golf courses you’ll ever play. Located just a few miles outside of town, Rancho de Los Caballeros is considered one of the top ranch resorts in the United States. Once an old-fashioned dude ranch, the resort has been up-scaled but you can still ride horses and pretend to be a cowboy while enjoying the rustic ambiance.
That’s all fine and dandy (who among us didn’t want to be a cowboy when we were growing up?), but our focus was on the stunning Los Caballeros Golf Club, a highly-rated semiprivate track. Designed by Greg Nash and Jeff Hardin, this jewel features ever-rolling terrain, a pair of lakes, bunkers that demand attention and a layout that calls for virtually every shot in your repertoire.
Set at an elevation of 2,100 feet, Los Caballeros Golf Club is surrounded by spectacular views of Vulture Peak to the south and the Bradshaw Mountains to the north — landmarks that can be used as target lines on many holes.
Los Caballeros – which plays to a par 72 and 7,014 from the back set of four tees – is bordered by desert areas and adobe-style homes. But the layout has a traditional feel with fairly generous landing areas and limited forced carries. The fairways are wide enough to be fair but contain rolls and depressions that require careful ball placement. And while many of the tees are elevated, you’ll end up having to hit up to many elevated putting surfaces.
We enjoyed the routing at Los Caballeros and found the front side a bit easier than the back. On the outward nine, the first four holes allow you to get in a groove, and the test really starts on No. 5, a 536-yard par-5. Off the tee the hole heads downhill over mesquites, greasewood, cacti and sand before rising uphill past a bunker to the green, which slopes back to front.
The seventh, a 578-yard par-5, is Los Caballeros’ top handicap hole. After a relatively carefree tee shot, you must decide whether to carry the huge lake on the left on the approach. The lay-up space right of the lake must be precise as the fairway whittles down to about 25 yards. Take one more club that you think on the approach to a green guarded by sand fore and aft.
No. 8 is the track’s toughest par-3, playing 213 yards uphill to a right-canted putting surface. The course really bares its teeth on the ninth, a 414-yard par-4 that ascends into the prevailing wind to a green that rebuffs long irons.
The back nine is a bit narrower than the front as more desert and rocks line the fairways and it plays about two shots tougher than the front. That, however, is not the case on Nos. 10, 11 and 12, the easiest two par-4s on the course, followed by the most accessible par-3. Take advantage of your chances on this trio because you’ll need the cushion for what comes next.
The course’s signature hole is the 13th. This 605-yarder, rated among the most challenging par-5s in Arizona, has numerous elevation changes and a small, well-protected and undulating green. Next is the deceptively difficult par-4 14th, which at just 368 yards can cause havoc with a hard dogleg-right fairway and a raised green.
The round ends with the toughest stretch at Los Caballeros. On the 448-yard par-4 16th, expect the wind in your face and trouble if you pull your drive right toward the lake. No. 17 is the longest par-4 on the course and, at 452 yards and playing into the prevailing wind, this slight left-bender will bump up your score if you don’t hit an accurate approach.
The finishing hole is a long (561 yards) and right-bending par-5 with sand entering play on the second shot. Four bunkers ring the green, but the hole’s real defense is its movement downhill, then uphill and the many uneven lies.
Los Caballeros Golf Club, with a course rating of 73.1 and slope of 137, is ranked as a 4½-star – and a 2-Star medal winner for good service – in Golf Digest’s “Places to Play” guide. The course can be aptly described as “serene but lethal,” and is usually rated as one of the top 10 courses in the state.
The accommodations at Rancho de Los Caballeros are top-drawer; the room I stayed in had a wonderful working fireplace, a kitchenette with a separate dining room, a patio, and views of the desert and ranch from windows on both sides. The ranch, whose name translates to “ranch of the riding gentlemen,” and the course are both must-plays for golfers and those with even a passing fancy of the cowboy life.
Opened for play in January 1979, Los Caballeros Golf Club is where a 20,000-acre dude ranch meets country club and you can swap spikes for spurs and a horseback ride through the Sonoran Desert. What a great combination.