Review: Wolf Creek Golf Club

Course Name: Wolf Creek Golf Club

Designer: Dennis Rider/John Rider (2000)

Location: Mesquite, Nevada

History: Ever since it was designed by a duo of amateur architects in 2000, Wolf Creek has captivated the golfing community with its breathtaking views and wild architecture. Perhaps best known for being a staple in EA Sports PGA Tour series, many are shocked to discover the course is actually real. Winner of many awards, Wolf Creek holds the following accolades:

  • #53 Best Public Course in America – Golf Digest (2019)
  • #71 Best Public Course in America – Golf Magazine (2017)
  • #5 Best Course in Nevada – Golf Digest (2019)
  • #10 Best Course in Nevada – Top100golfcourse.com (2020)
  • #3 Best Public Course in Nevada – Golfweek (2020)

Conditions: 8/10, Some online have criticized the conditions at Wolf Creek, but they were very good when I played. The bentgrass greens play extremely firm and fast, while the Bermuda fairways appear especially lush compared to the desert surroundings. The superintendent and his team deserve a lot of credit for keeping this course as green as it is in such arid conditions.

Value: 7/10, Depending on the season, you’ll be asked to pay anywhere between $85 and $230 for Wolf Creek with cheaper rates in the scorching Summer heats and the highest prices in the Spring and Fall. While this may seem expensive for some, it’s a huge bargain compared to the golf in Las Vegas.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Challenger              72           6939              75.4             154

Champions             72            6377               71.8               144

Masters                   72           5798              68.8              137

Signature                72           5064              69.8              127

Classics                   72           4101               65.1              109

Hole Descriptions: Located on the Nevada-Arizona border a little over an hour northeast of Las Vegas, Mesquite is somewhat of a mini Las Vegas with a less glamorous array of casinos, hotels, and you guessed it – golf. Although there are numerous public offerings in town, Wolf Creek is the crowned jewel and regarded as one of the best public courses in America. Golfers all over flock to this sleepy little town for Wolf Creek, and my friends and I did the same during a bachelor party in Las Vegas.

This would be my first desert course and I couldn’t contain my excitement to play Wolf Creek. I had read a lot about the course prior to playing and knew it was a polarizing track, with purists hating its completely manufactured, unwalkable layout and the average golfer loving its exhilarating shots and picturesque views. My initial takeaways of the course were very positive. Regardless of what you think about the layout, credit has to be given to the Riders, amateur architects who created a gem on one of the most difficult properties imaginable to create a golf course. I really don’t think someone like Crenshaw or Doak would touch a property like this and I appreciate their boldness for such an undertaking.

And oh my what a property it is! Sitting in the Virgin River Valley in the Mojave Desert, Wolf Creek is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful golf courses in America with lush green fairways contrasting starkly with a mountainous desert backdrop. The elevation changes at Wolf Creek enhance the beauty, but also the excitement, as the majority of these holes play from an elevated teebox over a forced carry. Artifical? Yes, but for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation round, it’s hard to beat Wolf Creek.

The layout at Wolf Creek is certainly an unconventional one to say the least. With almost nobody playing the Challenger tees, the course only plays just under 6400 yards with the majority of holes playing downhill. Despite its short length, this is indeed a very challenging course given the accuracy requirements and forced carries. Local rules dictate that any ball in the desert is OB (probably to protect from snakes and improve pace of play), so golfers will need to hit fairways here – or else. I think the greens are also quite challenging with how firm they play and the fact that almost all slope back-to-front.

For the record, Wolf Creek is not a perfect layout and the Riders swung and missed on more than one occasion. Each hole is unique and could be a “signature hole” at almost any course, but there are too many short, risk/reward holes for my liking where the risk far outweighs the reward. That is fitting in Las Vegas, though. It also feels as if the course is more a collection of 18 individual holes rather than a routing that flows well. But despite these critiques, Wolf Creek is tremendous fun and one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever seen. Every golfer should experience this course at least once.

The opening hole is a majestic par 5 and fitting introduction to Wolf Creek. At 504 yards, this beautiful straightaway hole plays dead downhill on the teeshot to a generous fairway lined by bunkers on the left at 200 and 270 yards. On your second shot, the hole becomes more difficult playing uphill to a progressively narrower fairway lined by numerous bunkers on either side and a hidden water hazard down the far right. This narrow, back-to-front sloped green sits in the bottom of a valley and is guarded by bunkers on either side.

The par 5 1st
The approach at 1 runs back uphill

At 429 yards, the number 1 handicap par 4 2nd is one of the most difficult and wildest holes at Wolf Creek. For starters, this teebox sits eleven stories tall on top of a giant ridge that carts aren’t allowed to drive up to. Despite such an elevated teebox, it’s not exactly clear what the aiming point is on this dogleg left due to a giant plateau down the left that completely blocks your view. First time players might want to play it safe down the visible fairway on the right, but doing so leaves a long uphill approach and potential to run through a skinny fairway into a bunker long at 270 yards. The ideal line for longer hitters is to carry the plateau but many golfers will never find their ball trying this. Bunkers line the left side of the fairway and require about a 300 yard carry to reach from the teebox. This approach runs back uphill to an elevated, multi-tiered green that runs back-to-front and is guarded by bunkers on either side.

Aiming over a blind plateau on the second teeshot of the day requires a lot of confidence
The approach at 2
A look from behind the 2nd green

The 3rd hole is another extremely intimidating, borderline unfair hole as an 175 yard par 3. Playing so uphill that you can’t even see the green, this hole plays at least a club and a half more and requires another leap of faith. Bunkers guard both sides of this undulating green that predominantly slopes back-to-front.

Hard to imagine this isn’t even the most difficult par 3 on the front 9
A closer look at the 3rd green

At 307 yards, the 4th hole is one of several short par fours at Wolf Creek. A true risk/reward, drivable par 4, this level hole plays as a dogleg right with the dogleg occurring at about 240 yards. Desert lines the left side of this fairway and a string of nine beautiful bunkers divides this fairway and a Redan-style green to the far right. While not the most memorable of the short par fours, I think this is the best of the group.

The par 4 4th
The approach at 4 after a lay-up

The 5th hole is the shortest par 5 at Wolf Creek at just 469 yards and arguably the most beautiful hole on the course. With the Virgin Mountains in the background of a straight downhill teeshot, this dogleg left requires an imposing 220 yard carry over a creek just to reach the fairway. A bunker lines the right fairway at 240 yards while those that venture left need an even bigger carry to reach the fairway. Like the 1st, your second shot runs uphill to a narrowing fairway lined by five bunkers in the lay-up area. This diagonal, elevated green is defended by bunkers on either side short and features numerous tiers that make it slope mainly left-to-right.

The stunning par 5 5th
The uphill approach at 5

At 442 yards, the 6th hole is one of the longer par fours on the course and a very sleek hole. Playing as a downhill dogleg right, this hole features an undulating fairway that ends abruptly with a bisecting creek at 260 yards. There’s really no need to try to carry the creek here as the other side of the fairway is extremely narrow and lined by bunkers. This approach runs back uphill to a narrow green defended by a large bunker on the left. Like many others on the course, this green runs back-to-front with a difficult back tier you can’t go long on.

The dogleg par 4 6th
Another uphill approach at 6

The 7th hole is the shortest par 4 at Wolf Creek and easily one of my least favorite holes on the course. At just 281 yards, this tricky straightaway hole is a risk/reward par 4 featuring a generous fairway that ends at about 260 yards. At this point, an artificial pond separates the end of the fairway and an elevated green. While I like the idea of this hole in theory, the green is far too shallow and firm to have any reasonable chance of reaching in one. At the same time, laying up and leaving a very intimidating pitch into such a shallow, back-to-front sloping green is also not a great option. Although short, this has the potential to be a cardwrecker.

The par 4 7th
The terrifying pitch at 7

On a course with so many unique and intimidating holes, there is perhaps none more so than the par 3 8th. At a prodigious 217 yards, this downhill one-shotter sits at the bottom of a valley surrounded by hills. An all-or-nothing, target golf hole, this back-to-front sloped green is guarded by a creek that surrounds it short, left, and long. A truly spectacular hole that will lead to many penalty strokes.

Although not a tiny target, this green certainly looks small at 217 yards!

Another short par 4, the 303 yard 9th hole is certainly one of the easier holes at Wolf Creek. Playing straightaway, this pretty hole features an immediate 150 yard carry over water to reach a generous fairway flanked by large bunkers on either side. Playing uphill the entire way, this would be a difficult green to reach in one, but those attempting to do so need to be aware of hidden water to the left of this green and a large bunker just short right. This elevated green is large, two-tiered and slopes back-to-front. I really like the grass bunkers cut into the hill behind the green.

The par 4 9th

At 446 yards, the 10th hole is the longest par 4 on the course and a very difficult hole. This teeshot doesn’t really suit my eye at all with a tight chute and uphill forced carry of 240 yards just to reach the fairway. While the fairway is wider than it appears, bunkers run down the far left and it cants heavily right-to-left. From here, the hole continues uphill to a narrow, back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers on either side and a steep drop-off left and long.

The 10th teeshot is the most difficult at Wolf Creek in my opinion
The 10th green from the side

The 11th hole is a beautiful downhill par 3 at 193 yards. Playing at least one to two clubs shorter, this stunner features a circular, back-to-front sloped green surrounded by hills and bunkers on the left. While the cart paths are dangerous on many holes at Wolf Creek, none are scarier than the rollercoaster 11th. You have to sign a cart waiver before the round and this hole makes it abundantly clear why.

The drop-shot par 3 11th
These cartpaths are a recipe for disaster when alcohol is involved

At 544 yards, the par 5 12th is the longest hole at Wolf Creek but plays significantly shorter with an extremely downhill teeshot. While the temptation to grip and rip driver is certainly present, golfers need to be aware of a hidden water hazard that creeps in down the left at 250 yards. As this fairway progresses, it narrows, flattens, and turns left with water down the left until about 50 yards short of the green. This green notably features three tiers that run back-to-front and another water hazard to the right. This is a very fun hole and one that yields anything from eagle to triple bogey.

The downhill par 5 12th
The approach at 12
A beautiful side view of 12 showing off the fairway contours

The 13th hole is a really interesting one and one that gives the golfer ample options from the start. Officially 341 yards on the scorecard, this hole plays as a sharp dogleg right with an immediate 190 yard carry over water to reach a fairway that turns immediately right. This green is hidden behind hills on the right but I suppose somebody who hits it high and long could reach this green by aiming over the hills. For the normal golfer, you’ll need to carry the water but driver might be too much and run through the fairway into a bunker or worse – into the desert. This approach runs uphill to an elevated, severely back-to-front sloped green defended by bunkers short on either side.

The quirky par 4 13th
The uphill approach at 13

I mentioned above how any hole at Wolf Creek could be considered a “signature hole”, but the par 4 14th is the most photographed and recognizable hole on the course. At 411 yards, this insane par 4 looks like it belongs on the moon with an elevated teeshot to a sprawling dogleg left split fairway lined by six bunkers on the left the entire way to a back-to-front sloped green. Although gorgeous, don’t be distracted here as this hole requires another 200 yard forced carry just to reach the fairway. This fairway slopes hard right-to-left so don’t expect much roll or an even lie on this uphill approach.

The otherworldly par 4 14th
The uphill approach at 14

The 15th hole is the shortest at Wolf Creek as a little downhill 116 yard par 3. This hole feels a bit mundane by Wolf Creek’s standards but offers multiple teeboxes at different angles and features attractive bunkering down the left the entire way. The green here is also one of the most unique on the course with an overall back-to-front slope and two swales on the back corners.

The cute par 3 15th
A side view of the wonderful green at 15

The 16th hole is another stunner and one that exemplifies a recurring theme at Wolf Creek. This par 4 is only 377 yards so the majority of golfers will have short to mid-iron in, but features another immediate forced carry of 220 yards over a chasm just to reach the fairway. Despite the course’s short length of just under 6400 yards, it is hard to avoid hitting driver on many of these hole for this reason. This fairway is generous but bunkers line both sides of the landing area around 250 yards. A lion’s mouth bunker guards just short of a shallow green that slopes predominantly left-to-right with another bunker on the right.

The epic teeshot at the par 4 16th
The approach at 16

The 527 yard 17th hole is another wild offering and a hole I felt had too much going on to truly be considered great. This teeshot again plays extremely downhill to a generous fairway cut into a valley lined by bunkers on either side at 230 yards. From here, the hole gets quite complicated with a creek running across the first fairway about 170 yards short of the green. On their second shot, golfers have the option of finding a second slab of fairway down the right over the creek or risking it all and going for an island, punchbowl-style green that juts out on the left in the middle of another water hazard.

The par 5 17th
The final approach at 17

After so many dramatic and unique holes, I must admit the closer is a little underwhelming. Another very short par 4, this 295 yard uphill hole seems squeezed in and truncated. Playing straightaway, this fairway is generous but lined by bunkers down the right at 170 and 240 yards. Unfortunately, this hole takes driver away from many golfers as a creek bisects the fairway at 240 yards just short of an elevated green. This green again slopes severely back-to-front and is lined on the right by some of the deepest bunkers on the course.

The par 4 18th
The approach at 18 complete with an unnecessary and forced waterfall

General Comments: One area Wolf Creek could improve on is amenities. With a gaudy, apartment-looking clubhouse and irons-only range stuffed next to the parking lot, you’d expect a lot more from a course of its caliber. Pace of play was average when I played, but this is certainly not a course you could play in under 4 hours given the difficult terrain and challenging layout. I don’t think it’s even possible to walk this course and these cartpaths are absolutely terrifying.

It also doesn’t help when the range is more sand than grass

Verdict: Glitzy, gorgeous, and unrelentingly fun, Wolf Creek is an architectural masterpiece and one that should be on every golfer’s bucket list. Purists may scoff at the cart requirement, lack of cohesiveness, and manufactured layout, but amateur architect Dennis Rider deserves a lot of credit for a building a course this brazen. Wolf Creek is not for everyone, but for many this will be an unforgettable experience.


One thought on “Review: Wolf Creek Golf Club

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