Wolf Point Ranch
Texas, United States of America

Thirteenth hole, 475 yards; Look at the diagram of the hole’s last 100 yards: why can’t there be more green complexes like this?! Obvious trouble looms front left but oceans of short grass relent right and long to create numerous options worth considering back in the fairway. A huge flaw in American architecture from the 1950s through 1980s was the deadly, dull monotony where golfers faced putting surfaces pitched toward them. The same challenge presented ad nauseum robs any design of the sacred attribute of variety. At Wolf Point nothing is obvious and the golfer is constantly forced to contemplate how he might best play his subsequent shot. The golfer’s mind is actively engaged throughout the round as he constantly evaluates choices, something that is patently not true at most modern courses.

As seen from behind, this photograph highlights the green’s wonderful front to back slope off the fronting left mound/bunker. What the photograph fails to show is all the short grass that extends well beyond the green. Recovery shots are far less frisky if the approach is long as the green’s tilt becomes the golfer’s friend.

Fourteenth, 560 yards; Ten of the course’s sixty bunkers are found here, including a neat top shot bunker 100 yards from the tee. Additionally, a grove of live oaks occupies the left central part of the fairway some 130 yards from the green. Finally, Keller Creek cuts in front of the green and snakes up its right side. There are three different obstacles to overcome/avoid and how refreshing (but sadly unusual) it is to find all three where they matter most: in the middle of the playing corridor.

How invigorating to find obstacles down the middle as opposed to worthlessly down the sides as seen on other modern courses.

Fifteenth hole, 170 yards; Creating varied playing interest on a relatively flat property is no small feat. Pete Dye built a small mountain at the 5th at Long Cove and again at Old Marsh but the author has never thought that tack fit with the rest of the course. Here, the view from the tee is innocuous: a bunkerless, deep, nearly 10,000 square foot green. Though the hole appears featureless, it is not. World top 100 GOLF Magazine panelist Noel Freeman still screeches with indignation about the ‘crazy’ left bounce his ball took here. The culprit? Hidden off-shoots from Keller Creek that were incorporated into the putting surface, creating three foot hollows and swales that delight in dragging shots away to the left.

Seemingly innocuous from the tee, note how …

 

… three off-shoots protrude into the putting surface.

Sixteenth hole, 360 yards; Three two-shotters conclude the round and they couldn’t be more different. This hole leads the golfer into one of the prettiest pockets on the property with live oaks and Keller Creek circling around the back of the green.

The green’s right to left cant means that squeezing one’s tee ball close to the creek makes it easier to control one’s ball once it lands on the green.

 

The left edge of the sixteenth green is four feet lower than the right. Approach shots played from the right side of the fairway routinely release across the green while those played from the left can use the slope to help brake and hold their approach.

 

Seventeenth hole, 460 yards; To appreciate how Nuzzo’s worked in simpatico with Mahaffey, and how the design and presentation glorify one another, take a look at the last fifty yards of this hole. Two Spectacle bunkers punctuate a slight ridge some thirty yards before the putting surface and create an unseen ‘dead’ area. Back some 200 yards in the fairway, the golfer is unclear what his eyes are telling him. Without disfiguring the landscape, the architect has cleverly avoided providing perfect optics while creating confusion in the golfer’s mind. Such resulting visual uncertainty à la the sort found countless times across The Old Course helps Wolf Point retain mystery and allure for the owner, round after round, day after day. And for those who only get to play the course once, the sight of seeing your approach disappear over the two bunkers in the foreground before eventually scampering up onto the raised putting surface is not something you are likely to forget anytime soon. In the end, Wolf Point plays exactly how Nuzzo and Mahaffey envisioned her, largely because they were in all the details, from Mahaffey into the deign and shaping to Nuzzo into the maintenance.

Chasing after back hole locations is dicey as the firmness of the turf and the pushed up green pad encourage balls pulled left to find Keller Creek.

Eighteenth hole, 330 yards; The most accurate definition ever of a Home hole, the playing corridor crosses Keller Creek and bends right to finish at a green benched into the hillside upon which … you guessed it … the owner’s home rests. This handsome backdrop lends a sense of occasion to the last but it is the tumbling fairway fifty yards and in to the open green that enchants the old trooper. No more fitting conclusion can be had for both design and presentation than a hooded punch 7 iron that bumps the ball along the ground. Of course, watching it trundle and disappear before emerging onto the plateau green might be dispiriting as you realize you soon be returning to golf back home that is far less exhilarating.

What a great hole location – just a few yards too strong and the ball disappears into the four foot swale.

 

Built for three million dollars, the design reminds the author of other favorites like Rustic Canyon, Wild Horse and St. Andrews Beach where great design and great economics co-exist. Nothing has been more poisonous to the health of the game than how ‘expensive’ became linked to ‘good golf’ in the 1990s. If only more developers and owners could play here before formulating their plans, the game would be infinitely better-off.

Adam Lawrence has long sounded the merits of Wolf Point and he nailed it when he penned:

When I visited Wolf Point the first time and wrote it up for GCA, I said that I thought it was the best debut course by a modern architect I had seen, but I pointed out that I hadn’t seen Bandon Dunes, an obvious contender. A few years later, Mike asked me to write a testimonial for him for some job he was pitching for; I repeated the ‘best modern debut’ quote, and added that in the meantime, I’d been to Bandon, and given the choice, I’d rather revisit Wolf Point [Jonny Davison’s Heritage course at Penati in Slovakia is a subsequently-seen contender for that title too]. What is remarkable about Wolf Point is that, more than literally any other course I have seen, it uses the lessons of the Old course at St Andrews; that contour is the soul of golf, and that you don’t need massive contour for great holes. It’s so low profile that it must be a pig to photograph well, except perhaps in perfect early morning or late evening light, when you can capture the contours. But also, Wolf Point is a living, breathing case study for how golf should be built in this day and age. No large scale earthmoving, except for the lake, and that was really to build the house (and they even found a creative, low cost solution for that too). The genius of Mahaffey; without him it would not have been built for three million bucks, and it wouldn’t be maintained the way it is, for the price it is. I once asked Mike, if this was a public course, what would you do differently? We both thought about it, and the truth is that only the teeing concept would have to change. If we had a couple of hundred Wolf Point inspired courses around the world (ESPECIALLY IN DEVELOPING MARKETS) golf would be in a much healthier place.

Well said! Moving forward, it is nice to know that fun, engaging courses can be built on not great land for not a whole lot of money. The sooner golf world embraces the lessons espoused at Wolf Point, the better.

The End