WICKENBURG, Ariz. - "Hi dad!"
The two words caught me by surprise as I lined up a putt at the Los Caballeros Golf Club. I looked out into the desert, and there was my 18-year-old daughter on horseback.
As luck would have it, my wife and daughter were following their trail guide through a fence gate that separates the course from 13,300 ride-able acres at Rancho de los Caballeros, a luxury retreat 60 miles northwest of Phoenix. At that moment, our happy places intersected. I'm a golfer who doesn't care for horses. My wife and daughter are horse lovers who aren't into golf. We finally had found a vacation retreat that would feed everybody's passions.
Rancho de los Caballeros is among a select few golf resorts out west that mix the wild west with the country club life. The two generally tend to be at odds. Guns, cowboy boots and hats, dirty jeans, horses and tumbleweeds blowing along dusty streets don't really jibe with the collared shirts, logoed hats, spiked shoes and manicured green grass of golf. You can, however, have the best of both at a handful of unique golf resorts west of the Mississippi River. They all deliver golf the cowboy way, where boots are just as welcome as FootJoys.
Unique golf resorts out West
Rancho de los Caballeros, Wickenburg, Az.
Rancho de los Caballeros, a classic dude ranch, is celebrating 75 years of hospitality in 2023 under new owners who are making some nice improvements, mainly to the golf clubhouse. Staying on property feels like the song "Home on the Range" come to life. Horseback rides, nature hikes, trap and skeet shooting, archery and off-property jeep tours keep active cowboys and cowgirls happy. My family attended a rope-throwing lesson (I'm a 30-handicap!) and loved the axe-throwing experience (I'm a single-digit!). Saturday BBQ cookouts in the desert are very popular. The spa is classy, and the food in the grill is very good.
The golf course, built in 1979, plays more like a traditional parkland than many of the nearby target tests such as Wickenburg Ranch and Quintero, both of which are more highly ranked but also more expensive. Los Caballeros has ranked among Arizona's top seven courses in seven of the past eight years in Golfers' Choice. Its hilly, desolate setting makes for a fun, challenging round. From several holes on the back nine, golfers can watch the staff guide the horses back to their overnight stalls from the corral every afternoon if they time the round right. "I thought this course was way better than some of the other, more popular, golf courses I played in the PHX area," wrote GolfPass reviewer 'klmac17' in 2022.
The Retreat, Links & Spa at Silvies Valley Ranch, Seneca, Ore.
Silvies Valley Ranch, a working ranch and luxury resort located on 140,000 acres in eastern Oregon three hours from Bend (or Boise, Idaho), might be the most unique golf resorts you ever visit. There's multiple courses to experience - the reversible Craddock and Hankins courses designed by Dan Hixson, the 7-hole McVeigh's Gauntlet (home to the infamous goat caddies), the nine-hole Chief Egan short course and Claire's Course, a reversible putting experience dreamed up by Hixson. Those who want to really see how the Silvies Valley Ranch operates can get their hands dirty on a cattle drive or goat herding. Shooting, horseback riding and a razor ranch eco-tour are other outdoor adventures. Every day at Silvies Valley Ranch ends in style when guests gather in the main lodge for a glorious family-style dinner of organic chevon (goat), beef and home-cooked sides.
Lajitas Golf Resort, Lajitas, Texas
As off-the-beaten-path as Silvies is, Lajitas Golf Resort might be the most remote golf resort in America. Lajitas Golf Resor is hidden in the Big Bend National Park, a seven-hour drive west of San Antonio and six hours south of Lubbock. There is a private airport for jets and smaller planes if you've got the means. The reward for visiting Lajitas Golf Resort is a rustic outpost of horseback riding, shooting and zip-lining, plus golf at Black Jack's Crossing. Between the spa, four-star accommodations and fine food at Lajitas Golf Resort, you won't feel like you're roughing it in an old-time Western.
Flying L Guest Ranch, Bandera, Texas
The 74-room Flying L Guest Ranch sits on a former dude ranch roughly 50 miles northwest of San Antonio. The family-owned property is geared toward family vacations thanks to a swimming pool, water park, mini-golf, wagon rides and nightly s'mores on the campfire. The Texas Hill Country backdrop is perfect for fishing on the San Julian Creek and golf on a fun, rolling 6,600-yard layout at Flying L Guest Ranch that is currently closed for renovations. When the work is done, the course at Flying L Guest Ranch will feature expanded greens and tee boxes, a rebuilt irrigation system, additional sand traps and a new 'Bonus Hole'.
Black Butte Ranch, Sisters, Ore.
Black Butte Ranch often gets overshadowed by its competitors surrounding Bend - Juniper Preserve, Tetherow and Sunriver come to mind - but it's just as engaging as a weekend golf getaway. Coming March 31, guests and homeowners at Black Butte Ranch, an 1,800-acre ranch 35 miles northwest of Bend, will have a new toy at their disposal. The 50-year-old main lodge at Black Butte Ranch is being replaced with a beautiful, new 22,100-square-foot, two-story building that includes a restaurant and bar, second-floor lounge, fireside room, private dining room, event space, meeting room, outdoor dining on both levels and a state-of-the-art kitchen with a catering facility among other spaces. It has been designed to complement the natural surroundings of the 1.6-million-acre Deschutes National Forest. Outdoor adventures at Black Butte Ranch are endless, from horseback riding to fly-fishing and golf on two distinct courses, the Glaze Meadow and Big Meadow, and the relatively new Little Meadow Putting Course.
Running Y Resort, Klamath Falls, Ore.
Running Y Resort is the gateway to one of America's natural wonders - Crater Lake National Park. Running Y Resort, a 3,600-acre ranch at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in southern Oregon, is a versatile vacation escape home to an 82-room lodge, plus rental homes and chalets for larger groups. Active guests at Running Y Resort can play tennis, sweat it out at the fitness center or play golf on a course that is considered one of Arnold Palmer's best designs. Nearby lakes and rivers can be fished or explored by kayaks, paddleboards and canoes. Hiking, biking and horseback riding are options as well at Running Y Resort.
Brasada Ranch, Powell Butte, Ore.
Brasada Ranch is a golf resort out west in central Oregon that's 20 northeast of Bend where golfers and outdoor lovers can fight over who had more fun during their stay. The 1,800-acre Brasada Ranch has been named one of "15 Fantastic Horseback Riding Destinations" by USA Today's Outdoors Wire and honored as No. 8 among U.S. Resorts by Conde Nast Traveler Reader's Choice Awards. Guests at Brasada Ranch set up camp at the 65 family-friendly cabins or the eight adult-only Ranch House suites. An adventure concierge at Brasada Ranch will create the ideal schedule, including rounds of golf on Brasada Canyon, trail rides, spa treatments, fine dining and more.
The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Broadmoor is one of golf's most luxurious resorts out west. Beyond the six-star dining of the Penrose Room, guests of The Broadmoor can pivot to a more rugged existence within 100,000 acres of the Pike National Forest. The Ranch at Emerald Valley is an all-inclusive retreat that is part of the resort's offerings, where 13 cabins featuring gas fireplaces and modern amenities can be your home on the mountain for a weekend or longer. Typically, these guests aren't playing golf on the resort's East and West courses at The Broadmoor, but those rounds can be scheduled before or after this wilderness adventure. Fully immersed in Mother Nature, guests can go fly-fishing on pristine mountain lakes, hiking and biking on scenic trails and exploring the forest by horseback. The "City Slicker Experience" channels your inner Billy Crystal during the Elk River Cattle Drive. Relaxing comes later, soaking in an outdoor hot tub sipping wine, followed by a five-star meal prepared by resort chefs. Forget horses and courses. This is the wild, wild west lifestyle I covet.
GolfPass resort pages for those looking for a wild west experience
Have you experienced any of these unique resorts? Let us know in the comments below.