Seven at Desert Mountain
Why build another classic course when Brownlee and Pickett are available?
Friends and frequent golf partners Bill Brownlee and Wendell Pickett were playing the Renegade Golf Course at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona one day awhile back when they came around to the 13th hole.
Like other Desert Mountain members, they had the same view from the elevated tee of a flat, dry desert patch called Parcel 19. It wasn’t being used for anything at the time, even if there were vague and distant plans for a single home sub-division as part of the 8,000-acre Desert Mountain development.
Seven at Desert Mountain
The pair got to talking. Wouldn’t it be nice, they thought, if instead of a golf-free housing zone, a seventh course of their own design went into the area? A course that would be more than a little different, a course that could provide Desert Mountain with a huge injection of fun?
But wait a minute—a Brownlee-Pickett course as the seventh Desert Mountain track, to go along with the six extant Jack Nicklaus Signature courses? How are you going to sell that to the governing board, and a membership of some 2,000 golf junkies?
A course that would be more than a little different, a course that could provide Desert Mountain with a huge injection of fun?
Boldly, of course. And Brownlee and Pickett had a few aces up their sleeves. Both had solid local reputations, for starters. Brownlee is a founding partner of the Phoenix-based real estate development firm, M3 Companies, which has been developing real estate communities for some 35 years, including Prescott Lakes, which is where he met and first worked with Pickett.
The latter, a landscape architect who started his own firm Greey|Pickett with partner Russell Greey in 1997, has worked on scores of golf courses in the western U.S., including those at Superstition Mountain, Vistanchia, Quintero.
He said, “I’d typically do master plans, routing the course into the master plan, and then they’d bring in the golf course architect to do the strategy.”
Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club
Together, Brownlee and Pickett went about it differently. “That’s because we’re involved with projects from soup to nuts,” said Pickett. “Day One to the last day of the deal.”
Persuasively enough for the Desert Mountain board, the pair also had proof of the pudding. They were not far removed from creating two courses at the Wickenburg Ranch Golf & Social Club a bit north, one large, one small, that had become known as Big Wick and Li’l Wick. When it opened in 2015 the regulation course quickly cracked Golf Digest’s “Top 10 Best New Golf Courses” list, and kept rising on various rating sites in subsequent years.
Li’l Wick was something else entirely, a nine-hole, par-27, no tee times routing where music streamed across the holes, a relaxed dress code was in effect (flip-flops?—no problem!), and an open air concept clubhouse/gathering space called The Watering Hole where it was always happy hour.
Brownlee and Pickett’s vision for No. 7 at Desert Mountain was basically Li’l Wick times two. Add in, said Brownlee, “A 6,800-square-foot clubhouse, a gastropub sports bar with 28 TV’s (plus or minus) collapsible walls of glass around the bar and dining area to allow for indoor/outdoor options, five fire pits, two additional fireplaces, two bocce ball courts, a private dining area for ten, outdoor seating for 120 and a putting course that combines with the 18th green, along with lighting on the course and streaming music. From one end of the bocce ball courts to the other end of putting course is about the length of a football field, so it’s an expansive outdoor experience.”
Pickett added, “Another thing is that at Desert Mountain there are already enough really fine restaurants that require a certain presence. Ours will be a lot more casual, a little louder, a lot more fun, giving everyone a chance to play games, be with their friends and extend their normal stay at the club. You might play some bocce, play some croquet, listen to some music. You might be there for two or three hours and never play golf. But you’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Seven at Desert Mountain
Well, the vision has come to be. The first nine of the new course opens to members on April 23, the back nine about a month later. There will be 18 all bentgrass holes playing over 3,000 yards to a par of 54, rated and sloped according to USGA specifications. Though holes six and ten stretch over 250 yards each, there are forward tees on most holes that will actually allow a player to putt from tee to green.
The members, says Desert Mountain PGA Director of Golf John Lyberger, “Are chomping at the bit. We’re also re-doing the Renegade course, so there’s quite a buzz on the Mountain.”
Lyberger didn’t stop there. And he’s been around, with an almost 30-year stint (20 as Director of Golf) at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, and three years at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida before moving west to the Desert Mountain position:
Seven at Desert Mountain
“The members could see that parcel of flat desert out there, unused. And they can’t believe the vision now—the rolling terrain, the creek that runs through it. It reminds me of what Tom Fazio and Steve Wynn did out at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. The first time Fazio saw that piece of desert he said a course there was unbuildable. But Steve urged him on, Fazio came up with a plan, they kept digging and eventually created that masterpiece out there.
“I think that’s what Wendell and Bill did. My analogy would be that they took a piece of desert and turned it into art.”
“The members could see that parcel of flat desert out there, unused. And they can’t believe the vision now—the rolling terrain, the creek that runs through it."
Rod Cullum said his custom home building firm held the record for a time for the highest-dollar home sold at Desert Mountain, but it’s since been eclipsed. The firm’s record at Desert Mountain? “We sold one for $8 million.”
He could try again. Cullum Homes will construct 33 of the higher-end new homes that will go into the Seven Desert Mountain site, starting at $1,995,000. There will be 190 homes in total, the others constructed by luxury builders Camelot Homes and Family Development. Two Camelot models were already under construction and Cullum was about to begin construction on a model in late March.
It should be a sight. Cullum said, “Because we do custom building and want to suggest all the ideas, we see happening at Desert Mountain we decided to build a model that includes what we call a four-car Ferrari basement. So you can have a lift down from your main garage to the show garage. In addition to where the cars are is an indoor golf center with a curved-screen full simulation training center as well as a theater, a large wet bar and a ping pong area. The basement will be larger than some of the other homes. And then we’re doing a detached two-bedroom casita as part of our model. All of which ends up being more than 9,500 square feet.”
Bill Brownlee said in planning Seven Desert Mountain, he and Wendell Pickett operated with three key criteria in mind: “Making the experience enjoyable and fun, beautiful and smart.”
Cullum, who is also a Desert Mountain member, thinks they’ve succeeded: “Seven is going to be in a class of its own. It should rejuvenate people who don’t want to take as long to play a round of golf, who want to have more fun. That’s what Wendell and Bill are all about, making golf more fun, a little less serious, and more accessible.”