The final stop on my quick Arizona trip last week was at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club in Fort McDowell. Like Troon North on my first day, this would represent another top-rated bucket list course for me.
On any “best in state” list, you can find We-Ko-Pa’s Saguaro Course at or near the very top. The other course, Cholla, is rarely too far behind, but I didn’t have time to play that one this time. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon enough to check it out. From the little I saw of it while there, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it plenty.
Since I was only able to choose one Friday, I eagerly chose Saguaro and I arranged for a 12:00 tee time. The place was super busy and I took advantage of the great practice facilities before heading up to the first tee. I was paired with another single and a twosome—oddly enough all from Missouri (the single from KC and the twosome from St. Louis). We had a lot of fun out there. We teed off a few minutes late and waited on most tees as there was a big group in front of us playing a tad slow. The weather was beautiful, though, so we didn’t mind taking our time and enjoying such a wonderful course.
The first thing that strikes you about We-Ko-Pa is how remote it feels. It’s not really that far outside Scottsdale, but it’s definitely a world unto itself with very little civilization around. There is a resort/casino you pass as you head to the golf club, but there are no houses around the course and you are treated to 360-degree desert views throughout. The landscape is peppered with a ton of iconic saguaro cacti along with lots of other native desert trees/brush, so the course name is well-earned.
The Saguaro Course at We-Ko-Pa was designed by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and that usually means very good things. They excel at using the natural landscape to shape a course design, letting the terrain dictate the layout while maintaining an organic feel. That’s exactly what you get here on the Saguaro Course.
For the most part, the layout is relatively open off the tees. There are some forced carries and some hills/doglegs in play to make you work for a good shot, but overall I didn’t have too much trouble finding fairways. There are a handful of few semi-blind uphill tee shots, and most of them were into the wind for us Friday. So that ramped up the challenge a bit. As you near the greens, things get more interesting with strategic bunkering and large green complexes with good undulation.
The native desert areas will come into play a lot on wayward shots and I felt the back nine tightens up more than the front. Easily the hole that will stand out in my mind is the par-5 14th hole, which features a split fairway and a rocky creek bed winding its way up the middle for the entire length of the hole. Longer hitters may opt to go to the right fairway to have a better angle for going for it in two. Conservative players will take the longer left way around. However, if you are laying up on your second shot, it does get rather tight in the landing area and everything slopes toward the ditch. This is a hole you really have to think your way through and execute good shots.
That hole is followed by the signature par-3 hole. The 15th is a long one (255 yards from the tips), but it plays downhill and offers a great view of the valley. Overall, the back nine brings you around to some of the higher points on the course and the views are awesome.
The conditions were also great. The tee boxes and fairways were excellent, providing ample roll-out and ideal lies to hit from. The guys from Missouri seemed extra impressed by such quality turf that they obviously don’t get back home (especially this time of year). The rough was shaved down and semi-dormant, so it doesn’t frame the fairways quite as nice aesthetically as when it’s completely dormant or fully overseeded. The only real issue I had with it was that it did nothing to stop your ball from rolling into trouble (bunkers or native desert areas). The fairways here tend to fall off on the sides and the natural slopes pull you toward trouble, so you have to be extra careful when there’s no rough to slow you down.
The bunkers were great and the greens were the nicest of the trip. They were firm, fast and pure. You really want to be below the hole here when you can because downhill putts are very slippery. We had more than one trickle off the green when there was a steep false front in play.
I’m glad to have finally played at We-Ko-Pa and it’s easy to understand why Saguaro is so highly rated. This is a fantastic course, excellent facility and gorgeous desert setting. I can’t wait to get back and play the Cholla Course someday to complete the circuit.
Some pictures from We-Ko-Pa Golf Club (Saguaro) (3/29/19):
(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)