We-Ko-Pa Golf Club: The Saguaro CourseBy Jay Reynolds • Aug 17th, 2009
I’ve heard people say that desert golf can get monotonous. That it can be just much of the same from course to course. Too many cacti, too many bunkers, too many man made lakes. I have to say I can’t disprove these certain dislikes, however I can offer solutions. The Saguaro Course at We-Ko-Pa will be unlike any you’ve played that fit the desert variety.
Designed by renowned architect Bill Coore and two-time Masters Champ Ben Crenshaw, the Saguaro Course opened in December of 2006 and has quickly garnered much deserved national attention. I’d be surprised if you haven’t at least heard of We-Ko-Pa Golf Club by now, as it’s name has been included in numerous “Best Courses” lists, including being named #1 Public Access Course in Arizona by GOLFWEEK Magazine.
But don’t take their word on it, take mine.
With the gentle rolling terrain, no paved cart paths and a layout that gives the option to walk comfortably there is not much to complain about for starters. The course features a number of washes and dry creek beds and there isn’t a true water hazard in play on the course, so you can leave your snorkel at home. Do bring plenty of balls though, as there are plenty of opportunities for stray shots to become permanent additions to the desert landscape.
Coore and Crenshaw pride themselves on creating playable courses that provide something for every type of player. Their courses don’t typically favor one style of golf shot, and frequently at Saguaro you will find several ways to attack, or defend par.
“This piece of land has some very interesting natural movement to it,” Crenshaw said on wekopa.com when the course first opened. “I think this golf course will be pretty unique for the desert. People will be induced to play different shots and find solutions to new challenges when playing this course.”
You don’t have to get far from the clubhouse to see what he is talking about.
The first tee shot is harmless enough, a wide fairway with a smallish half-hidden bunker lurking on the right side. You can’t imagine that the 469-yard par 4 would be anything but a driver off the box, but upon further examination you notice the subtlety in the challenge.
The fairway has a rightward pitch to it and it also runs slightly away from the tee, which helps add some length to the tee shot. While you can’t imagine not hitting the fairway because it looks so wide standing on the tee, if you hit a driver and the fairways are relatively firm, it must be kept up the left side or even a well-struck drive can find its way into the edge of the desert on the right side. I can attest that I now know to just go ahead and get a 3-wood in play on this hole, regardless of the snickering of my playing partners and the longer club for my approach. A par here is a great way to start.
Looking at the scorecard before teeing off you might immediately notice the 631-yard par-5 4th. Numbers that big are typically left for the major championships of golf, not your friendly golf course. And while most of you will not likely play the tips, I can say that it’s one of the best long par 5’s in the Valley.
The tee shot actually plays slight uphill as the fairway sits slightly elevated from the tee. But the fairway doesn’t slope uphill so actually the raised surface will add some roll to the ball that carries to the top of the slope. The shallower angle of decent will provide some healthy rollout and leave a scenic second down to the green. The lay up area is guarded by a large, mostly-hidden bunker, down the left side, but a large slab of fairway to the right. There’s no reason to challenge the left side unless you are trying to give the green a go in two.
Go for the green in two? You just read that and probably chuckled at the idea of reaching a 631-yard hole in two pokes, but truthfully, it is reachable for the long hitters. The second plays sharply downhill and it’s possible to get a fairway wood to roll a good 50-plus yards after it lands.
The green is relatively small and well bunkered, and despite the length on the card, this is a wonderful birdie chance.
Coore and Crenshaw love par 3’s. The collection at the Saguaro Course is certain to be memorable.
My favorite of the short holes happens to be the most modest in yardage. At 137-yards, the 9th hole offers great chance for a front-nine-closing birdie, but can also leave a dent in your scorecard if you’re not careful.
The halfway house sits just beyond the green, which is slightly elevated from the tee. The front portion pinches in sharply, with deep bunkers guarding both sides. If the pin is cut up front, be weary and don’t hesitate to play beyond the pin to the middle of the green.
The back half of the green is separated by a diagonal ridge that initiates the widening to the back and right. This offers another tough pin location, especially if the prevailing wind blows to the left. I have found in my experience that visually most players tend to air left, which looks to be the safer side. You would hope that with just a short iron you could be aggressive, but I admit to scrambling mightily to save par or many occasions.
While the Saguaro Course reaches a tipped out total of 6912 yards and a par of 71, it plays much longer. With four par-4’s under 340 yards, you will have several wedges and short irons in your hands, but each of those provides heavily sloped and guarded greens that can make birdies a tough task even for the expert player.
The finesse required to take advantage of the short holes is equal to the power needed to tame the long ones. While the short-ish par 4’s mask the overall length of the course, holes 12 thru 15 will certainly remind you of it.
This meat of the back nine is without question the toughest stretch of holes on the Saguaro Course. The 12th and 13th are long par 4’s, reaching 476 and 470 respectively. Even the longest hitters will be coming into these greens with middle and long irons, bogeys will be tough to avoid, especially on a windy day.
I would tab the 538-yard par 5 14th as the most unique on the course. Featuring a split fairway and a heavily grown-in wash in between, you have to make a decision, play safe down the left side and play this hole in three shots, or take a gamble and challenge the slimmer right side. While it takes length off of the second shot, the right side is most certainly a bold play. I have found myself in all sorts of trouble on this hole and have made scores ranging from birdie to double bogey.
I would recommend the conservative play down the left side for the average player, leaving a sensible yardage to reach the lay-up area, leaving an uphill wedge or short iron to the sharply sloped green.
The green sits high above the fairway and features a dangerous false front that can careen a ball from on the green all the way down some ten or 15 yards away. The back portion of the green is pinched in, with a deep bunker left and several smaller bunkers to the right.
To get an approach close to the pin here, you must gauge the distance and spin perfectly. Too much spin and you can find yourself with the delicate 15-yard pitch from short, or too little and you could have a ticklish putt down a ridge.
Whatever score you make on the 14th, you will need to have a short memory and get focused on the 15th tee. You might think this is another short par-4 at 255 yards, but the par reads “3” on the card.
The 15th green sits far below the tee and plays about two clubs downhill. Coore and Crenshaw offer the opportunity to play a shot out to the right and have the natural slope of the terrain bring the ball down onto the green. So while the yardage might be intimidating, finding the green here is easier than you think.
While the 16th and 17th are much shorter holes, you still have one major test before you get to go enjoy lunch and a cold drink at the We-Ko-Pa Grill.
Stretching 508 yards, this par-4 might have the most difficult tee shot to navigate. While the fairway is relatively wide, much like the first hole, the right side slopes gently away. Finding the fairway is a must if you want to have any chance of reaching this heavily guarded green in regulation.
Many of our countries greatest courses feature memorable gut-wrenching closing holes, and this is certainly one to remember. This is the kind of hole that if you manage a birdie (or even a par!) you will not forget it. In time I think this hole will go down as one of Coore and Crenshaw’s greatest offerings.
Go see for yourself why the Saguaro Course has received so many accolades! Call Phoenix Scottsdale Golf at 1-866-218-6941 to reserve We-Ko-Pa for your next course on your Arizona Golf Vacation.