We-Ko-Pa GC, Fort McDowell. Cholla Course by Scott Miller, 2001.

We-Ko-Pa is really the premier public golf facility in Arizona, with two excellent but unique courses on good land with no housing. Cholla is the original course and in the desert target style and it has a bunch of standout holes, like the actually driveable 15th, the naturally tumbling 17th, and the uphill 7th, where a desert island and greenside bunkers present options.

I like a good centerline hazard, and the one on #7 is well deployed, but they are frankly overdone here—a recent renovation eliminated one of two desert islands in the 10th fairway and still the course feels like it overuses the feature. But my main quibble is the same that I have for every target desert golf course, which is that they beat up the average player, everyone goes through sleeves of balls, and the pace of play is glacial.

The Cholla course actually has some really nice wide fairway holes, especially on the back nine. But the start is brutally hard—the 2nd is a snaking par 5 uphill through a small desert valley; it’s a very difficult hole with severe trouble on all sides on every shot. That’s followed by a par 3 over the desert to a wonderful green site which is difficult to get a cart near, and a blind drive over a ridge at the 4th. This trio of holes backs up play from the start of the day. The 8th looks outstanding on all the resort’s publicity materials, but it’s an astonishingly difficult par 5—play your first two shots perfectly and you’re still likely looking at a shot of 140 yards or more from an uneven lie to a small green with a desert wash left and deep bunkers to the right. Such are the realities for most desert golf courses.

That said, this is a beautiful course and while the shots are difficult, most of the holes feel like they are a part of the land and that’s probably why everyone finishes the course with a smile, even if their bag is nearly empty of balls.

Arizona 1st Decile [2017]


We-Ko-Pa GC. Saguaro Course by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, 2006.

The 2nd is short but the tilt of the green is diabolical

On the other hand, for all the limitations that desert golf presents, there’s this course that shows how much a course in the desert can succeed without resorting to all the typical desert tropes. There’s a wash that crosses the 1st fairway and it’s the last forced carry you make on the course, excepting those from the tee (and even those are almost all very short). Here’s a course with width, no built-up greens, and restrained bunkering. What’s fantastic about that combination is that the course is much more playable than a target style course, but not necessarily any easier for the good player, as angles and green contours combine to make the course as challenging as any to score on.

It is certainly still possible to find the desert here; no course is wide enough to contain the worst shots. But many holes encourage a thinking player to challenge a desert line for an easier angle on the next shot. Perhaps no hole does this better or more subtly than the 13th, which may be my favorite hole in Arizona; but plenty of other holes ask the player to choose between a risky line and the safety of a wide fairway, with varying results for the next shot. Take the 2nd, a nearly driveable hole where the tilt of the green demands precision and decision-making all the way back to the tee. You can play to the safe left side, either long or short of the bunker there, but your next shot is to a green running steeply away from you. I once drove it pin high in the fairway left of the green … and had to play my third shot from the bunker right of the green. You’d like to approach the green from the right side, but that’s a much more demanding tee shot with a carry bunker to factor in and slope that will suck any slice into the desert.

The course features several short par 4s, but also a couple beasts that easily could have been called a 5 on the card (I’m looking at you 12 and 18) and a completely unreachable par 5 (the 4th). The par 3s range from 137 yards to 255 yards (and I’m not sure which green is tougher to hit). There’s no desert course quite like this—even Talking Stick has a totally different feel, because that course is essentially flat, while the Saguaro course traverses a series of hills and valleys. And, in the end, that it has no peers is the only thing about this place that is a shame.

Arizona 1st Decile [2018]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s