Home » Course Review

At We-Ko-Pa Golf Club near Scottsdale, the Cholla and Saguaro Courses battle for bragging rights

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club - Cholla Course - 8th
View large image
| More photos
No. 8 on We-Ko-Pa Golf Club's Cholla Course offers a great mountain view. (Courtesy of We-Ko-Pa G.C.)

FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. -- We-Ko-Pa Golf Club might just be the ultimate example of what one golfer likes; another golfer might have a different opinion.

Don't get me wrong, both 18s at the complex have scored awards from every publication that gives awards, but which one is best -- Cholla Course or Saguaro Course -- is typically split 50 percent.

"One golfer will tell me he likes Cholla best, and the next golfer will tell me he likes Saguaro better," said Matt Barr, general manager.

The winner is the travel golfer and the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, which was created on Sept. 15, 1903. The "white" man probably thought back then this 40-square-mile reservation was without value -- a desert, rocky landscape.

But when the Cholla opened on Dec. 14, 2001, the last laugh was heard by the Yavapais, an American Indian nation of about 900. Needless to say, the excellence of the We-Ko-Pa golf courses, financed by the Fort McDowell Casino, is a source of great pride among tribe members.

Today, golfers love the place, saying Golf Course Architect Scott Miller has created a target-golf course that is mentioned in the same conversations with upscale daily-fee desert award-winners such as Troon North, The Boulders, Grayhawk Golf Course, Legend Trail Golf Club, Talking Stick Golf Club, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, the Golf Club at Dove Mountain and semi-private Quintero Golf Club.

But just to solidify its ranking as one of the best golf complexes in Arizona, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore added the Saguaro 18 in 2006.

The We-Ko-Pa Golf Club experience

"Travel golfers love that there are no houses to be seen," Barr said. "It can be tranquil and serene. And golfers enjoy that the courses are designed by two different architect firms. You can play all day long and get so much variety."

The scenery is as good as it gets in Arizona. Views include the Verde River, McDowell Mountains, Red Mountain, Superstitions, Matazal Mountains and Four Peaks (We-Ko-Pa in Yavapai) rises 7,000 feet in elevation.

"Lots of people think we are way out in the middle of nowhere," Barr said. But the 25-mile drive from Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport is worth the ride just for the rolling scenery of the Sonoran Desert.

The Saguaro Course at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club

Saguaro has more traditional features than Cholla.

"Tees are closer to greens, the fairways are wider and the rough creeps into the desert," said Barr. "Also the bunker fringes have more ragged edges."

Ben Crenshaw said the Saguaro Course sits on land that "has some very interesting natural movement to it."

"I think this golf course is unique for the desert," Crenshaw said. "Golfers are induced to play different shots and find solutions to new challenges when playing this course."

This routing allowed for a blend of short and long par-4 holes with less than 25,000 cubic yards of material moved. That created 68 acres of turf that plays 6,996 yards at par 71 from the back tees. The prevailing southwest wind creates many crosswind situations.

Coore and Crenshaw have always debated the use of alternate fairway holes, but Coore thought about Red Lawrence's 1962 Desert Forest design, 30 miles north in Carefree, when they laid out no. 14, which has an alternate smaller fairway right. This 538-yard par 5 allows you to hit to a left fairway, which is safer, but if you negotiate the smaller right fairway, it gives you a shorter approach with a better angle. The course is all about attack angles.

The Cholla Course at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club

Scottsdale-based Scott Miller, a protege of Jack Nicklaus for more than a decade, created the Cholla Course, a challenging 7,225-yard par 72 from the back tees that transitions smoothly into larger target landing areas from all tees.

Small amounts of dirt were moved in construction, meaning the holes blend with the natural landscape. Miller was an artist by situating greens into natural draws or arroyos and box canyons, then framing them with sculpted bunkers, waste areas, centuries-old saguaros and rock outcroppings.

And talk about an economy of bunkers -- there's only 75 of them, and holes 1, 2, 8 and 13 don't have any green-side traps. Approach shots on 13-18 have zero bunkers in front creating an opening to run your Pro V1 up with a pitch or the Texas wedge.

Cholla's eighth hole -- a 587-yard par 5 -- is a dowhill dogleg that runs along a box canyon. In front of the green, the landing area seems tiny with an arroyo waste area left and a pint-sized piece of fairway sloping down to the putting surface. If you lay up back from this section of the fairway, you are on a severe downslope. This could be the most photographed hole.

We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center

We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center features 246 contemporary guestrooms and suites designed with American Indian traditions. Amenities include Southwestern cuisine at Ahnala Restaurant, spa treatments and salon services at the Amethyst Spa and a huge, heated, outdoor pool with two whirlpools. Fort McDowell Casino, right next door, is for gaming, and there are numerous outdoor activities at Fort McDowell Adventures.

Check out the 36-Hole Package that includes green fee, golf cart, practice balls prior to play and two rounds to be played within 72 hours of each other.

More photos

We-Ko-Pa Golf Club - Saguaro Course - 8thWe-Ko-Pa Golf Club - Cholla Course - 7thWe-Ko-Pa Golf Club - Saguaro Course - 18th

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • WeKoPa

    TK wrote on: Apr 24, 2015

    Thanks for the article David.
    I have played both courses @ WKP many times and it never ceases to amaze me how awesome these courses are. They are always in immaculate condition, the scenery is hauntingly beautiful (no houses anywhere)and the staff is friendly as well.
    Though from Oklahoma, WKP and Talking Stick North are always on my To Play List whenever I'm in AZ.


  • Awesome

    Jake wrote on: Feb 17, 2015

    Love these courses. Excellent story. Can't decide which course I like better, but probably the Cholla. Thanks for reminding me what a hard choice it is.