We-Ko-Pa Golf Club (Saguaro Course)
Arizona, United States of America


Eleventh hole, 195 yards;
At the start of the project, Coore & Crenshaw appreciated that some visitors to this course might only play it once and be done. Of course, the hope was that the course would captivate and woo many a return round. How do you accomplish both objectives, make it fun for the first timer and yet withhold enough charms so as to entice repeat play?

Tee balls hit into the front of green are guaranteed to be killed by the upslope while balls hit long left enjoy friendly kicks toward the putting surface. The golfer learns this only through trial and error.

Tee balls hit into the front of green are guaranteed to be killed by the upslope while balls hit long left enjoy friendly kicks toward the putting surface. The golfer learns this only through trial and error.


Thirteenth hole, 455 yards;
Flat fairways require some added spice and as they did at the fourth, Coore & Crenshaw supplied it here with another central bunker. The green looks innocuous but bends right around the lone greenside bunker creating some fascinating hole locations/playing angles. Though pancake flat, the thirteenth enjoys golfing qualities the equal of any hole on the course.

Look left and right at the desert floor and you gain an appreciation of how Coore & Crenshaw placed the fairway at grade to the desert floor.

Look left and right at the desert floor and you gain an appreciation of how Coore & Crenshaw placed the fairway at grade to the desert floor.

Note the clean lines around and behind the thirteenth green. The golfer is afforded yet another impressive long view.

Note the clean lines around and behind the thirteenth green. The golfer is afforded yet another impressive long view.

 

See the rake? It is not misplaced but was positioned there to highlight the slight mound that Ben Crenshaw concocted.  The golfer can use this knob to kick his approach shot close to back right hole locations.

See the rake? It is not misplaced but was positioned there to highlight the slight mound that Ben Crenshaw concocted. The golfer can use this knob to kick his approach shot close to back right hole locations.


Fourteenth hole, 525 yards;
Coore’s fondness for Red Lawrence’s 1962 Desert Forest design is well known. Located thirty minutes to the north in Carefree, its seventh hole features a split fairway that has captivated golfers for four (!) decades. Still, Coore has been slow to employ such a design feature because it rarely works. Here is a first rate exception. The left fairway was always apparent to Coore as it wrapped around a pretty wash but he kept looking at the land to the right of the wash and noticed that it was on a direct line to the green site. The route right definitely shortened the hole and so Coore & Crenshaw decided to employ an alternate fairway. Was it a smart decision? As Coore says, ‘If it is used, then it works and it was a good idea.’ His subsequent visits to the course have demonstrated proof: Plenty of divots in both fairways, which means that it is working just fine.

The primary left fairway runs uninterrupted to the green while the alternate fairway on the right presents the most direct but more dangerous path home. Prevailing wisdom is to play left unless you have the length to reach this uphill green in two.

The primary left fairway runs uninterrupted to the green while the alternate fairway on the right presents the most direct but more dangerous path home. Prevailing wisdom is to play left unless you have the length to reach this uphill green in two.

The left fairway is wider but precludes reaching the green in two. The right fairway seen above offers the best angle into the green but …

The left fairway is wider but precludes reaching the green in two. The right fairway seen above offers the best angle into the green but …

… the golfer has to carry this impressive array of disaster to reach the elevated green which is open from the right.

… the golfer has to carry this impressive array of disaster to reach the elevated green which is open from the right.

As seen from behind, the long broad sweep of the left fairway is evident above. So too is the fact that the right fairway provides the most direct route from tee to green.

As seen from behind, the long broad sweep of the left fairway is evident above. So too is the fact that the right fairway provides the most direct route from tee to green.


Fifteenth hole, 235 yards;
Some holes are great and a precious few great holes are regal. This one possesses such nobility. Most courses have elements (houses, trees, lack of topographic interest, etc.) that diminish the sense of scale and drama that its holes might otherwise enjoy. No such impediment exists here and the golfer basks in the glory of the sight – and challenge – before him. In many ways, the fifteenth is the opposite of the ninth as it plays easier than it looks. As such, it fits nicely into Alister MacKenzie’s concept of making a hole appear tough but play easy so that golfers gain a sense of playing satisfaction.

What a view from the fifteenth tee! The Superstition Mountains loom 15 to 30 miles in the distance. A ‘normal’ size green of some 6,000 to 7,000 square foot would woefully undermine the majestic scale of this setting.

What a view from the fifteenth tee! The Superstition Mountains loom 15 to 30 miles in the distance. A ‘normal’ size green of some 6,000 to 7,000 square foot would woefully undermine the majestic scale of this setting.

Instead Coore & Crenshaw built a grand 15,000 square foot beauty, complimented by a comparable sized area of short grass to its right.

Instead Coore & Crenshaw built a grand 15,000 square foot beauty, complimented by a comparable sized area of short grass to its right.

 

This view from behind the green is surprising as it shows how the last ~75% of the putting surface actually falls away toward the rear.  Also note how the land right of the green (left as seen from behind) was massaged to feed balls onto the putting surface.

This view from behind the green is surprising as it shows how the last ~75% of the putting surface actually falls away toward the rear. Also note how the land right of the green (left as seen from behind) was massaged to feed balls onto the putting surface.


Sixteenth hole, 315 yards;
One reason to understand golf course architecture is to know when to thrust and when to parry. A glimpse at the scorecard might suggest a birdie here but one look at this elevated green by anyone familiar with Coore & Crenshaw’s work is enough to dampen such grand hopes. One often finds with their work that the shorter the hole, the more vigilant the golfer must be!

Staying down the right has its advantage as the left half of the fairway shunts tee balls even farther left …

Staying down the right has its advantage as the left half of the fairway shunts tee balls even farther left …

… leaving this unappealing pitch over a bunker to a putting surface that is out of sight.

… leaving this unappealing pitch over a bunker to a putting surface that is out of sight.

 

Seventeenth hole, 370 yards; The benefits of routing a hole cross drainage are rarely more evident than here. Bomb away if you wish but beware that a tee ball positioned in the 100 yard vicinity is likely to leave the golfer with an awkward, hanging downhill stance. Potentially worse, get it all the way to the bottom of the hill and enjoy a short flip to the green whose surface is now hidden from view. Though the landforms are less severe here, the golfer might be reminded of the tenth at Shinnecock Hills where golfers have debated for decades as to how best play the hole. Holes that are built up and down drainage generally play in a more straightforward manner and lack such conundrums.

A fine plateau is offered 100 to 130 yards from the green. Anything closer and the golfer is likely to suffer either an awkward downhill stance or a poor view of the flag or both.

A fine plateau is offered 100 to 130 yards from the green. Anything closer and the golfer is likely to suffer either an awkward downhill stance or a poor view of the flag or both.

Best perhaps to be content with this level 125 yard pitch for one's approach.

Best perhaps to be content with this level 125 yard pitch for one’s approach.

 

As demonstrated in this bunker to the right of the seventeenth fairway, coyotes are notoriously ill-mannered for raking behind themselves!

As demonstrated in this bunker to the right of the seventeenth fairway, coyotes are notoriously ill-mannered for raking behind themselves!


Eighteenth hole, 490 yards;
Having played only one par five on the back nine, the golfer making the short walk from the seventeenth green down to the tee expects that this is the second completing the classic 36-36 par 72 course. The only problem? This big sprawling hole is a par four and little sympathy is afforded the golfer who has a brief pity party for himself on the tee. Far from the dreary slog of many long two shot finishers, this hole is set over some of the most exhilarating golf land on the property. What a way to conclude the day: Carry the valley and the narliest bunker on the course to reach the distant fairway and find that an equally attractive approach shot awaits.

The playing angles on the Saguaro Course are excellent. Play boldly over …

The playing angles on the Saguaro Course are excellent. Play boldly over …

… the course’s deepest bunker replete with bur sage, stag thorn Cholla, and creosote and enjoy the perfect angle into the eighteenth green.

… the course’s deepest bunker replete with bur sage, stag thorn Cholla, and creosote and enjoy the perfect angle into the eighteenth green.

 

Shy safely to the right off the tee and face this long approach shot over a string of bunkers to a green set obliquely to the right side of the fairway.

Shy safely to the right off the tee and face this long approach shot over a string of bunkers to a green set obliquely to the right side of the fairway.

The contemporary Southwestern edifice left of the eighteenth green provides a clear sense as to region of the world within which We-Ko-Pa Golf Club is located.

The contemporary Southwestern edifice left of the eighteenth green provides a clear sense as to region of the world within which We-Ko-Pa Golf Club is located.

One benefit of giving Coore so much land is that it all but guarantees that there will be no mutts among his eighteen holes. Coore dreads a poor hole as he is convinced that a course is only as good as its weakest link. A stinker jammed into a corner of the property can undermine/overshadow the worth of the other seventeen holes in his eyes. The Saguaro Course at We-Ko-Pa has no such weak links. Some holes are more equal than others as with all courses but all the holes across this spacious property have something to offer.

Doing his best imitation of the modest Harry Colt, Bill Coore says, “We try to build good golf courses, and this is one of them.” That’s an interesting comment coming from a principal behind the world class designs like Sand Hills, Friar’s Head, Bandon Trails, Old Sandwich, Lost Farms, and Shanqin Bay. Where the Saguaro Course fits within this impressive book of business is hard to say. After all, playing golf in Arizona on fields of irrigated turf abutting the gnarly desert under bright blue skies will never be confused with golf on firm fescue grasses next to the sea and its capricious winds. It’s just different and that helps make golf the best of all sports. If the essence of the Saguaro Course – a walk in the beautiful Sonoran desert unmarred by man-made structures on a spacious Coore & Crenshaw course full of strategy – doesn’t sound compelling,  a different pastime may be in order. To take this course for granted as ‘just’ another in a long line of great courses is to both under appreciate and devalue what was accomplished here.

The End