We-Ko-Pa Review Part 1 — Saguaro, which is a word that took me so long to learn how to spell.
The Phoenix area has plenty of 36 hole resort courses — Troon North, Greyhawk, Talking Stick, and in this case We-Ko-Pa. And if you’re in the area looking to pick one to spend a 36 hole day at, I can’t totally suggest which one to make tee times at, but playing a full day at We-Ko-Pa will never be a bad choice.
Story time From the Morning
From the AirBnb we were staying at in this baller little community in Phoenix with sweet looking one-story houses and tons of palm trees, we had about a 40 minute drive to the course. Now here’s some advice when you’re deciding which tee time to make. If you have the option of 7:40 or 8:50 tee time, you gotta pick 7:40. Biggest help of the day is that we didn’t have any traffic to the course which definitely would have been an issue for the 8:50. And if you’re playing 36 holes in one day, early tee times give you more time between rounds and also make sure that your first rounds cruises since you won’t have too many groups in front of you. (Also, if you’re playing golf in the morning, make sure to stop at a Dunkin and get a sausage-egg-and-cheese-on-a-sesame-bagel and medium iced coffee with cream and sugar. Perfect breakfast in my opinion.)
I got to the clubhouse at 7, paid, looked at all the apparel they have there with the We-Ko-Pa logo, and walked out to my cart to find my bag already loaded. Time to note one of the best things about We-Ko-Pa: they have so many carts that they don’t care if a group is using three carts by themselves. Granted, golfers are usually so nice that getting paired with randos isn’t a big deal if you have to share a cart, but it usually takes a little while to become friends with playing partners, which means sitting quiet and awkwardly at 7:30 in the morning isn’t completely ideal. Oh also, you’re not required to bring the cart back after your first round, which worked out perfectly because the We-Ko-Pa carts are charged enough so they won’t run out of energy when playing the entire 36 holes.
At 7:10 I drove up to the driving range which is a giant field with two levels of tee areas, really good grass, and pyramids of golf balls. Grass was in excellent condition and the range has a great feeling not only for warming up, but it also an ideal practice range. Considering I’d been hitting the ball like trash the past week (and past month really), I decided to just hit as many balls as I could before the round rather than hit a few putts to figure out the speed. This was the best decision ever for me considering I finally, finally figured out some swing thoughts and was hitting the ball way better than before. Remember people… keep your head down with your eyes looking straight at the ball, and stay in posture as much as you can, then you’ll hit it great. With that said, hitting putts beforehand is probably something I also needed to do considering I had four 3-putts that first round and thought of a GOTM Tip of the Day.
While I was striping the range balls for 10 minutes, a ranger called my name and asked if I wanted to tee off at the 7:20 tee time with the players who were already on the first tee of the Saguaro course. Since I didn’t know who I was supposed to play with for either tee time, I said screw it and was off to the first tee.
One thing to mention here is the length of time I take before I write these course reviews. In this case, I played at We-Ko-Pa about 3 weeks ago and I definitely wasn’t willing to write this review right away, even though I did have opinions about the course on the drive back to the AirBnB. When you do anything, such as playing a new course, going to a store to buy new clothes, thinking about changing to a new job, listening to new music artists, you’ll right away have a first impression either positive or negative. Over time, your reactions can change and there’s nothing wrong with that. Stop here before you keep reading and try to think of something that you’ve started in the past and initially loved doing, but you began to view more negatively over time. Now think of something you weren’t a fan of initially, but then became a favorite of yours. Talking about your early opinions happens so much that you need to label those as initial opinions so people know those can change.
A great example of this type of modeling for reviews is YouTube user BIGQUINT who has tons of entertaining videos about his opinions of rap / hip hop albums with over two hundred thousand subscribers. If you want some examples, check out his review of Frank Ocean’s Blond(e) (I’m a huge fan of the album). The first three quarters of that video is his initial reaction to all the songs on the album with him dancing and talking about the difference between songs. During the last quarter of that video, he talks about his full reaction after listening to the album “25 to 50 times.” Another one of his great reaction videos that’s a few days old is about Kendrick’s new album DAMN. (I’m a big fan of that album too). Considering Kendrick’s album had so much hype that BIGQUINT felt the need to post a video about his initial reaction right away, he’s splitting up his initial reaction video with another one coming for his full reaction. First reactions exist, but those can change over time. Another example of the mindset is from this New Yorker article about the NYT restaurant critic, who mentions how he goes to all the places at least three times before being able to write the review.
On my end, these reviews that I’m writing here are somewhere in the middle — I’ve only been able to play the courses once, (they’re in different parts of the US, somewhat expensive, and need to make sure to make tee times in multiple days), but I also take my time before writing about them so I have full thoughts and am not just talking about an initial reaction. Sometimes when I’m writing, I even imagine I’m out there on the same holes again, this time hitting perfect shots. My initial reactions count, but these articles are my full reaction.
Allll that being said, my opinions of the Saguaro course at We-Ko-Pa are exactly the same as I had the day I played out there. So sometimes opinions don’t change. Time for the full reaction on Saguaro!
Saguaro is a tournament style course, full of mini-doglegs that require thoughts about what to hit and where to aim off the tee, and full of changes in fairway and green style depending on how long the hole is. These types of designs constantly require correct planning and shot selection, which is ideal for tournaments and adds thought to a round of golf that you won’t usually find on other courses.
As I mentioned just above, one of the first things you’ll find on tournament courses are something I’ll call mini-doglegs. Overall, doglegs come in two styles. The first is the ‘standard’ dogleg which you’ll often find on tree lined courses, especially up north. Hit your drive dead straight with whatever club makes you stay just short of the end of the fairway, and then hit your second shot something like 60 to 80 or even 90 degrees to the right or left. Famous examples of holes like that are number 11 at Augusta National (drivers straight since it takes a lot of driving distance to fade it around the corner), 18 at Augusta National as well, number 1 at Brown Deer (course I play all the time), 15 at TPC Sawgrass, 8 at Erin Hills (check out the US Open there this year, though there is a slight possibility for hitting drives over the hill, but keeping it in the fairway that direction is very tough).
‘Mini-doglegs’ are holes that switch directions in around 30 to 50 degrees. What this means is there are tons of options off the tee, and you have to think about what club to hit and where exactly to aim with a club that goes that distance. Options, decision, thinking all come into play with these types of holes, much more so than with a traditional dogleg. Examples here, besides a ton of holes on the Saguaro course you’ll see pictures of, are number 3 at Shoreacres in Chicago area, 18 at TPC Sawgrass (players choose how much water to hit their drive over), and the insanely beautiful 17th hole at Cypress Point.
There are so many of these types of mini-doglegs at the Saguaro course starting with the first hole. I wasn’t able to take a picture of the tee shot on number 1 because the other guys had teed off already and I wasn’t exactly sure what they would think of a guy who just takes a ton of pictures of a course, so the first one here is the approach shot on the dogleg left. And if you’re looking to know what the tee shot looked like, I’m gonna post a bunch of other shots on that course that look similar.
Speaking of those similar holes, check out the tee shot of the flat third hole, another dog leg left with a medium wide fairway.
And here look at the approach shot where everyone in our group hit the fairway in such a similar spot that we needed to check which ball was whose. If you’re not paying attention to my descriptions, you can probably think that this picture and the picture above is of the same hole.
On both of these, I hit 3 wood off the tee so I didn’t have to carry too much of the desert. If I had hit drivers, I’d’ve needed to really cut off some of the dogleg and then it’s guessing the type of shot (draw or fade). Tough to do all round if you don’t hit your drivers consistent, and especially challenging at the start of the rounds when you’re not exactly warmed up.
There are some courses that are just made for ripping drivers. Trinity Forest was like that with plenty of straight holes (mostly because the course’s slightly small rectangular footprint means that doglegs are tough to build because they would take up more of the land). But Saguaro is absolutely the type where you need to decide what club to hit off the tee and where to aim.
Moving on! And moving on to talk about a different tournament course feature.
Short holes mean tight fairways and small sloping greens. Long holes means wide open with giant flat greens
Remember how much I talked about the size difference of the fairway sizes between the Red, Coore-Crenshaw designed course and the Blue, Tom Doak designed course at Streamsong? It’s like Saguaro’s fairways are nicely in the middle. You still have to hit fairways if you don’t want to lose a ball in the desert, but there’s enough room where it usually takes a very badly hit shot to be toast.
Let’s check out the 4th hole. It’s a 631 yard par 5 where the fairway for the tee shot is on a giant, giant flat piece of land where you can just hammer a driver as hard as you can. In the pic below, the fairway is shown on the left side and there’s even more room to the right of those shrubs. Did I mention the fairway is huge? Like it takes a ton of effort to miss the fairway here.
From the tee, I didn’t realize how much room there actually was on the left side of the fairway so I hit a little cut from the middle of the fairway just into the right “rough”, pic below. You can see down below the hill near the green is also a fairway that’s wider than most holes in the desert.
I wasn’t able to hit the hole in two even with the downhillness here, but I ripped driver and 3 wood and wasn’t worried about losing a ball. Long hole, wide fairway, and a 40 yard pitch to the hole.
Moving onto the next par 5, the 8th hole. I posted the tee shot on our instagram account.
The hole is 515 yards, and doing some math shows it’s 115 less than the 4th hole. A crap ton less, making it definitely reachable. But the real difference between #4 and #8 is how tight the fairway on #8 is. Look at that pic! The fairway is much tinier, with just barely any room on the right side, and also has a giant bunker on the left that makes it impossible to get to the green despite the bunker being about 210 yards to the center of the tiny green. How do I know that? Because I hit my drive in that bunker I had to lay up with 52 degree wedge which left me with only 105 yards to the pin. From there, I hit the ball on the back edge of the front part of the green (since my wedge game at the start of the year has been trash) and left myself with such a super downhill putt that I had to make a 5 footer back up the hill to save par. Incredible difference in par 5s.
Now it’s time to look at the difference between the 4th and 8th holes again. Number 4 is long and wide with giant flat-ish green. Number 8 is short and narrow with a small and slopey green. See the difference? That’s a tournament course, and that’s what you’ll see at Saguaro.
Back to mini-doglegs. Check out a picture of the 10th hole here. A shortish mini-dogleg par 4 at 337 yards is another perfect example of this type of hole. You’re either hitting an iron straight into the wider part of the fairway, or 3-wood / driver to the narrower safe area where you need to know how far you hit those clubs and make sure your aiming point matches that distance. Considering I can hit these great fades with my driver, I ripped one here up to 15 yards short of the hole but couldn’t get up and down because my pitching game sucked then and the pin was on a back ledge where going long meant an impossible up and down from a lower bunker. Speaking of tough greens, number 10 here is another short hole with a tiny, slopey green with falloffs on each side and the back of the green requiring you to stuff it to make birdie.
Moving on, check out the look of the drive on 13 here, which is exactly another mini-dogleg, except this time a mini-dogleg left.
I’ll give 14 a shoutout here now, because after all the standard holes you’ll see on Saguaro, 14 is a different funky hole which would fit right in with the Cholla course. Now I’m not trying to say that it’s a bad hole on the Saguaro course because it still fit in.
It actually very much reminds me of a Tom Fazio designed hole. On one of the Fazio courses at World Woods and the Fazio Wanamaker course at PGA National, there are holes on each course that have multiple greens. The hole at Saguaro has multiple fairways to get to the greens, and I’m considering multiple anything as being similar to each other.
A famous hole like this is the 8th hole at Riviera CC where one fairway is safer / larger and leaves you with a longer shot into the green, while the other fairway is somewhat like an island, narrower, but more direct to the green meaning that you’ll have a shorter shot in.
In this case though, just hit it to the left / safe fairway. Sure the left fairway means you’ll have a longer shot in to the green, but right island fairway is tight enough that being 20 yards closer to the green isn’t worth the more difficult drive. And like my drivers in general, it’s a hammered butter cutter that I landed on the right side of the left fairway and was about 330 yards from the tee. I had around 210 yards into the green and hit a 5 iron just right and finally was able to get up and down for birdie.
Another quick note about 15 – it’s a shortish reachable par 5 with a funky small green. Pretty sure I’ve mentioned holes like that before.
Speaking of another hole that fits the type of long and difficult with a big flat green, check out the tee shot on the 255 yard par 3 15th hole.
The green was so huge that I actually took a picture of the green from the side. There’s a bunch of room if you miss the green to the right, and the green is so large that I couldn’t even get a picture with my phone horizontally that shows both the front and back parts of a green. And also note how flat it is.
Time for 16, another mini-dogleg right at 328 yards with a small funky green.
Finally, I’ll move on to 18, a 504 yard par 4 that ignores the Coore-Crenshaw / tournament course “rule” that long holes have open fairways and simple greens. Check out the approach shot that shows the small slopey green – you really have got to stuff it if you want a birdie, and while there is some room to the left, up and downs are decently difficult.
Even though it’s slightly against the general rule, having a tough 18th hole is another commonality for tournament courses. Think back on all the PGA Tour events and you’ll know what I’m talking about. 18 at Whistling Straights, 18 at Quail Hollow which usually hosts the Wells Fargo but has the PGA Championship this year, 18 at TPC Sawgrass too.
Final thoughts … For now
Since this review is only about Saguaro, I’ll only talk about Saugaro and save the full We-Ko-Pa thoughts for the review of Cholla that’s coming soon.
I mentioned that my opinion during my round and on the drive home (where I talked about the course to my mom and sister who are non-golfers but still listened very nicely to my opinions) is the same as my thoughts more than a month after playing. This type of course is ideal for tournament play. It makes the distribution of scores very large. If you’re hitting the ball well and thinking correctly, you can definitely shoot low scores. But thought and swing mistakes make it tough to make pars. That’s what you’ll want to see at a tournament.
As for playing this tournament type of course full time, I’m a little iffy on it. It’s definitely great practice so you know mentally how to think during competition, but having many of exactly the same type of holes can make a course become boring. It obviously wasn’t boring at all when I played Saguaro, but I’m not sure how I’d feel playing it every single day.
With everything being said, Saugaro absolutely is a fantastic course. I’ve been able to play tournaments at tournament style courses, and Saguaro wins the award for consistency of holes. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is noticeable. When I played, my mind shifted from playing golf just for fun and the warm weather right into imagining myself being in competition. Definitely a great mindset to change things up.