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Desert Golf at We-Ko-Pa 

By Wes Bolyard

The greater Phoenix, Arizona area is fortunate to have an abundance of exciting golf courses.  What’s even better are two courses where you don’t have to leave the “play-ground” to have an entire day of fun with pure desert golf.  The We-Ko-Pa Golf Club courses are similar yet present their own set of challenges and rewards for good golf shots.  In Golfweek’s 2024 listing of the top 25 public courses in Arizona, Saguaro is ranked as the number 1 course and Cholla as number 6.  Now that says a great deal about the quality of the two courses!

We-Ko-Pa is located about 20 minutes from the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport just east of Fountain Hills on the ancestral grounds of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.  Cholla opened in 2001 and Saguaro opened in 2006, both on land that will never be used for residential development.  Wide open vistas allow you to look in any direction and see mountains: Four Peaks to the east, the McDowells to the west, Red Mountain and the Superstitions to the south, and Mazatzals to the north.  To the west over the foothills, you can see one of the world’s tallest fountains spraying up to 560 feet on the hour every hour for 15 minutes. The resort is appropriately named as We-Ko-Pa has a special meaning in the Yavapai language, “Four Peaks”, the prominent mountain to the east.

Matt Barr, PGA General Manager of both golf courses, says about Cholla: “This is what you more typically think of when you hear desert golf course, pod to pod, turf to turf with some forced carries over the desert terrain, (arroyos and vegetation) and this course was highly recognized from the beginning.  Based on the success of Cholla, the Tribal Council decided to build a second course five years later. Saguaro is a Coore and Crenshaw design which is currently rated #1 in the state by Golfweek Magazine fifteen of the last sixteen years, which is something we are really proud of.”

The Cholla course, a Scott Miller design, is more of a target style desert golf course while Saguaro is a little more of a traditional style.  There are five sets of tee boxes on each course, which can accommodate a wide range of players.  Cholla has more overall dramatic elevation changes where tee shots drop down to the fairway then back up to elevated green complexes than Saguaro.  One example is number 8, a par five that goes down the hill with a fairway that wraps around the corner, dropping about 100 feet with a dry wash to the left of the green.  There are several holes with doglegs, blind tee-shots and several holes with hazards in the middle of the fairway composed of trees and sandy areas.  What I discovered was the holes with blind tee shots actually have wider fairways than what you can see from the tee.  There was a renovation of all the greens, bunkers and irrigation in 2016. 

When standing on the first tee of Saguaro, you have a panoramic view of several holes.  The elevation change is a little more subtle on Saguaro with the fairways flowing naturally with the terrain.  When this course was built, there was minimal movement of earth, and the design places the tees for the next hole a nominal distance from the previous green. Saguaro has slightly larger green complexes and slightly wider fairways than Cholla, resulting in a fairway that is pleasing to the eye.  Pretty much, what you see is where you can play to with nice forgiving fairways.  The highest elevation for these two courses is about 1,800 feet, giving you about half a club advantage. The natural desert washes (normally dry) that run through both courses originate in the nearby McDowell Mountains and add to the challenge of negotiating your way around but make it more fun. 

They have a large practice facility which will help get you ready for the very undulating fairways created by rolling terrain.  Both courses have very comfortable golf carts with an interactive GPS system that gives you an accurate reading to bunkers and distances to the green.  Other assets of the two golf courses are: no homes on either course, no out of bounds, and pure desert scenery.

If you are hungry either before or after the round, there is a very nice restaurant adjacent to the golf shop offering either indoor seating or an outdoor patio, plus a snack shop near the first tee of Saguaro to keep you hydrated and energized before, during and after your round. 

We-Ko-Pa offers a loyalty card program, an Arizona residents discount, a resort rate, a summer We-Ko-Pass and a 36-hole special offered throughout the year and this can be conducted over the course of a 72 hour period. (contact the golf shop for details) also a same day replay rate.  Guests who stay at the We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center can get a special stay and play package.  Also, there is an annual We-Ko-Pass cardholder program that will give the pass-holder many benefits.  For more information about stay and play packages, contact James Kinzer, the Golf Sales Manager. Packages are offered to both groups of nine or higher (up to 144 golfers) including corporate events or a single golfer.  Also, special events that are non-golf related can be arranged by calling James directly 480-789-5307.

The We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort is a AAA Four Diamond hotel featuring 246 contemporary guestrooms and suites designed with Native American traditions, 25,000 square feet of meeting space, eight food and beverage outlets, luxurious spa treatments and salon services at the Amethyst Spa.  The non-smoking casino offers Vegas-style games including blackjack, craps, roulette and over 800 of the latest slot machines.

The overall acreage of the golf property is a little over 600 acres with the turf area for Cholla being 73 acres and 68 for Saguaro.  This may sound like your grass targets are insufficient, but the landing areas are actually very generous, and, in most cases, the slope of the fairways will keep the ball in play if you hit it to the correct side.  There are so many good holes on both courses it will enhance your overall golfing experience.  With doglegs that bend both right and left, and large greens, your shot making abilities will be tested.  With such a natural setting and the stunning mountain views these will be two of the more memorable courses you will ever play.  The goal at We-Ko-Pa from the very beginning was to create golf holes that are beautiful and thrilling to play, and they achieved this goal!

Learn more about We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort:

Golf wekopa.com 866-660-7700

Casino and Resort wekopacasinoresort.com 855-957-9467

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