In my experience when you venture out to play a Coore-Crenshaw course you are not likely to be bowled over by the dramatics of the design, rather you are going to be nudged and tugged by the subtlety of the presentation. Guys like this from what is now coined the “Minimalist School” impress you with their eyes not their shovels. It is the composition of the holes, what they saw in the ground and chose to draw out and emphasize, not manufactured features to stun your senses and distract your attention from the real task at hand.
The Saguaro Course at We-Ko-Pa is about flow and feel and how it engages your golf decision making while allowing you to appreciate the marvelous setting within which it lies. Driving up to this location from the flats of Scottsdale you realize that you are engaging the mountains not just seeing them as a backdrop canvas. Taking in the surroundings as you pull up to the clubhouse you sense that the topography will have influence on how the ball responds once on the ground, the minimalists will make sure of that, and so your strategic choices will require proper weight to consequence of one position or one route over another in playing each hole. As Ben said, “This old boney ground has some ‘sting’ to it” and they found it without having to produce a swarm to prove it.
The width of the long Par 4 opening hole sets a tone for the day-you think you can hit it just about anywhere and have a look at the green. Yet as you can read in the hole-by-hole detail in the link below the shape of your tee ball can determine how to get up the fairway and give yourself the best approach line to a perched green complex still a ways away. Oh, did I mention they drew in a dry creek bed traversing the fairway which may put some doubt in your mind whether you can reach at all if you don’t hit the drive with enough intent.
Step on the tee of the quasi-drivable second and it is full desert static with scrub to carry off the tee and sand and more wilderness encroaching your playing path. Throw in a dramatic backdrop of an entire mountain range in the near distance and it becomes pretty hard just to sort out your choices for proper play. The course they present defies playing script or sequential rhythm. Each hole presents choices and requires your reaction. How you choose to react on one challenge drastically changes the next one.
As you get into the middle of the outward half the topography gets more severe and the ground influence on your shot making grows accordingly. Now you feel the mountains start to hover above the course rather than just frame the target. The sixth is a good example of this, you drive from teeing pods set in the hill over a high ridge in the fairway that completely masks the landing area. Standing next to your tee ball in the fairway the influence of the promontory peak of Superstition Mountain just beyond the green complex is firmly in your mind before hitting the approach or making your first putt. The coolest part about this minimalist thing is that everything matters. If it comes into your minds eye then it is worth considering.
Coming off the long and serpentine Par 5 eighth, the front side finishes with a short uphill pitch into a green with the playing width of a two-lane country road. The contrast in shots required in a two-hole stretch is not lost on those with proper awareness. Don’t miss the tuna or turkey sandwich with the home made kettle chips at the turn. It will refill the tank and make the challenges that come next all the more manageable.
With only one five par on the inward half, three Par 4’s over 400 yards, and a one-shotter well over 200 yards the scoring opportunities will be few and far between. The stretch of big holes from twelve to fifteen give this side it’s distinct character.
The back-to-back long Par 4’s at twelve and thirteen give you wide scale driving areas with greens with minimal bunker coverage. Yet both require precise driving to get the best angle to manage the long approach beyond the single greenside bunker. Good news is they provided wide expanses of short grass around these greens so recovery with a crafty short game can still keep par in play.
The closest thing to design shock is the view off the tee on Bill and Ben’s risk-and-reward testimony to the Lido Hole on the long Par 5 fourteenth. You are offered two different fairways to which to impart your drive-the narrow one on the right shortens the hole considerably so for the long baller this will be tempting. The more sensible play is a wide berth on the left fairway which will still leave you with two kitchy plays as the hole doglegs sharply to the right. Even a well place lay-up into the narrowing area at about 100 yards out leaves a very challenging pitch into a long and narrow putting surface perched in a corner to the right. Your plays on this hole will revisit you in bed at night between sheep counts.
As you wend your way back to the house the short sixteenth will tempt your boldness off the tee but the best scores here are likely with a wedge and a putt. Seventeen is a serene tumbling affair, very soothing to the eye after all the mishugas of the last five holes. The home hole is a monstrously long Par 4 with a full desert buffet yet kindly it somehow plays much shorter and less harrowing than it appears from the tee.
As you settle in for an Arnold Palmer in the clubhouse bar after play you are going to be struck by how fatigued you are from the day’s golf decisions. There were no single challenges that seemed overwhelming but the relentless requirement to think two shots ahead has a way of wearing on you. Coore and Crenshaw’s design approach got this one right-they made a bold statement without raising their voices.
Fountain Hills, Arizona
Architects: Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw ( 2006)
Par Rating Slope Yardage
Saguaro 71 72 137 6966
Purple 71 70.2 132 6603
White 71 68.8 125 6252
Comp. (L) 71 72.0 128 5786
(Click to see the hole-by-hole detail of the We-Ko-Pa Saguaro Course)