Paul originally nominated the Cholla course at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club as a gem and we added it to the Top 100 website in February 2008. Since then, we have extended our Best In State rankings for Arizona and the Cholla has made the ranking grade. Paul’s original comments are as follows:
“We-Ko-Pa (which means 4 peaks) is located in Fountain Hills just outside Scottsdale and is blessed with two award winning courses, Cholla & Saguaro (named after the iconic desert cacti that cover the landscape). The Cholla course is a Scott Miller design and opened for play in 2001 and the second course, Saguaro, designed by Ben Crenshaw & Bill Coore, opened for play in 2007.
Both courses are built on land owned and developed by Native American tribe Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. We-Ko-Pa is all about the golfing experience with stunning views and vistas with no homes constructed anywhere near the site and some of the views from the elevated tees are jaw dropping. Also, the conditioning could not be better.”
Cholla is the original course at We Ko Pa. It is not an easy walking course, but I liked it slightly better than its sister.
The first hole is a welcoming par four dogleg left. The second is a tough par five. First objective, get your drive in the fairway. The desert is unforgiving. Pick your spot carefully, the approach is tight and downhill. The 3rd is a gimme par three all carry over desert. The 4th has a lot more room than it appears. Off the tee be just right of the tallest Saguaro and you should have a modest downhill approach. The 5th is a pretty par three, the hole is tucked into a canyon with a mountain in the background. The key to six is avoiding the deep fairway and greenside bunkers. I did not, FAIL. The 7th is uphill, but a good birdie oppty. Ideal tee shot is right of the desert island hazard. The 8th is the longest par five and favor the right side as it doglegs. While the approach is downhill, be wary of the moguls right and deep bunker left. The 9th is a long par four with a desert carry, cross bunkers and a water hazard and large bunker right.
The back starts with a tight par five. If you can stay left of the tree that is left of center in the fairway you will be green light. However, there is not a lot of room to spare. The 11th is the longest par three and is guarded by three bunkers. On the par four 12th favor the left side of the fairway or risk a blind approach. The 13th has one of the largest fairways and if I can birdie it so can you. The 14th is the shortest hole and is rated the easiest. The 15th is the shortest par and big hitters can get there and there is plenty of fairway for those wayward shots that result when we reach back for a little extra. Hitting the green is also made easier because it is the largest green on the course. Of course, the downside is it has a lot more three putts. The 16th is an interesting hole, leans left and is the longest par four. An arroyo runs across the fairway about 150 yards out and is about 20 yards wide. There are also some trees on the left side. I was able to power roll a hook thru the arroyo. The best line is probably over the left trees. One of my playing partners, Chris Stewart took an aggressive line left and yanked it. We thought he was gone, but amazingly he had a 50 yard flip to the green that he converted into a birdie. The 17th is the last par five and it also lists to the left. Favor the right side off the tee and play it as a three shotter as the green is elevated. The 18th has a desert carry and bunkers and water right.
I enjoyed We Ko Pa. Good not great courses, but in my opinion they are over-priced.
The impressive thing about the entire 36 holes at We-Ko-Pa is the absence of abutting housing. Not one measly stick of it whatsoever located near either of the two layouts. I later played Troon North again and the contrast between the two locations was striking -- one with housing crawling the flanks of the holes like ants on a picnic table and the other simply untouched. In this day and age when housing generally rules supreme because of a gluttonous need for money -- the atmospherics at We-Ko-Pa deserves special citation for keeping out such a perverse inclusion that would serve only to despoil the overall experience the golf provides.
The sad thing about the Cholla Course is how the opening of the Bill Coore / Ben Crenshaw Saguaro layout several years later seems to have surpassed it. Much of that comes from the groupies who revere just about anything the talented duo creates. More on the Saguaro in my review of that course posted separately. I played Cholla soon after it first opened and I really enjoyed the layout by architect Scott Miller. The combination of different holes and the manner in which the routing takes place is quite engaging.
While not every hole is scintillating -- there are few which serve simply as empty. filler.
The opening hole -- a modest length downhill par-4 -- is an early decision-maker. Players have to decide -- attack or play safe. There are clear advantages to either but the execution must be delivered.
The par-5 raises the bar considerably. A daring tee shot can take on the more favorable right side but the slightest miss to the right can prove to be a hole wrecker. The hole is generally a three-shot hole and the positioning of the putting surface is smartly located -- slightly elevated and tucked behind a protruding hillside.
While the par-3 3rd is one of those lackluster holes the rigorous nature of the long par-4 4th quickly snaps one's attention right back. The hole starts with a blind tee shot landing area -- just enough to cause a bit of a flutter of one's nerves. Those who stray just a bit much to the right will find their golf ball whisked into a precarious position and likely a blind approach to the green that's set further below.
The ideal landing area is down the narrower left side but those attaining success can reap a bit of a forward push by the descending terrain. The topper comes with the green which has a series of internal movements and will repel all but the surest of plays on the approach.
Sadly, the 4th is followed by the par-3 5th. The hole is good but hardly one that sears itself into one's collective memory. Fortunately, the par-4 6th rights the ship in a fine way. The tee shot and approach require skillful co-mingling.
There's much fanfare tied to the split fairway at the short par-4 7th and rightly so. The hole has two avenues -- the right side is the more daring and narrower. Those opting for the left side will find a wider fairway but a more daunting approach over bunkers to the elevated target.
The par-5 8th moves in a reverse direction -- downhill all the way and moving right. The hole is listed as the number one handicap hole but the main feature is the length element. The fairway does narrow as you get nearer to the green but it's too bad that a center-placed bunker was not added to be smartly positioned for golfers to content with on the 2nd shot.
The concluding par-4 9th to the outward nine is done well. A trio of bunkers splits the fairway into two sections. The right side is safer but the angle to the green more exacting. The left side does provide more of an opportunity but the risks have to be carefully calibrated.
The inward half starts with a trio of fine holes. The par-5 10th is a good hole -- generally a three-shot situation for all but the strongest of players. The long par-3 11th is the best of the one-shot holes because the green repels all but the well-struck approach. The mid-length par-4 12th provides for a delicious tapered fairway -- the longer one goes the more accurate you need to be.
Unfortunately, the 13th thru 15th is a bit disappointing. Not that the par-4, par-3 and par-4 sequence is awful but it lacks serious heft. Thankfully, the 16th and 17th return matters to the bright side. The long par-4 16th is about adroitly placing one's tee shot as near to the left side as possible. Miller skillfully provides two distinct fairway area with a large desert waste area separating one from the other. The green also includes a slew of riddles to decipher with the flatstick.
The penultimate hole is another quality par-5 and invites the bold play from the tee. Working the ball from right-to-left can reap dividends for a possible go shot at the green with the 2nd. The key is demonstrating pinpoint nerve with the 2nd as the fairway tapers down considerably.
The closing hole on Cholla is a head scratcher. There's another split fairway situation but the wisest course is down the more ample right side. The left fairway alleyway is tempting but it's rather narrow and frankly the payoff is not that much better than being on the right side unless the pin is placed in the deep right-hand corner.
Cholla, as I outlined throughout the review, has a mixed bag of holes with more good ones than inferior ones. However, with the exception of the 11th -- the three other par-3s are merely adequate. The fanfare of the par-5 8th comes from the gorgeous views it provides -- not from the compelling architecture that it should have offered. On the flipside -- there is enough to keep one's attention front and center. The array of par-4 holes is a quality combination of holes with keen strategies to employ. Those coming to We-Ko-Pa had best spend a bit of their visit on the Miller 18.
You won't regret you did.
M. James Ward
I looked forward to Cholla, but left disappointed. The course did have a good layout and was in good condition, that being said, when I play a premium course there are things that I expect. For the money I expect excellent customer service. I want the feeling that they are happy that I chose their course to play, not the feeling that I should be grateful to be playing their course. From the bag drop, to pro shop I felt that I was bothering these people. The only openly friendly guy was the starter. So been there, done that, but I won’t be back. There are many other premium courses, in the area, where they treat yo7 like king.
I was able to play the Cholla course on a recent trip to the Scottsdale area. This is a rambling spread out course designed around many of the washes in the area. The course runs up and around a ridge that gives some significant elevation changes to several of the holes. The course is beautifully conditioned and quite pleasing to the eye. On the positive side the course has several interesting par threes and a nice variety of par 4's. I really liked the driveable par 4 15th and the dogleg left par 4 16th hole. On the downside the par 5's were all very long and essentially played as three shot holes with no opportunity for a risk reward second shot. I thought the split fairway 18th to be a rather bizzare hole requiring either a lay up to the right leaving a long second shot or a very dangerous drive to the left of the bunkers to try and shorten the hole. Another downside for me was that the course was unwalkable. My GPS gave me a total distance covered of over 9 miles for the round versus the 6 to 6.5 miles I usually walk at my home course. We spent a lot of time riding the cart between holes.
I think this is a solid 4 ball course. It is probably worth playing while in the area, but for me the course is far overshadowed by the Saguaro course next door.