Sun, ants or contrarians agree We-Ko-Pa is great desert course

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - There is some leeway over what the name Yavapai means, referring to the native Americans who have lived in the Southwest for centuries.

The most popular interpretation is "people of the sun," which would be appropriate here in the Valley of the Sun.

But the southeastern Yavapai took it to mean "crooked-mouth people," that is to say, "people who do not agree with other peoples," according to the Handbook of American Indians.

In any case, both are better than yet another possible, even more prosaic interpretation: "Indians living where there are red ants."

At the We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, there is plenty of sun and there are plenty of red ants. But there is little disagreement among golfers that the course is one of the most scenic in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.

We-Ko-Pa, the Yavapai pronunciation of "Four Peaks," is up in the hills of Fort McDowell, where most of the Yavapai had settled by 1900 after finding their posting to an Apache reservation distasteful.

There are no houses along the course and there never should be, because it sits on an Indian reservation. The high desert views are of the Four Peaks and three different mountain ranges - the McDowell, Red and Superstition - and if you happen to be playing at twilight, the moon rising over the Sonoran Desert is bright as day and bold as love.

"They wanted to preserve as much of the Sonoran Desert as possible, in keeping with the reservation," said head pro Brent Trenter.

"They" means the builders and architect Scott Miller, who also designed Eagle Mountain.

We-Ko-Pa dips, rises and humps its way through natural desert, through canyons, arroyos and dry washes, surrounded by desert vegetation like mesquite, little-leaf Palo Verdes, desert ironwood, catclaw and saguaros.

With no residential tracts to spoil the view or the mood, it really is like being in the middle of the desert, only you have a 3-wood in your hands.

The 3-wood reference is appropriate because the course is not overly long at 7,225 yards, but there are enough typical desert hazards like forced carries and elevation changes to keep you more than honest.

"It's a shot-makers course," Trenter said. "If you can move the ball around, you'll do well. It's a very fair golf course if you don't try to cheat it too much."

Like the short, straight and driveable No. 15. It's 327 yards from the back tees and you'll be sorely tempted to cheat. But, there is trouble both sides, like the fairway bunkers right and the big sand trap to the left of the green. Also, stray too far to either side off the tee and you'll be searching the desert with the scorpions, just like your hosts did centuries ago.

Or No. 8, a 605-yard par-5 that plays downhill with a small carry. The desert dips into the fairway on the right. The smart play on your second shot is to lay up short of the dry wash, as the fairway narrows, but of course many will not and many will fail.

The verdict

This is a must-play course if you're in the Phoenix area and not just for the view. The course throws a variety of angles and hazards at you, but never overwhelms you with its formidable challenge. Like any good course, it gives you options: it brings out the adventurer or the accountant in you.

There is a reason it made Golf Magazine's "top 100 courses you can play" list in 2004 and why it was voted the No. 1 Phoenix/Scottsdale public course by local PGA pros in Desert Golf Magazine.

It pulls most of its business from the Phoenix/Scottsdale market and caters to the core golfer.

The greens are undulating and tough to read, made more confusing by the mountain angles of the adjacent terrain.

"You have to block out your surroundings and focus on the break," veteran Phoenix golfer Troy Johnson said. "These greens are tough, tough, tough to read. It's very similar to Longbow or Gray Hawk."

The problem is getting on. You have to book in advance because the tee-off sheets fill up quickly.

With green fees ranging from $65 to $195 depending on the season, and $40-$105 for Arizona residents, the course is priced about average for a track of this quality.

I'm not much into clubhouse design, but this one will catch your eye. It's an unusual, 21,000-square-foot building inspired, of course, by the Yavapai. It features sloped entry walls, a wood-beam canopy and canyon-like entryway. It looks like something rising from the desert.

Places to stay

The Millennium Resort in Scottsdale has 176 units, of which 51 are two and three-bedroom villas that cater to golfers. The rest are guest rooms.

Centrally located in the heart of Scottsdale, the resort is within a 30-minute drive of most golf courses in the Phoenix area. The resort overlooks a man-made lake and features mountain views and access to two non-desert, traditional courses at the McCormick Ranch.

The resort also features a pool-side bar and jacuzzi, two restaurants and use of kayaks, canoes, pedal boats and sailboats.

Places to eat

The We-Ko-Pa Grill serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Millennium resort's two restaurants offer excellent food, especially the Pinon Grill.

Fast fact

We-Ko-Pa has sold out its season passes for 2004.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Golf We-Ko-Pa

    Chase King wrote on: Feb 13, 2006

    I'm 17 years old and a 3 handicap and I absolutly loved playing this course. I played it last year and I can still vividly remember the course like I have recently played it. It is pretty much a desert-course so be ready to maybe lose some balls to the desert. I did not think it was an extremly hard course, but some holes were challenging. The course is beautiful and it can be enjoyed by players of all ability levels. One cool thing is that when you make the turn they have a grill seemingly out in the middle of nowhere so you dont have to go to the clubhouse to grab food and drink. Also remember to bring your camera because hole #8 is stunning. The par-5 starts with a fairly easy tee shot then it gets fun. You either go for it in 2 because its downhill or layup on a narrow piece of fairway. Personally I went for it in two and made it so it can be done. Also you for the fun of hit should bring a shag Rock-Flight and try to hit No. 1 in 1, I got close(Dont worry its all downhill). Everyone should make it out to the reservation to play a round, it is worth the trip.