Favorite Fairways: Reflections on the Reservation

[popeye include=”2511,2512,2513,2514,2515,2516,2517″ exclude=”2518″]

By Joe Passov

ON A BREEZY DESERT DAY IN EARLY DECEMBER 2006, Ben Crenshaw is tromping around the second green at We-KoPa Golf Club’s Saguaro course with a furrowed brow. It’s Gentle Ben’s first trip around the finished version of a new course he has designed with partner Bill Coore and he’s spotted something-a tiny variation on the front left portion of the green.

“I might be wrong,” he muses, “but I think that little knob is smaller than we wanted it. I don’t know.” Oh, Crenshaw knows, all right. You don’t get to be a two-time Masters champion and one of history’s finest putters without having hawk-like powers of perception when examining a putting green.

More recently, my magic moment with Crenshaw occurs at one of the layout’s most scenic, strategic holes: The 515-yard, par-5 8th. After two solid shots, I managed to flub my third. At that point, Crenshaw said to me, “That’s all right. I’m sure you’ll just chip it up there, like you’ve been doing all day.” Indeed, I scooted one up the slope and onto the green, eventually coming to rest four feet from the cup.

“You had a feeling about it, did you?” I said, echoing Crenshaw’s sunny optimistic quote from his Ryder Cup captaincy in 1999, when his words helped rally the U.S. to the greatest comeback victory in the history of the matches. I also knew that golf for me wasn’t going to get much better than this moment.

Situated on the eastern edge of Scottsdale near Fountain Hills, on tribal land owned by the Yavapai Nation, We-Ko-Pa is blessed with jaw-dropping mountain vistas in every direction. In fact, We-Ko-Pa is the Yavapai pronunciation for “Four Peaks Mountain,” a rugged rock formation, often snow-capped in winter that looms imposingly to the east. Saguaro, the newer of the two We-Ko-Pa courses, boasts hilly fairways that enjoy blissful isolation. Perhaps the leading selling point for tourists and purists alike is they are free of roads and houses. The trees, cacti and thorny underbrush that bracket every fairway are an aesthetic delight, but poke around looking for errant spheres at your peril. Getting stuck by a Cholla needle feels just like getting barbed by a fish hook: It’s much more painful and complicated coming out than it was going in.

I recently returned to We-Ko-Pa’s 8th, in the company of club general manger Ed Francese. Ed liked the fact that the relatively short par-5 featured a generous landing area for the drive, but that it begins to narrow and slope to the right the farther up you go, upping the challenge quotient for the long-hitting, low-handicap player. Shove your drive too far right and the desert is definitely in play.

We debated the second shot, which is played slightly uphill, with a massive, intimidating bunker lurking on the right side, 150 yards short of the putting surface. Was this sand trap too punishing for the average Joe? We also deliberated the vexing nature of the small, two-level green that was guarded by a small, but rather steep “false front.” At the far back of the green, a prominent contour functions as a backstop, funneling shots played slightly long back toward the target.

As we carried on about the characteristics of the green, my mind started to drift. I gazed at Red Mountain directly behind the hole, then slowly pivoted to the east, the sun casting shadows on the Saguaro-studded Sonoran Desert canyons in the foreground and on Four Peaks Mountain and Wilderness Area beyond. I thought of long-ago cowboys galloping through the Wildest West and of how unimaginably rugged this land must have appeared to the earliest settlers. I glimpsed a jack rabbit bounding from one of the many arroyos that crisscross the property. And I thought of a time four years prior, when one of the world’s best golfers, Ben Crenshaw, told me he had confidence in my golf game. Suddenly, our cogitation seemed less important, as did my score. On one point, there could be no debate: The 8th hole at We-Ko-Pa’s Saguaro course is a special spot indeed.

Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites