Where To Golf Next

Cue the superlatives

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. created The Wigwam in 1929, making it one of the Arizona desert's first resorts. A six-year renovation has restored the resort and spa to among one of the region's finest. (Photo: The Wigwam)

Superfluous verbiage is inevitable in travel articles, so in this one let’s get right to the point: The Wigwam resort near Phoenix is awesome.

So awesome that you can take your wife and she will think you’re awesome for doing so. Yes, you.

Then she will tell her girlfriends how awesome The Wigwam is and that you took her there. That likely will result in admiring glances the next time you’re all together with the husbands.

The wife recommendation is a third-party endorsement of the highest order and, in the end, the only one that matters.


Fun Meter: The Wigwam (Gold Course)

Yes, the golf is awesome, too, but, let’s face it, that’s not why your wife will love The Wigwam.

Think Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. And Litchfield’s, the on-site farm-to-table restaurant. Elegantly appointed, yet down-to-earth adobe-style casitas with luxurious bathrooms, boudoirs, bathrobes, and bedding. Private patios that overlook the pool or the gardens.

Starting to get the point?

She’s going to love the intimacy of the place. The Southwestern style that can be found from the dark hardwood floors to the furnishings to the black-and-white family photos from the 1930s and 1940s all over the walls.

And don’t forget the essential factor that makes any hotel property stand out: the people who work there. From the gentlemen at the valet stand to the bright front desk clerks to the young guy from Chicago’s South Side who delivered a package to my room to the waiters and waitresses to the golf staff: everyone was friendly, personable, and actually seemed interested in helping out. Not the over-the-top fawning one can encounter at upscale properties — just people simply being nice.

Yes, of course, the golf is awesome. Does it always have to be about you?

The Wigwam’s Gold Course by Robert Trent Jones Sr., which opened in 1965, is still a classic design, which recently was updated in 2015 by British Open champion Tom Lehman, a Phoenix-area resident and the area’s go-to golf course architect.

Inspired by his Masters’ experience, Lehman eliminated the irrelevant and needlessly painful bunkers, shifted some fairways and sand hazards to confound the really good players, and left Jones’ original – and highly creative - green complexes alone.

“We had 89 bunkers and ended up with 37,” said Leo Simonetta, Wigwam’s director of golf. “Tom Lehman told us they have 40 bunkers at Augusta National. He wanted to make the course fair for our resort guests but challenging for the players who can hit it 290 to 310 off the tee. He didn’t even want to touch the green complexes.”

The Gold Course was voted the most challenging course in the Valley of the Sun by one local publication. It’s home to U.S. Open qualifying as well as to the annual Patriot All-America Invitational, a high-level collegiate event.

The Wigwam’s 18-hole, Jones Sr.-designed Blue Course has also been recently renovated, while the fun-to-play 18-hole Red Course offers an enjoyable test for the less skilled golfer.

Purists and critics will note that the courses feature palm trees and other kinds of trees not native to the area, as if that’s a negative. It’s not. These are really fine golf courses that shouldn’t be judged according to some dogmatic aesthetic standard.

The Wigwam has a cool history reflected throughout the resort. Originally, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., under the direction of chief executive officer Paul Litchfield, came to the area in 1915 to grow a special kind of cotton for use in its tires. The company bought 17,000 acres in the desert and began planting.  


Southwestern-style Casitas add to The Wigwam's unique style. (Photo: The Wigwam)

Goodyear built the so-called Organization House, an adobe-style structure, to house the handful of executives that occasionally traveled to the desert. The original House – and its incredible Fireplace Room — still exists as part of the resort’s main building.

Over the years, Goodyear’s top brass realized that people enjoyed traveling to the desert to escape the Midwestern winters. Hence, The Wigwam, located in Litchfield, Ariz., was born in 1929, becoming the first Phoenix-area resort for snowbirds. The resort flourished after World War II.

In recent decades, as newer resorts sprouted up in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area, the Wigwam lost its way a bit. Various hotel conglomerates tried reviving the resort, but never could fit The Wigwam’s uniquely American identity into its corporate structures.

Enter former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, whose company, JDM Partners, bought the property in 2010 and invested $30 million over six years to recapture the essence of the resort’s identity — and refused to compromise on quality. 

During the Colangelo renovation, volumes of black-and-white photos of Litchfield’s joyous children and grandchildren, who apparently had the run of the resort, were found.  The smiles are infectious and seem to carry the innocence of another time across the decades.

With the enthusiastic approval of those children – now in their 70s and 80s - hundreds of the recovered photos have been mounted on surfaces throughout the resort’s public areas, as a way to share the unadulterated fun of its early days with today’s guests.

Family photos. Another thing that’s going to put your wife over the top for The Wigwam.

The Wigwam
Litchfield, Ariz.
Website: www.wigwamarizona.com
Phone: 623.935.9414
Facebook: @WigwamResort
Instagram: @wigwamresort
Twitter: @wigwamresort

Barry Cronin, a former golf writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, has been media director of the John Deere Classic for two decades and has worked to promote other tournaments, events, courses and products. Cronin resides in Park Ridge, Ill.

Email: bcronin@cronincommunications.com
Twitter: @barrycronin