We have written about the Scottsdale area about ten times since 2003. You fly into Phoenix Airport, rent a car and head northeast into the land of hundreds of golf courses and many thousands of cacti.
This time we went west. “Go West, Young (pretty old) Man!” The Wigwam Resort is 25 minutes west of the airport and a simple drive on Interstate 10. It is a step back in time, but it is also a step forward in gracious people and a wonderful staff at the Wigwam Resort that originally opened its doors in 1929. You actually go through the same door, and into the same room when you check in as folks did then!
Why would anyone want to build a place for people to stay 25 miles outside of Phoenix that was just really developing? Think cotton, but not the kind that easterners know. It was the long-strand strong fiber cotton that could be used in strengthening the tires for the fast-growing automobile industry of the 1920’s.
When the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture determined that the Salt River Valley west of Phoenix was ideal for growing cotton, the Goodyear Company (think blimp) purchased 15,000 acres of land in the valley in 1916 to plant and grow this Pima cotton. As the cotton grew, executives of Goodyear, in Akron, Ohio had to trek out to inspect the farming operations. They would arrive in Phoenix, mostly by train, and then hop on a stagecoach for the bumpy ride across the desert to the cotton in the town that was now named Goodyear (as it is today).
These people needed a place to stay, and the first building on the property was called the Organization House and opened in 1918. Paul Litchfield, a native of Boston and a MIT graduate, was then a rising star at Goodyear (He later became President and Chairman of the Board). He was the impetus behind the development of the Wigwam Resort, as he saw the area as a warm respite for the Goodyear executives who wanted to get away from the winter in Ohio. The Wigwam is located in a tiny city now called Litchfield Park.
Enough about the history. The first golf course was actually on the property in the late 1920’s and was around until 1965 when Robert Trent Jones Sr. was brought in to redesign the existing course and build another course right next to it. The Wigwam also purchased a third course just off the property now called the Heritage Course. Jones made the new Gold course a truly long and difficult course with many elevated and tricky greens, many bunkers and enough water to get you in trouble.
The Gold Course was considered one of the truly tough western United States courses, but as the golf equipment got better and players hit it longer, the Wigwam hired Tom Lehman to modernize the layout in 2015. He eliminated many bunkers, moved some, and now the layout can play to a massive 7,406 yards. It is more fun to play it at the right tee markers,however, as you will have more fun.
The Patriot Course is a very friendly 6,000 yards from the back tee, but don’t take it that lightly. There are 6 par 3’s to shorten the distance, but the par 5’s and the elevated greens, canal and other water hazards can make it a challenge. The Patriot is a wonderful family course, and they even have Foot Golf available at certain times.
In 2009 JDM Partners, whose founder is Jerry Colangelo, the former owner of the Phoenix Suns purchased the Wigwam. The influx of funds rejuvenated the property into a truly first-class resort while keeping many features of the historic property.
There are 331 guest rooms, mostly huge casitas that are spread out around the property. The rooms feature a southwestern motif and are well appointed, many with fireplaces, wet bars and spacious bathrooms. The Red Door Spa has all the amenities and makes a great destination after a round of golf.
We were so impressed with the meals that we had at Litchfield’s, the first-class restaurant just off the main lobby. Seating is available both inside and outside under fragrant flowers and plants. Red’s Bar & Grill is also a favorite, as it sits next to the first tees at the Golf and Patriot courses.
We had the chance to venture off the property and play three other courses within 15 minutes of the property. Our first stop was the Golf Club of Estrella, ten miles south of the Wigwam Resort and just past the spring training facilities for the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear. This Troon managed course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, Jr., has pristine conditioning. The fairways are wide and many holes require hitting over washes, but it is fair and fun.
Recently inducted Baseball Hall-of-Famer Tim Raines lives next to the course and has been a member for five years. “This a great place to play,” said Raines who found the place when he was working with the Indians. “An awful lot of players come over here to play golf when they get some off time,” added Raines.
In 2004 we had ventured to the West Valley to play a brand new course called the Raven at Verrado. The course had great bones with many elevation changes especially on the par 3 13th that must drop 80 feet from the back tee. The other highlight in 2004 was that there were no homes, and the only feature besides the one golf course was the huge clock in the center of the future town.
Fast-forward 13 years and now Verrado is a huge town with two middle schools and a huge high school. Go West, right! The Raven is now called the Verrado Golf Club and is a fine design by Tom Lehman and John Fought.
Since the town has grown so quickly, there was a need for a second golf course, and it is a gem. It is called The Victory Course and is a mile from the other course on land that was recently desert. The huge practice facility, the beautifully maintained fairways right next to stark desert, huge rock outcroppings, and wild cactus make for visual contrasts that you will long remember.
The Phoenix Cardinals play just down the road from the Wigwam Resort, baseball spring training is less than ten minutes away and the Suns and Diamondbacks play in downtown Phoenix. Great golf, great resort, and most all the sporting events you can imagine make the Wigwam Resort and the West Valley a wonderful destination. Wonder if Mr. Litchfield could have imagined it exactly 100 years ago?
Bruce Vittner is a member of the Golf Writers of America and the Golf Travel Writers of America and can be reached at email@example.com.