The distance separating downtown Chicago and The Wigwam Golf Resort is 1465 air miles, but despite this great length, there is a ‘closeness’ between the two brought about by a connection — the connection being that a former Chicagoan, Jerry Colangelo, is the owner of The Wigwam. Colangelo is a Bloom Township High School graduate, former University of Illinois basketball star, past front office staffer for the Chicago Bulls, and previous owner of the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Coyotes, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Phoenix Mercury.
It was in December 2009 that The Wigwam was purchased by JDM Partners, led by sports icon Colangelo and in January 2011, the resort unveiled the completion of a multi-million dollar rejuvenation project. Colangelo, now age 78, currently serves as a special adviser to the Philadelphia 76ers, director of USA Basketball, and Chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Jerry still finds the time to successfully balance these basketball duties while overseeing the resort and golf management at the Wigwam, and as such, has instilled into his entire staff an understanding of how to welcome and accommodate Windy City golfers.
The Wigwam is a 440-acre resort located in the town of Litchfield Park, AZ, 23.9 miles west of the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport in the area referred to as the city’s West Valley. It features 331 casita-style guest rooms and 54 holes of challenging on-site golf. The Wigwam is Arizona’s only public golf facility that offers three 18-hole courses.
The resort features guest lodging in the form of terrace rooms, mini-casitas, and casita suites. The exterior of all the guest buildings and resort offices is traditional Southwest adobe-style architecture, while the interiors are fully 21st century with LED flat screen TV’s, charging stations, and in-room Wi-Fi.
Additional resort amenities include Wigwam’s championship tennis facility, with nine illuminated tennis courts, including a stadium court, the Fitness Center, the Red Door Salon & Spa, two custom, regulation masonry bocce ball courts, sand volleyball, cornhole, pingpong, and three outdoor swimming pools, including the main pool featuring dual waterslides, water play features and luxury cabanas.
Wigwam’s three 18-hole courses are all served out of the same pro shop. Complimentary shuttle rides from guest lodging to the pro shop are provided by one of the bell captain’s staff. The #1 tee for the Gold and Patriot courses are adjacent to the pro shop, while the #1 tee for the Heritage course is across Litchfield Road.
None of Wigwam’s three courses are desert-style, rather they are a parkland-Florida hybrid, as palms, pines, and eucalyptuses border the fairways. And unlike the minimal 90-acres of grass in desert-style architecture, Wigwam’s fully irrigated fairways extend tee to green.
The Patriot course (formerly named ‘Blue’ course) is Wigwam’s shortest course but is quite demanding; precision is needed for drives and especially for approach shots. The course architect is Robert Trent Jones, Sr., whose greens on the Patriot routing are narrow, well-protected, and have runoffs from all but the one correct approach angle.
The course has four sets of tees (6000 / 5572 / 5199 / 4791 yards) that all play to a par of 70. Patriot’s signature hole is the par-3 #17, a challenging tee shot over a pond to a narrow green. This test was preceded two holes earlier by another par-3 with an island green; these two beauties are potential beasts. Be aware: the course record for this shorter Patriot course is higher than the course record for Wigwam’s longer Gold course.
A cart ride through the tunnel under Litchfield Road will reach the #1 tee on the Heritage course, where wider fairways and larger greens make this track designed by Robert “Red” Lawrence a favorite of regular Wigwam visitors and locals alike. The Heritage Course opens mildly with a medium length par-4 and closes with its testy signature hole, a dogleg left par-5; in between the Heritage offers sixteen delightful holes.
The course was built in 1972 and plays to a balanced par of (36-36) 72 from three sets of tees (championship 6852 / 71.9 / 124; club 6291 / 69.3 / 117; forward 5806 / 66.7 / 109). The closing hole will be remembered by golfers for either the hole’s layout and beauty or for their score.
“Grueling” is the description given in the yardage book for this hole. A long (591 / 549 / 516) par-5 that demands three well positioned shots on a dogleg left journey to reach the green is Heritage’s finale. Trees and a large pond down the left side require a lengthy tee shot down the right side, but if the drive is overly long and through the turn, right side trees will block the second shot. Now a turn to the left with a second shot that cannot be sprayed will leave a mid or short iron approach to the final green. The Heritage course is pleasing to the eye with a mature look that is not worn nor beaten.
The Gold course is Wigwam’s “championship” layout. It, too, is a design of Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and is lengthy and challenging. Five tee box offerings are present on the Gold course, all playing to a par of 72. The numbers for the lengths are 7430 / 7025 / 6830 / 6348 / 5885 yards.
In addition to length, steep-faced bunkers, and firm, elevated greens with runoffs are typical RTJ challenges presented on all eighteen holes. From past to present, golfers of all abilities have been sternly tested on the Gold course; this includes former professional athletes, famous politicians and today’s top amateur golfers. The likes of Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Joe Namath, and Magic Johnson along with Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger have tried tackling or have been tackled by the Gold course.
Presently, the Gold course at the Wigwam annually hosts one of the most notable tournaments on the men’s college schedule — the Patriot All-America Invitational, which features PING All-Americans from the previous season in NCAA Divisions I, II and III, as well as All-Americans from the NAIA, NJCAA and AJGA ranks.
The unique aspect of this tournament is that it honors our military heroes. At the opening ceremony, each golfer receives and carries a commemorative PING golf bag that bears the name and branch of a fallen or wounded hero from their hometown or school. The players carry the bag and honor that soldier throughout the week. Upon conclusion, the bags are shipped back to the player’s school where they are auctioned off with the proceeds benefiting the Folds of Honor charity. The 2017 tournament has three college golfers from Illinois schools: Michael Feagles-University of Illinois, Connor O’Neil-Illinois Wesleyan University, and Hunter York-Southern Illinois University.
Wigwam’s location makes it truly a hub for golf in the West Valley. Should your stay allow time for more rounds, the Golf Club of Estrella, two Tom Lehman designs at Verrado, two courses at Palm Valley Golf Club, and Eagle’s Nest and Tuscany Falls at Pebble Creek Community are all within a 25 minute drive from the Wigwam. An additional benefit to golf guests at the Wigwam is access to Arizona Biltmore Country Club.
The forces of nature created the West Valley, but the Wigwam was the creator of golf in the West Valley and warmly welcomes Chicago golfers.
The Wigwam Golf Resort
300 East Wigwam Blvd.
Litchfield Park, Arizona 85340