The NHL, the NFL and Cactus League baseball are a perfect complement to this iconic golf and spa resort in the Phoenix West Valley.
Usually when I’ve landed at SkyHarbor Airport in Phoenix, the ultimate destination is somewhere to the north in Scottsdale, well known to golfers for its many resort courses. On this trip however, we’re headed west to the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, hard on the outskirts of Phoenix, in what they call the West Valley, just before the city gives way to a vast expanse of desert stretching all the way to California.
Litchfield Park and the Wigwam Resort, which has been a landmark in the region for close to 90 years, are practically synonymous with one another as they have a shared beginning. In 1916, Paul Weeks Litchfield, an executive with the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, bought some 5,000 acres of sandy desert farmland to grow cotton, which was used in the manufacture of the company’s pneumatic tires. Over the succeeding decade, many Goodyear executives visited the operation in Arizona and, liking the climate, often vacationed there with their families too.
Initially a lodge was built to accommodate the Goodyear visitors but by 1929, the lodge had expanded to become a public resort. Golf was added a couple of years later and over the decades The Wigwam has grown to become one of Arizona’s iconic resorts, with three golf courses, tennis facilities, a wellness and fitness center, award winning dining and countless more family activities.
Today the resort is owned by JDM Partners, whose founder is Jerry Colangelo, the former owner of the Phoenix Suns and father of Brian Colangelo, former General Manager of the Toronto Raptors. When JDM acquired The Wigwam in 2009, they set in motion a rejuvenation program that has made the resort into the first class facility it is today. The new owners were also cognizant of the Wigwam’s grand history and wanted to preserve as much of that as possible. They’ve been quite successful too, as historic elements are evident in many of the resort buildings and at many spots throughout the property.
Golf is #1
As a family resort, The Wigwam has plenty of amenities for everyone but golf is all around you. There are three golf courses on the property: the Heritage, the Gold course and the Patriot course. The latter two were designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Gold course in particular has been the site of numerous professional and elite amateur championships.
In 2015, the resort owners engaged Tom Lehman to modernize the Gold course and restore it to its former championship glory. Specifically, there were a lot of bunkers that were no longer in play for modern players, so Lehman eliminated over half of them, moved others and altered the grass lines of some fairways to create new lines of play.
Over a couple of rounds it became apparent that Lehman knew my game well, as he managed to place most of the new bunkers right where my drives landed. Thanks Tom! And even though the Gold course is relatively flat, it has enough contours, water hazards and raised greens to make it quite a challenge.
The Patriot course is much shorter than the Gold but to compensate for its lack of length, it’s also much tighter, has numerous twists and many of the greens are pushed up at alarming angles to make chipping and putting an adventure. Both courses allow walking too, which is always a bonus in my books.
And if you’re up for something completely different, the Patriot course offers foot golf at selected times. I didn’t think I’d be the least interested but it turned out to be a lot of fun and quite a social activity. We watched a team of high school kids play ahead of us and they ran kicking (literally) and screaming down the fairways at full speed. However, we found out that foot golf can be enjoyed as a leisurely stroll with a beverage in hand too.
The Wigwam features 331 guest rooms in a variety of sizes, configurations and motifs. The rooms range in size from very large to enormous and all are appointed in a southwestern design. The size and type of room is largely dependent on its location relative to the main lodge, the spa or the golf course.
I stayed in a Casita Suite that was no more than a chip shot from the first fairway on the Patriot course. Aside from a spectacular view, my 1,000 sq ft suite featured a wet bar, large screen TV and a stone fireplace in the living room, a luxurious king sized bed with another TV in the bedroom and a spacious bathroom complete with Jacuzzi tub, which came in handy after my foot golf round, where perhaps I tried too hard to channel my inner David Beckham.
My suite was also just a few minutes from the main lodge and Litchfield’s restaurant, while the pro shop and Red’s Bar & Grill were about 200 yards up the fairway behind the first tee. Litchfield’s (named after the resort’s founder) is a casual, cozy upscale restaurant that features “farm-to-table” fare from the local region and is a popular spot for both resort guests and locals. It has a wonderful wine selection to complement a very creative menu. Patrons can dine inside or outside on the large terrace and after dinner, the terrace by the pool is an ideal spot for a coffee or something stronger. On cool nights, the many gas fireplaces make it just right.
Red’s is the quintessential sports bar and named for long time Wigwam head professional Red Allen. There are tables inside and out and the food is exceptional, with several unique selections as noted in Burgers & Beer below.
The Red Door Spa
Of course, no resort is complete these days without a signature spa. The Red Door Salon and Spa is only a few steps beyond the 18th green of both the Gold and Patriot courses, making for a tough choice as you finish up a round, especially if you walked each day as I did. Do I go for my much needed spa treatment immediately or delay it long enough for a beer? Obviously, there’s no wrong answer.
The 26,000 sq ft spa facility is tranquil and relaxing and features tons of spa services which I’d be delighted to try on a return visit. As it was, I thoroughly enjoyed some relaxing time in the steam room, followed by a deep tissue massage and another session in the hot tub. It would have been nice to linger but we had an afternoon tee time on the Blue course. (You can get more information on the Red Door Spa HERE.)
Hockey and baseball
For many Canadians, Phoenix is primarily a golf destination. However, it’s easy to combine a passion for other sports with your golf trip, as the city is home to professional teams in all four major sports. The Suns (NBA) and Diamondbacks (MLB) play in downtown Phoenix while the Coyotes (NHL) and Cardinals (NFL) play in the West Valley, just minutes from The Wigwam.
During our visit, we saw the Coyotes beat the Colorado Avalanche on a day when the outside temperature hovered near 90 degrees (32 Celsius) but locals were wearing ski jackets and toques to Gila River Arena. Toronto hockey fans will be delighted to know that not only are tickets easily available for most Coyote games, they’re also just a fraction of what you would pay for a typical game at home.
During February and March, the West Valley is the spring training home for fifteen Major League Baseball teams. While Florida has the Grapefruit League, Arizona is in full swing with the Cactus League. It’s a terrific opportunity to combine a love of baseball and golf into a single holiday. During our time at The Wigwam, we were fortunate to have an invitation to tour the Cleveland Indian’s Spring Training facility, hit some baseballs in the batting cage and hit some golf balls off home plate. And just in case you’ve ever wondered about hitting a home run in a full size ball park with a golf club, I can tell you it was just a pitching wedge over the left and right field fences and a solid 8-iron to get over the centre field wall.
There’s a long list of attractions available in the West Valley but one of the more unique things I’ve experienced was a visit to nearby Luke Air Force Base. The Wigwam has a close relationship with the base and it’s worth a visit if you’ve never seen modern military equipment up close or had a chance to talk to people who put their lives on the line every day. And if you get the opportunity as we did to stand at the intersection of two runways as an F35 supersonic fighter jet lifted off in front of you and then hit the afterburners to climb straight up into the sky, it’s not an experience you’ll soon forget. The noise is beyond anything you can imagine and resonates right through your entire body.
Burgers & Beer
As most of you know, I’m serious about burgers and beer. The signature burger at Red’s is called the Jesse, named after a long time employee, who has been at the grill for over 45 years. The burger is piled high with a thick juicy patty topped with lettuce, tomato, smoked bacon, cheddar, onion and Red’s special sauce. It’s finished with a pickle spear and I defy anybody smaller than an NBA player to get their mouth around it. This is a massive, delicious burger that needs to be attacked from several angles and timid munchers may require a knife and fork. I give it my 5-star rating and it doesn’t get any better than that!
Red’s also features an excellent selection of local craft beers. I’m partial to IPA’s, so the Lagunitas IPA and the Mama’s Little Yella Pils topped my list of favourites but I can also give high marks to the Huss Brewing Scottsdale Blonde and the Four Peaks Kilt Lifter. One of my colleagues raved about Ballast Point Sculpin IPA too, which I have added to my long list of yet-to-be-savoured craft beers.
One final note on Red’s: The meatloaf sliders are incredible and make a great alternative for those occasional days when you just don’t feel like a burger.
As most Fairways readers know, I love history and could easily have spent several days exploring The Wigwam and listening to the local legends. Four days was barely enough to get acquainted with all the resort has to offer but I look forward to a return visit when maybe I can miss a few of Tom Lehman’s bunkers and take another bite out of a Jesse burger.
For more information about The Wigwam Resort, click HERE.