Wigwam Resort is solid reprieve from target golf

By Brendan McEvoy, Contributor

LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. - How many times have you seen it: Guypurchases a dozen Titleist Pro V1s, heads out to a desert track, and onlyhas a few pearls left in his bag when the round is ove.

Desert-style golf, and more specifically, target golf is unkind to theweekend player. Little green islands surrounded by sand and rocks areintimidatin.

In the Phoenix area, the alternative is the Wigwam Resort and Golf Club, a54-hole facility in the west valley. The first two courses - Blue andGold - were designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. in 1929 and 1964 before thedesert was synonymous with target golf. The third course - Red - opened in1972 and was a more forgiving design authored by Red Lawrence. It is thefavorite of Wigwam's membership, which is made mostly of retirees or golfersnearing that stage in life.

Large oak and pine trees line the fairways. Some have limbs that droop allthe way to the ground. Before hundreds of houses were erected around theBlue and Gold Courses, the sight must have been odd: a thin forest withwall-to-wall grass in the middle of the deser.

"People make comments that they like having a traditional golf coursearound," said Craig Allen, director of golf at The Wigwam. "They don't likelosing 12 balls when they play the other courses. Because of that, we do alot of tournament activity. And with a 54-hole facility, we're able tomaintain a happy membership and hold these local events.

With the injection of target golf in the early '80s, Wigwam became anoff-beat Arizona design. It was also considered off the beaten path beforethe new freeway system came into play a few years ago. Thanks to "The Loop,"also know as The 101, Wigwam is no more than a half-hour from anywhere inThe Valley. And you'll want to know where it is when summer rolls around andthe temperature is pushing 110 degrees. The Wigwam is one of a handful ofPhoenix-area clubs that has shade thanks to its tree.

The inviting nature of shade in the desert and resort golf might leadgolfers to believe this old track can be scored upon easily. Jones has neverdesigned a pushover. Sure, the Wigwam is his version of resort golf, but itstill has its challenges with elevated greens with everything from subtlebreaks to winding downhill snakes. The good news is that just abouteverything is in front of yo.

The courses

With nothing to hide, the Blue Course might be the most deceiving challengein Arizona. Look at its individual parts: wide fairways, it plays short(6,085 yards) from the back tees, medium to slow greens, and it consists offive par 3s and only three par 5s. But "easy" is an inaccurate descriptionof the Blue Course. The key is getting past Jones' mind game that starts onthe first three hole.

Wedged between two par 5s over 500 yards is a 203-yard par-3 hole. After onlythree full swings on the first hole, the golfer is expected to take a longiron into a well guarded green on the second. So much for the firmhandshake. Get off to a bad start, and the course already has youover-thinkin.

But the real start, the first hole, is quite a thrill. The tee box for the501-yard par-5 hole has a long rear edge and it runs right along the clubhousewith only a narrow cart path between the two. It feels like a tournamentsetting. With what could compete for the widest fairway in the state, thefirst tee ball is not a nerve racking sho.

Throughout the round, the golfer will have moments where tee shots feelcomfortable. The first three holes of the back nine, a sub-500 yard par-5birdie hole and two par-4 holes barely over 300 yards, are low scores waiting to happen. Butafter a stretch of medium challenges, the 17th and 18th are vintageJones-level finishing holes. The 17th is a 453-yard par-4 doglegright and requires a gutsy drive over the tree-lined right side. The 18th isa nearly impossible 194-yard par-3 monster. The green is too shallow to hold longiron shots and it's heavily guarded by bunker.

Jones challenges golfers with approaches and putts more than tee balls onthe Blue Course. And with Texas-wide fairways, it's easy to just try andmuscle up on drives. But playing the holes backwards in your mind - askingwhich side of the fairway would be the best to approach the green - is thesmart way to attack this desig.

The Gold Course, the most popular track at Wigwam, is a muscular version ofthe Blue Course. It's also in much better condition. With a 54-holefacility, Allen explained that the club can't afford to shutdown all threecourses at the same time to overseed for the winter. The Blue Course isoften overseeded first (in September) while the temperature is still over100 degrees. Those conditions hinder the rye seed from take roo.

"It's a constant battle with three golf courses," Allen sai.

With club in hand, the Gold Course is a constant battle, too. Jones' designis vulnerable to birdies on three of the first four holes, but other thanthe par-4 384-yard 12th, the rest of the course is made of easy bogeys. Thedesign requires length off the tee, soft approach shots and imagination withthe putte.

"It's a traditional layout that requires golfers to use every club in thebag," Allen said. "It's straightforward, but you'll use a full variety ofshots.

The double dogleg par-5, 605-yard 10th hole is the most memorable hole onthe course, and Allen's favorite. The fairway starts out wide open, buttightens toward the hole. "You've gotta hit two good shots and a premium ison the second shot," Allen sai.

But the hole you'll want to forget is the 451-yard par-4 eighth. Golfersneed to hit their longest ball of the day, and with a mid or high iron onapproach, avoid the concrete canal that runs in front and to the left of thegreen. Most recreational golfers would benefit from playing this hole like apar-.

The Blue and the Gold Course have elevated putting surfaces which penalizesplayers who are slightly off line, and again with uneven lies on chips andin traps. The Red Course is less penal around the greens, but still plays6,865 from the back tees. Allen says the design is more forgiving until thefinal stretc.

"The last four finishing holes are the best finishing holes on all threegolf courses," he sai.

By "best," Allen means tough. It starts with 414-yard and 454-yard par-4s,followed by a 254-yard par-3 and then the grand finale, a 591-yard par-5.From the middle tees, the par-3 is significantly shorter at 179 yards, butthe other three holes play close to the same distanc.

The Resort

The Wigwam is a member of Starwood's Luxury Collection, and has 330 luxurycasitas wedged in and around the property. Palm trees and flower gardensline the streets of the quaint surrounding village, and its Native Americandesign gives the resort a rustic feel. It has won Mobil's Travel Guide FourStar Award for excellenc.

The Verdict

Let's try an analogy. Everyone has a favorite burger joint - In-and-OutBurger, Wendy's, McDonalds, etc. If you were backpacking through Europe fora few weeks, eating foreign cuisine, after a while you'd want a nice juicyhamburger. If your favorite burger joint popped up in the middle of yourtrip, you'd make sure to stop in for lunc.

Because many people in the Valley of the Sun are from the Midwest or East Coast, the Wigwam is kind of their taste of home for a day. It's traditionalgolf in a place where golf is anything but. It won't dazzle you with sceneryand there aren't many memorable holes, but it's a good test of golf thatwill penalize for wayward shots without the casualty of a dozen golf balls.People who are visiting the Phoenix area would do themselves a favor if theybooked a round under at the Wigwam before heading out to some of thetarget-style tracks. Understand that the greens on the Blue Course are inrough shape because of the overseeding issue which should work itself out byApril or May. Until then, try to play the Gold and Red Course.

Brendan McEvoy, Contributor

Brendan McEvoy spent five years with Times Community Newspapers, a Reston, Va.-based chain of 18 weekly newspapers covering the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

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