Can Grandma be hip? Wigwam Resort tries to find out with some Scottsdale tricks

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. -- Walking around the Wigwam Resort & Golf Club's wide-open, campus-style grounds, it is not too hard to step back into time. That's good for the Wigwam, a hotel that has long relied on nostalgia in a state without much ancient history.

Wigwam's shooting fountains
Even Wigwam's shooting fountains are low key on its campus-style layout.
Wigwam's shooting fountainsThe pool at Wigwam ResortA front entrance of Wigwam Resort
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In the Northeast, a 76-year history would garner a yawn.

This being Arizona, it brings up all kinds of family-tree feelings.

"We get a lot of people saying, ‘My parents stayed at the Wigwam,'" Public Relations Director Lance Burton said. "Or ‘my grandparents stayed at the Wigwam.' And they want to come here and get a feeling for what that was like. We still get a lot of that."

A first-time Wigwam guest with no family ties is likely to be happy that the Wigwam's not all about that. For as much as Wigwam covets its status as being arguably the oldest resort in Arizona (the Biltmore also claims 76 years and the two hotels have a friendly disagreement over who's really No. 1 pioneer), it is intent on keeping up with the times. Strolling amongst the one- and two-story casitas with the muted Southwestern earth tones, cutting edge is going to be one of the last things that springs to mind.

In fact, if that teenager didn't have an iPod at the pool, you could think you were in the 1950s.

However, who do you know who wants to spend their vacation in the 1950s? They didn't have that much cool stuff back then, for one thing. And if they're not rolling back gas prices to match, why bother?

To its credit, the Wigwam Resort seems to recognize this. While keeping its "Authentic Arizona" slogan and much of its longtime look, the hotel is in the mist of a $2 million renovation that will put flat-screen TVs, state-of-the-art Boise stereo systems and ultra-high-thread-count sheets in all its rooms.

Being authentic doesn't mean you have to watch the game like a caveman on that old hotel TV set.

"People have the technology in their own homes and they're getting to expect it in a luxury resort," Burton said.

Any self-respecting resort also needs a spa and the Wigwam is taking a giant step in that direction with the scheduled opening of a brand-new, 26,000-square-foot Red Door Spa in January. This will be only the fifth Red Door Spa in a resort in the country. In going for spa name-brand, the Wigwam is going upscale with tailored treatments and outdoor patio rooms.

This follows a $5 million renovation to two of its three golf courses (with the other Red 18 scheduled to be worked over soon).

Long the linchpin of a West Valley golf scene that's quickly gone from secluded afterthought to budding new hot spot, Wigwam is determined not to be left behind.

Right now, it still makes for something of a jarring juxtaposition. The Wigwam sometimes comes across as your grandma trying to be hip. For much of the charm of the place comes in its old-time feel, of walking the level green grounds where the colorful flowers set up next to low-key shooting fountains in open courtyards are sure to please any experienced amateur gardeners.

There's nothing attention-demanding about Wigwam Resort's layout. It's about as over-the-top as a bingo game. The rushing waterfall at the Fairmont Scottsdale Resort would sneer at the modest little shooting fountains at the Wigwam.

And yet the Wigwam is clearly trying to latch onto some of that Scottsdale showmanship.

It boasts about its AAA Four Diamond award-winning restaurant Arizona Kitchen by highlighting its "intimate Sonoran Desert-inspired ambiance" and "indigenous ingredients with a classical French foundation." These are foodie buzzwords all the way and yet on the Friday night of this stay, the restaurant was packed with graying men and women in their Sunday best. It was an old time dining scene, about as far removed from the uber-hip stylings of Scottsdale's new restaurant scene as you can get.

Yet Arizona Kitchen turned around and served one of best French toast with fruit dishes this traveler's ever enjoyed for breakfast the very next day.

That's the thing about the Wigwam Resort. It's very good at what it does best. This place is a great family resort or out-of-the-bustle couples hideaway for when you're looking much more for quiet than theatrics. It got its start when Goodyear Tire decided to build a small lodging area for the executives visiting its cotton plant in 1918 and opened to the public as a resort in 1929 largely dependent on in-the-know word of mouth.

And Wigwam still maintains much of that identity today.

Guests may no longer tie their rented horses up right outside their front door, but Wigwam is still a place where the quiet can resonate. Even on a weekend night. If you're looking for a hot nightclub scene, you still have to go far from Litchfield Park.

On this Friday night, the only activity that could be found on the grounds was a match on one of the nine lighted outdoor tennis courts.

"It's not your regular Phoenix-Scottsdale resort stay," Burton said. "It's different, a unique experience with the wide open spaces and almost parkland style look. It's a nice retreat."

With huge open rooms, complete with their own balcony or backyard patio, soaking tubs and black and white wannabe old cowboy photos, Wigwam can certainly be that.

Grandma would approve. Which doesn't mean you cannot be 21st century comfortable.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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