The Wigwam Resort Jones Lays Out Traditional Golf in the Valley of the Sun
LITCHFIELD PARK - Yes, traditional golf still exists in the Valley. Amid the acres of sparkling desert layouts and multi-million dollar projects, there are a few reminders of the game our parents and grandparents played still standing. One of the finest among them is the Wigwam Resort's Gold Course. Designed by the prolific and legendary Robert Trent Jones, Sr., the Gold Course is rugged and mature, and as fine a test of your shot-making ability as you'll find.
The old Brit made no secret of the fact that his first goal when constructing a course, was to make it difficult for even the best golfers. He succeeded with Wigwam Gold.
Sand traps usually outnumber the golfers on the Gold Course, and narrow fairways lead to small, hard greens while canals wind through a healthy mixture of deciduous trees, pines and high, waving palm.
Near the greens things really get dicey. Excavation equipment wasn't what it is today, but Jones had several lakes dug out of the ground and nestled most of them up to his greens. He also hid some of the water, including canals that cross in front of two of the greens, to catch unwary players and those who don't know the course.
And the bunkers are worth mentioning again. Jones was a pioneer of the dreaded "right front" bunkers that catch the week fades of average golfers and force high, delicate approach shots in order to carry them. Greens are well protected, and just in case it wasn't hard enough, he plopped a couple of palm trees right into the middle of the bunkers on a few holes. Difficulty is not the only signature of a Jones course, though. Fans of the traditional game will appreciate the narrow rolling fairways and the vegetation-rich rough.
There's always an adventure to be had by going off the beaten path, and a reward awaiting every long, straight drive. The course is built inside a housing development, but does not seem confining.
The sanctuary from any major roads is a big plus, however, as bird chirping is the predominant sound on the course. And there is something that will always be beautiful about a course that reasonably can be played in about four hours. After a brief bottleneck at the first par-3, the Gold Course opens up and supports fast play. There is no dense forest area in which to lose a ball, and anything too far left or right usually calls for a pitch back to safety. Plus there aren't many three- and four-putts on the small greens.
The original Wigwam course was laid out in 1929, which is mostly the Blue Course of today (also an RTJ, Sr. design). Later, the Gold Course was reworked and then a Red Course was added, but the Gold Course is easily the star of the three. It stretches 7,074 yards from the gold tees, 6,504 yards from the whites and 5,663 from the forward red tees. A challenge from wherever you tee off, it is rated at a 74.1 from the tips, with a slope of 133.
The white rating/slope is 71.2/128 and the red is 72.8/126. Of course, Wigwam Gold is geared toward resort players, and carries with it a resort price that maxes out at $130 in peak season. But the course holds its own with others in the same price range, and can be considered a bargain in the off-season, when prices drop into the $40 range. One disappointment at the Wigwam is the driving range.
With three courses worth of players, you might expect a larger-than-normal range. On the contrary, it is a bit cramped with several golfers waiting in the wings. The rest of the practice facilities, however, are all that should be expected of a first-class resort, and the grounds never feel too crowded despite the 54 holes.
Skipping the driving range can be a bad idea on the Gold Course because each nine dispenses with niceties and gets right to it with a long par-5. No 10 reaches 605 yards at its longest. Not much of a birdie opportunity there! The par-4s are more manageable however, and the length of the course should not overwhelm anyone. The Gold Course is a course for golfers of all ages and handicaps, provided some of them don't mind posting high scores. As Jones said of his courses, "par is tough, but a bogey is easy."
Of course he meant easy for a scratch golfer, but the phrase still holds some truth for others. But the Wigwam Resort is not only about golf.
It's a town unto itself with 331 guest casitas providing the southwestern charm, three restaurants, and plenty of recreation and meeting facilities. The Grille on the Greens overlooks the clubhouse and course and offers a pleasant patio dining experience.
For travelers, the Wigwam is a convenient alternative to East Valley lodging. It is located less than 20 miles from downtown Phoenix, just north of I-10. And it's just a stone's throw or two from Palm Valley and Estrella Mountain Ranch, two high-quality golf destinations. So when you are deciding where to play your next round of golf, remember this: Even Jones, who's newest course in Las Vegas is scheduled to open in 2000, doesn't make 'em like Wigwam Gold anymore. For more information, contact:
The Wigwam Resort
300 Wigwam Boulevard
Litchfield Park, AZ 85340
June 3, 1999