Unveiled in the late 1920s, Wigwam was the first big resort to open in Arizona. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed two 18-hole layouts (the Gold and the Blue) in the mid-1960s, before Red Lawrence added another nearby course (appropriately named the Red) a decade later. That was back when the property was called the Goodyear Golf & Country Club.
Today, amenities at this 440-acre resort include 331 nicely appointed guest casitas and suites, four sparkling pools with two exciting waterslides and a spa, along with a floodlit 9-court tennis complex. In addition, there are three remarkable restaurants on site which are sure to satisfy the most discerning pallet.
The Gold course, nicknamed “Arizona’s Monster,” has hosted many tournaments over the years, including numerous qualifiers for the US Open and US Amateur. It’s also home to the the Patriot All-America Invitational, featuring top collegiate golfers from every NCAA division, along with special invitees.
In The American Golf Resort Guide, author Daniel Wexler comments on the Gold course as follows:
“Predictably, so big a layout has several overly large holes (e.g. the 272-yard par three 3rd as well as two par fives in excess of 650 yards) but there are a number of fine shorter challenges as well. Going out, these include the 391-yard 2nd (played to a huge lake-fronted green) and a pair of late par fours; the 465-yard canal-fronted 8th and the 452-yard dogleg right 9th.
Coming home, the 190-yard 11th and 174- yard 16th are watery one-shotters, but the true standouts are the 384-yard 12th (where carrying a left-side bunker shortens things considerably), the 422-yard lake-guarded 17th and the 440-yard 18th, where the canal runs flush along the left edge of the putting surface.”
In late 2015, Tom Lehman completed a course renovation, which largely focused on bunker modernization with some traps relocated and others eliminated altogether. Fairway/target lines across the course were also altered to provide a less linear aesthetic.
I played Wigwam Gold for the first time yesterday and came away pleasantly surprised with what I encountered. The Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design, which measures 7,400 yards from the back tees, holds a place in Arizona history for being the first premier resort course of the area. Gold is in many ways the anti-Arizona golf course, what with the number of trees and water hazards in play. If one were to be dropped out of an airplane, blindfolded, and quizzed about their location, they might say Florida; the only evidence to the contrary is the nearby mountain views. Wigwam Gold is a flat offering but one that is enhanced by clever bunkering and undulating greens. Those greens can be frustrating though, as few of them are duds or flat out impossible to approach because of the unknown slopes; my playing partner tried explaining the par three 11th green shape to me and I walked away confused. That being said, the putting surfaces were in terrific shape. The par four that stuck out to me most had to be the 12th: it is a gentle dogleg left with a green that can be crept on—for the longest of hitters—but also very penal with trees and bunkers acting as worthy barriers the putting surface. The right side of the fairway is relatively open and can be utilized as a layup outlet. “Arizona’s Monster”, as I’ve seen it called, has many lengthy offerings, especially the par fives. The 4th, which sports a few fairway bunkers, is a behemoth of a journey, as is the 10th with its treacherous length and two-tiered green; both of these beasts tip out at more than 650 yards. As Mr. Ward notes in his review of Gold, the course has been passed over now for years because of the giants in Scottsdale, but that does should not squash its significance. In fact, how many opportunities do you get to play a public Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design? Not a ton, I’m willing to guess. Add Wigwam Gold to your list if you’re in the area.
When people talk about the Valley of the Sun area the likely focal point is the mass number of courses located in Scottsdale. Unquestionably, the focus is on that specific area -- and for good reason as a number of outstanding golf facilities are located there.
What many may not remember, or even know, is that Wigwam is the prototype -- opening in 1929 with its first 18-hole layout and setting in motion a mega resorts with a rich brew of stylish amenities Matters really picked up mileage when acclaimed architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr, fashioned in 1964 a demanding layout patterned after his earlier effort at Firestone with its noted South Course.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber, the owners of the property then, were not going to be outdone in any manner by their chief rival.
The Arizona "monster" has considerable yardage and a whole host of design elements which Jones used from earlier designs.
The Wigwam had all the key ingredients for snowbirds to enjoy. The facility was really the drawing card for those coming to the area, either temporarily or permanently. Unfortunately, over the years the golf market in the area evolved and the focus shifted to the glitzy Phoenix / Scottsdale corridor.
The Gold Course merits attention because of the efforts of architect Forrest Richardson who entered the scene in 2005. The course was in need of a makeover and the efforts put forward have clearly removed the lingering dust that had become the norm.
The Gold clearly has the length -- over 7,400 yards -- but the routing and mixture of holes still has heft even though its overall style reflects more of the heyday when Jones was clearly the leading figure in course architecture.
The Gold is on relatively flat land and Jones smartly added a series of bunkers - which in a number of instances were relocated years later when Tom Lehman entered the scene in 2015. The Jones philosophy is alive and well at the Gold -- the "easy bogey / hard par" mantra is often front and center. The continuity of the round is helped by the fact that golfers do not return to the clubhouse after finishing the outward side. The need for quality driving is a central element and the green sites are a good mixture requiring keen thinking when preparing to execute approaches into them.
There are several holes of note -- the long par-4 8th must be treated with great care as a pesky canal ably defends the green for those who miss ever so slightly to the left. The par-4 18th seals the day in grand fashion. The naturalness of the hole is not doctored up with gimmicks and the core essence of what one has encountered that day rises to a fulfilling crescendo.
The RTJ, Sr., design style has fallen out of favorability for many as the resurgence of classic architecture that came of age in the 1920s is being carefully cultivated through a number of active architects now with the likes of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Gil Hanse and Tom Doak leading the way. Nonetheless, those who think of themselves as architectural students should take the time and see how this long-time desert contributor still has much to see and respect.
M. James Ward