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|Is the side-trip from Scottsdale to Litchfield Park to play golf at Wigwam worth it? You bet! (Courtesy of The Wigwam Resort)|
LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. -- Golfers traveling to Arizona often head to north Scottsdale and its bevy of great courses.
But it would be a shame if they let geography get in the way and didn't head west to Litchfield Park and the three golf courses at the Wigwam resort and spa.
It's traditional golf at the Wigwam, which isn't a surprise given two of the courses were designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr. There's no desert here to swallow up golf balls; instead, the courses are nestled among rolling hills, parkland trees, lakes, canals and streams.
In fact, the golf courses are much more mindful of Florida tracks than they are Arizona layouts. And that's the allure. It's rare in the Valley to play top-notch courses where green is the color of choice rather than desert brown.
"That's kind of a real selling point for us," said Leo Simonetta, director of golf operations. "Desert golf can be tough to play all the time because it can beat you over the head a lot. These more traditional layouts you can put it back into play.
"Plus, we have one big thing we can sell: Shade."
Jones Sr. wasn't a fan of tricked-up layouts, and the courses at Wigwam are no exception. There are few forced carries or blind shots, and the bunkers don't have railroad ties.
It's golf the way it used to be.
"I always refer to is as pure golf," Simonetta said. "It's very straightforward. You can see what you have in front of you, but (Jones) challenges you on every hole."
Wigwam's Gold Course is the standout among the three courses. At first blush, it looks fairly benign. The fairways are generous and the doglegs aren't so severe they're penal. Even the trees that line every fairway aren't so dense to be considered dangerous.
But the beauty of the Gold Course is both its bluster and its subtlety. The bluster comes from its length: 7,430 yards from the tips. At that distance, two of the four par 5s are more than 650 yards and the par-3 third hole is an astounding 272 yards.
Even the championship tees, the third set of tees, is 6,830 yards; so, yes, it's imperative to hit the driver well.
But what truly distinguishes the Gold is its well-placed bunkers and sloping, elevated greens. The bunkers aren't just sprinkled around the course. They're strategically placed, in terms of distance off the tee and position around the greens. Also, Jones designed the course, so it's rare a fairway bunker will offer a direct shot to the green. It's not unusual to have to try to play a draw or fade from a bunker or a punch shot under a tree.
The greens, which are slower than most in the Valley, are difficult to navigate because of their slope and the fact that the fringe is shaved, as Gary McCord would say, like a bikini wax. A common sight is balls rolling off the back or sides either into bunkers, deep swales or a meandering stream.
"We did that to return the course to the way it was meant to be," Simonetta said. "We wanted to give golfers a variety of shots to hit around the green instead of just chipping out of the rough."
The best hole on the Gold: No. 8, a 465-yard par 4 with a canal that snakes along the right side of the fairway and an elevated green that is protected by water right and a huge cavernous bunker left. Par there is a terrific score.
Wigwam's Patriot Course, a 6,000-yard par 70, is known as "the great contradiction" because the front nine is 3,250 yards long and the back nine is only 2,750 yards. But the Patriot makes up for its lack of distance with numerous doglegs and mounded, smaller greens, some of which are crowned like Pinehurst No. 2.
"People look at the distance and think it's an easy course but for a long time the course record on both the Patriot and the Gold was 61, and the Gold is 1,400 yard longer," Simonetta said. "We tell people, 'You might be playing only a 340-yard par 4, but it will be the best 340-yard par 4 you'll ever play."
Wigwam's Heritage Course, a 6,852-yard par 72, isn't as distinctive as the Gold or Patriot, and it's an easier track thanks to wide fairways and flatter, approachable greens. But its finishing kick is special: No. 16 is a 454-yard par 4, No. 17 a 254-yard par 3 and No. 18 a 591-yard par 5.
"The rest of the golf course is very playable, but they're hard as heck," Simonetta said.
The Wigwam resort is undergoing a restoration and upgrade at the direction of former Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, who purchased the property along with his partners at JDM Partners.
Colangelo said JDM plans to build a new locker room facility within the next year and upgrade other infrastructure around the 54 holes.
Fortunately, not much has to be done to the golf courses.
Robert Trent Jones Sr. took care of that.
May 17, 2011
Scott Bordow is the golf columnist for the Arizona Republic. Follow him on Twitter at @sbordow.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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