By Roger Cox, Editor
Just over 100 years ago, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company bought up land in Arizona's Salt River Valley to grow the cotton it needed to extend the life of its tires. To provide a place for executives to stay and meet, the company built Organization House—which is now referred to as the Fireplace Lounge. Several years later, in 1929, the property formally opened to the public as a resort with accommodations for 24 guests, who received a key and a horse upon check in. At first, the resort opened only seasonally, but its popularity led it to to expand to what now is year round full service resort with 331 casitas and suites.
In the intervening decades it evolved into a 440-acre multi-dimensional resort, more alluring than even now following a major rejuvenation after sports icon Jerry Colangelo bought it in 2009. Its heart remains the original lodge with its wood-burning fireplaces, comfortable sitting areas, and spiffed up Western decor. Seemingly everywhere you turn there are porches, patios, alcoves, firepits, lawns, and other excuses to gather with the other guests. Board games draw families to one sitting area, which has a fireplace; those looking for a quiet drink gather in the Fireplace Lounge. Walls of photos hint at past guests: Gary Cooper, Henry Kissinger, President Gerald Ford, Billy Joel, Magic Johnson, Paul Newman, Debbie Reynolds, and many more. Litchfield's, the signature restaurant, stands at one corner, its tables spilling out onto the terrace behind and onto a porch with another fireplace. The night I visited, there was live music at the Wigwam Bar, which has tables both inside and out, spilling into the courtyard behind containing yet another firepit as well as a bocce court and bean-bag toss. And just beyond that courtyard stretches the newly expanded swimming pool, with a waterslide at one end, a Jacuzzi at the other, and a bar and grill at poolside.
If this sounds sprawling, it should. One of the glories of the Wigwam is its large footprint. The accommodations have been scattered in pueblo-inspired one-story cottages with gardens and hedges and two-story buildings, all of its generously separated by lawns and connected by footpaths. My route from room to the lodge took me through what felt like a quiet car-free neighborhood of cottages, an experience very unlike most resort hotels. And if my timing had been different, I could have altered that path to take in a farmers' market, which takes place seasonally on the broad front lawn. This isn't your typical hotel experience.
Pro Shop: 623-535-4926
Tennis benefited early in Colangelo's reign with the hiring of Carlos Hassey as director and the resurfacing of the courts. Hassey has not only exceptional credentials—including helping to coach Tracy Austin and a stint at Vic Braden's Coto de Caza—but also an outgoing personality and infectious enthusiasm for tennis. Within months of his arrival, members who'd drifted away began returning and he has set about enhancing the experience for guests, with a diverse roster that include family tennis, kids clinics, leagues, ball machine workout, and game matching. He stages a couple of social events each month, with tennis, wine, and beer and themed events around holidays. These get a good turnout because of his active membership and an atmosphere that makes guests feel welcome to join in. "We try to accommodate everyone from 4 years to 84," he told me.
Courts & Fees. There are nine courts altogether, beginning with a sunken stadium court surfaced with Plexicushion, just below the pro shop. The rest of the campus consists of hard courts, two of them with lines for pickleball. The pro shop has a sitting area with sofas at one end and limited retail at the other. Next door is an activities area with Fusbol, air hockey, and Pac Man and numerous other coin-operated arcade games. Outside, stand numerous umbrellaed tables and chairs arrayed on the patio above the sunken court, making it an inviting place to congregate. Court fees: $16/court/day.
Golf Courses. Golf was a crucial element in the Wigwam's transition from a guest ranch to a resort. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed two of the 18-hole layouts: the Gold, a long (7,430 yard), winding Par 72, and the shorter (6,000 yard) but technically challenging Blue or Patriot course, which is riddled with perilous bunkers, thirsty ponds, and demanding dog-leg fairways. The third course, The Heritage, was designed by Robert "Red" Lawrence with generous fairways and green and abundance of natural water features and lush trees.
Spa & Fitness Center. The Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spas ordinarily adhere to their own rigid formula; however the one at the Wigwam is unusual for incorporating the Wigwam's Southwestern culture into its design. The 26,000-square-foot space was designed to complement the resort's adobe architecture while nonetheless adhering to Miss Arden's emphasis on the health benefits of her beauty products and treatments. The spa shares an adobe building with the fitness center and Motion studio, all of them just steps from the sunken stadium court.
The 331 rooms have been scattered across the property in adobe structures whose patios and terraces variously face lawns, gardens, pools, and the tennis complex. Recently refurbished, they retain their historic Western traditions with wood furnishings and hand-crafted pottery but have been modernized to include Italian linens, oversize baths, and high-speed Internet access access. Some also have gaslog fireplaces.
Although named for a Goodyear Tire & Rubber executive, Litchfield's has adopted a casual look and feel for its farm-to-table cuisine. Open only for dinner, its menu runs from butternut gnocchi to seabass and Colorado lamb. Out at the gold clubhouse, Red's Bar & Grill serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a menu long on burgers, salads, and sandwiches. There's a similar menu at the Wigwam Bar. The poolside Tower Bar & Grill has a kids, menu of chicken fingers, hot dogs, and ice cream and an adult menu of margaritas, beers, and salads and sandwiches.
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Seasons. Year-round, though most comfortable from October to May.
Travel Instructions. The Wigwam is roughly a 30-minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX).