Desert Diamonds

New Chapters For Two Arizona Classics

By Tom Mackin

When it comes to professional sports in Phoenix, Jerry Colangelo has pretty much seen and done it all since arriving from Chicago in the late 1960s.

He served as coach, general manager, and owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. He brought Major League baseball to the desert with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1997. And he somehow attracted the NHL to the desert, with the Arizona Coyotes arriving from Winnipeg in 1996.

Lately, his focus has turned to golf. Since 2009 his company, JDM Partners, has owned two iconic spots in the Southwest’s rich golf landscape: the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club, just north of downtown Phoenix, and the Wigwam in Litchfield Park, 30 minutes west of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. He and his team have recently transformed both, writing new chapters in stories that began in the late 1920s and 1930, respectively.

A thoroughly renovated course at the Arizona Biltmore is the headliner of that process. Colangelo brought in Scottsdale resident Tom Lehman last year to inject new energy into a tired layout. The former Adobe course was rechristened as The Estates Course, a nod to the massive mansions that overlook many fairways on the very walkable layout.


“Where the previous layout was very parkland in style, and the approaches and surrounds were fairly mundane, our new layout has much better bunkering and also a lot of undulation around the greens,” said Leo Simonetta, the director of golf. “The golfer has many choices on a shot to play should they miss the green, from using their wedges to the fact that sometimes the best play may be with a putter.”

Lehman created nine completely new holes and did an extensive re-routing during the project. “I think the most significant change has come in the finishing stretch of 12 through 18,” said Simonetta. “With those holes, golfers will have a variety of shots to play to some really interesting greens, and at many varying distances.”

It’s not easy to rip up one of the area’s mainstay courses – the Adobe debuted in 1928 – but Colangelo knows the move was necessary and that frequent visitors will adjust quickly.

“I’ve been involved in building a lot of things and while you hate to lose the old arena, as soon as people get accustomed to a new arena, they forget about the old one,” said Colangelo. “That’s just the way it is. Tom Lehman did a great job. We have to wait for some trees to grow (400 were added to the site), but we think that the guts of the course have been improved so much. You can’t find a better piece of property in the heart of a major city than you can right here at The Biltmore. You’re 15 minutes away from the airport.”

A sparkling new golf shop was unveiled last year, and a spectacular new clubhouse, from where you can see every hole but the 10th, is scheduled to be unveiled in May. A second on-site layout, the Links, remains in play but with a very different feel than The Estates layout, thanks to notable elevation changes on the back nine that offer unforgettable views of downtown Phoenix and nearby Camelback Mountain.

The most recent changes at the Wigwam come off the walkable and fun courses, of which there are three: the Gold, the best test which turns 60 years old next year; the Blue, adjacent to and shorter than the Gold, and the Red, which underwent a bunker renovation project two years ago and is located across a street from its two counterparts (Wigwam remains the only 54-hole resort in the state). A renovation project of 295 guest rooms and suites was completed last year, while similar work on the Fairway Collection – 36 rooms in nine pods of casitas overlooking the Blue Course is slated to take place this summer.

“It’s been a complete transformation of the guest rooms,” said J. Green, vice president of sales and marketing. “The goal was to really modernize our product. When guests stay here they feel all the history, the charm, and the friendliness of the team at a unique resort in the Southwest, but now with all the modern luxuries.”


Greens credits the LEO A DALY architecture firm with skillfully retaining historical elements of the resort (which opened in 1929) while also bringing in the modern technology and luxuries that guests expect these days. “You also see it in a lot of the room décor, where they brought in blue hues and some gray textures that really blend well to add a more modern touch,” he said. “But the rooms also have a lot of pieces of art that date back to the days of the resort’s origins.” The resort’s common areas remained untouched during the project and for good reason. “We feel like that is pretty timeless,” said Green. “You walk in our front door and you know where you are at.”

“We’re excited about the future of the Wigwam,” said Colangelo. “We’ve put a lot of money into it in terms of improvements, and we will continue to do that. What I have found out about the hospitality business is that you are never finished with an improvement. It’s only a matter of a few years where you continually have to reinvest. But that’s part of the business.”

And few know the sports business in Arizona like Jerry Colangelo.



The Blue Course combines character and contradiction, sporty and subtle, aggravating and invigorating. The course has always been a favorite of skilled players, offering a fair but not overwhelming challenge for the beginning golfer.


Tom Mackin is a former senior editor of Golf Magazine. Reach him at [email protected]

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