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November 2020

The Wigwam Resort

Nearly a Century of Service Sets Holiday Tone

By Sally J. Sportsman

Holidays are marked by tradition. Through the years The Wigwam Resort, which opened its doors on Thanksgiving Day, 1929, has created  cherished traditions that many look forward to. This year will be no exception for the well-known destination in Litchfield Park, Arizona, near Phoenix.
“We try to make sure everyone feels the holiday magic,” says Katy Powers, managing director and general manager of the property. “Resort guests, members and the community are all invited to take part.”

The 440-acre getaway in the West Valley, surrounded by the Sonoran Desert, features 54 holes of golf and 330 guest rooms. There are 300 golf members, according to Leo Simonetta, director of golf operations. From Thanksgiving through Christmas each year, members and community members mingle with resort guests, resulting in festive gatherings and activities. A prominent annual holiday tradition, the day after Thanksgiving, entails a tree lighting ceremony at 6:00 p.m. on the front lawn. The local high school band parades in, playing holiday songs, followed by Santa’s arrival on a fire truck. Santa waves to the crowd and flips the switch on the tree lights. A small train takes children around the property to view the decorations, and hot chocolate is served. Families often stay for dinner and spend the night, generating a significant revenue source for the resort.

“Visitors are accustomed to feeling comfortable here,” Powers says. “We may have to make some adjustments this year, but our goal is to ensure that comfort level remains.

“We will look for creative ways to make it safe for everyone during the pandemic.”

The resort’s strategy involves booking at 50% now. Social distancing is being observed and mask requirements are in place. This year the holiday possibilities include doing the parade virtually or doing it over several nights.

Another tradition that may need altering is the custom of children sitting on Santa’s lap at Breakfast with Santa, held every Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Youngsters also do crafts projects at tables, with Santa coming over to see their creations.

“None of us thought the virus would be so prevalent all these months later,” says Powers. “We are adjusting; things might look different from in the past.”

Golf rounds at The Wigwam Resort have remained steady, according to Simonetta.  The plan is to continue the status quo in terms of golf business. Standard pandemic precautions are in place at the three golf courses, including taking special care with all touch points. The holiday golf rate structure will be the same as last year, with rate increases beginning in October. One noticeable shift is that charity golf events have been booking smaller groups.

“I imagine this year’s holiday traffic will decline as far as out-of-state visitors are concerned,” Simonetta says. “In normal years, 25% of rounds played are by resort guests.

“In December, if we experience a decline in resort rounds played of 10 to 20%, that is manageable. We might have an uptick in local play.”

One well-established annual tradition at the resort is The Patriot All-America Invitational, a collegiate men’s golf event at the end of December featuring 84 All Americans from NCAA Divisions I, II and III, plus special invitees. There have been spectators in years past. The 54-hole tournament honors the U.S. Military. Each player, forgoing his customary university golf bag, is assigned a red, white and blue bag bearing the name of a fallen or severely injured soldier from his geographic area; the collegian plays in honor of that individual. There are military speakers and flyovers, helicopters and parachute jumps. Folds of Honor is the beneficiary of the event, now presented by the West Valley Maverick Foundation. At the conclusion of the championship, the golf bags are taken to the participants’ universities, where they are auctioned to alumni as part of the fundraising initiatives.

“The competition creates a nice college bowl game environment,” says Simonetta, “with good holiday spirit. I don’t know what changes we’ll see this year, but the event is scheduled to be played, carrying on a proud ten-year tradition.”

As the holidays approach, business is holding steady at The Wigwam Resort, according to Powers. Dining revenues at the property’s restaurants have been strong since reopening, although Red’s Bar & Grill, which caters mostly to locals, has seen revenues decline by 20% since the end of May. At the Grab & Go spot, a limited menu now is offered and some family meal options have been added. Litchfield’s, the fine dining venue, was scheduled to reopen Oct. 1. Days and hours at Litchfield’s might be reduced depending on the virus status during the holidays. The live music at Litchfield’s and the bar on weekend nights will remain. The wine dinners at Litchfield’s also will continue, usually drawing 40 people each; 25% typically are resort guests. At $100 per person, each dinner results in $4,000 revenue, allowing the resort to showcase its chefs and culinary program and to generate new business.

“We know the wine dinners will be popular again this year, and we will follow CDC guidelines,” says Powers. “We try to stay one step ahead – keeping safe but having some enjoyment.

“The virus is nothing catastrophic for us. We are taking a significant hit, but it was expected and we are managing it.”


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