Historic Arizona golf club led by former NBA owner reopens after Tom Lehman renovation

PHOENIX — Nearly 15 years after acquiring the property, and after an eight-month renovation during one of the hottest summers on record, the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club’s main attraction is back open for business.

Long known as the Adobe Course, the Tom Lehman redesign is now the public-access Estates Course. There’s a modern new clubhouse that’s up and running, stocked with the coolest apparel brands and logoed gear. While golfers are already making their way around the new fairways, complete with views of the Phoenix skyline in one direction and Camelback Mountain in another, there’s a lot more coming, including a new restaurant, balcony, ballroom and more.

The 18-hole layout has taken the Estates name to better reflect the high-end exclusive enclave of this Phoenix community. The Biltmore had 36 holes in all, with the Estates Course situated on one giant piece of land and the companion Links Course meandering through the neighborhood.

Built in the late 1920s, Biltmore Golf occupies a prime piece of real estate.

“Looking down at the course and looking at the city, and the mountains around us and what it all represents, it’s so historic,” said Jerry Colangelo, one of the owners of JDM Partners, which bought the Biltmore during the economic downtown in 2009. “You can’t find a better piece of property in the heart of a major city than you can right here in Phoenix, Arizona, at the Arizona Biltmore.”

Arizona Biltmore Golf Club
Arizona Biltmore Golf Club

The Arizona Biltmore Golf Club in Phoenix (Photo: Golfweek)

Surrounded by multi-million dollar homes, in the shadows of the famous Wrigley mansion and within walking distance of the esteemed Arizona Biltmore Resort, the Estates course plays just under 6,700 yards from the back tees, making this par 71 a not-so-brutal test for golfers looking to have a fun time.

Work on the golf course finally started in April of 2023 after lengthy discussions and planning with homeowners, stakeholders and industry experts. The Lehman Design Group also had to battle Mother Nature through the course reopening in November.

“It was compounded by one of the worst summers. I don’t know how many trees were lost,” Lehman told Golfweek after returning from participating in the PNC Championship in Orlando with his son Sean. “That was one of the unfortunate and little bit unlucky parts of the project. The summer was merciless on the plants.”

A few trees were lost but most remain, giving the venue one of the few Phoenix-area courses with large, mature trees requiring, from time to time, some creative shot-making.

Built by chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. in the late 1920s, the Biltmore has hosted presidents and movie stars. The Adobe Restaurant’s walls were covered in large framed photos of George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower roaming the grounds. There’s also a painting of Lehman kissing the Claret Jug, commemorating his lone major championship, the 1996 British Open.

The restaurant is being demolished during the renovation, but the framed photos will grace the walls of the Gallery still under construction adjacent to the ballroom.

Lehman’s friendship with Colangelo goes back to the early ’90s, when Lehman first moved with his family to Scottsdale. At that time Colangelo was best known as the popular owner of the Phoenix Suns, a franchise for which he also previously served as general manager and head coach. While he relentlessly pursued an NBA championship, he ultimately fell short of that goal but he did bring a major professional sports title to the city when, as managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he hoisted the World Series trophy just four years after the baseball team played its first game.

Arizona Biltmore
Arizona Biltmore

The Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix in the 1920s

Colangelo, who at age 84 says it’s still “fun building things,” also owns the Wigwam in Litchfield Park with his JDM partners, David Eaton and Mel Shultz, giving the group a property in the fast-growing west side of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Colangelo says it was important to have someone local on hand to re-do the Biltmore’s golf course, and Lehman fit the bill.

“I don’t know how many visits I’ve made to that golf course over the last five years, but it has to be in the hundreds,” said Lehman, who plans to play a full PGA Tour Champions schedule in 2024 while staying somewhat active in the design and renovation arena. “Living in the area, I made myself very available to them.”

Arizona Biltmore Golf Club
Arizona Biltmore Golf Club

Photos of U.S. presidents are featured at the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club. (Photo: Golfweek)

At the Estates Course, golfers are going to find a traditional, parkland-style layout with adjoining fairways allowing for the not-so-accurate tee shot to find a relatively friendly landing spot. The large, undulating greens will make for some creative putting opportunities. There is a manmade lake to store the course’s water near the 18th tee box. Along the sixth hole is a meandering creek.

The Estates isn’t expensive Scottsdale desert golf nor is it trying to be, and that’s OK. It’s the playability that makes the course fun. For example, the fifth hole brings golfers right back to the first tee, so for those who feel like sneaking in a late-day five-hole loop, the Estates Course can provide just that.

The large building still under construction just off the 18th green will have an outdoor post-round gathering area. The new restaurant will be a popular spot, and there will also be a grab-and-go place called the Pantry offering quick bites for those on the move. An upstairs balcony will allow for some fantastic sunset viewing. Also coming: a large ballroom for big parties, celebrations and perhaps even a piano bar, one of Colangelo’s favorite evening pastimes from his days on the road in the NBA.

“We have a great opportunity to have a bright future,” Colangelo said.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek