|When the late Frank Luke Jr. was honored this week during a ceremony at The Wigwam Resort it marked the fruition of the first stage of an extensive plan devoted to patriotism that had been a year in the making by Jerry Colangelo and his JDM partners.Colangelo, the former owner/founder of the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks who purchased the Wigwam Resort out of bankruptcy a year ago, honored Luke, the namesake of Luke Air Force Base, in a ceremony Wednesday that included a Color Guard from the nearby base. The first hole on The Wigwamâ€™s newly named Patriot Course (formerly the Blue Course) is now officially dedicated to Luke, the first of 18 such dedications.|
â€œPatriotism has always been a big part of what I believe in,â€™â€™ said Colangelo who along with one of Lukeâ€™s relatives, Don Luke, were the featured speakers during the 30-minute ceremony.
â€œMy involvement with USA basketball, trying to change an image of our country and our athletes on an international stage, that was part of the way I feel (about patriotism). What we did today in honoring a great Arizona hero â€“ Frank Luke, the â€˜Ace of Acesâ€™ of World War I â€“ that was part of it, too.â€™â€™
Colangelo said that he and his JDM Partners, which include Dave Eaton and Mel Shultz (Jerry, Dave and Mel â€“ JDM), had spent a lot of time since purchasing The Wigwam trying to figure out how to be a good neighbor with the rest of the Litchfield Park community. They also wanted to bring new-found glory to such a historic property.
â€œLife is about relationships, and with Luke Air Force Base right up the street from us, we wanted to honor them as well as honor the people who serve our country,â€™â€™ Colangelo explained. â€œBy renaming two of our courses along those lines (the Red Course has been renamed the Heritage), and naming the specific holes after prominent Arizona people, we hope weâ€™ve started something.
â€œItâ€™s also a way of enhancing whatâ€™s really important in life. To answer the question: â€˜Who were these people who preceded us?â€™ â€˜â€™
Luke was the Pat Tillman of his day, as the then-21-year-old fighter pilot from Arizona entered WWI in the fall of 1918, and in a brief span that lasted from Sept. 12 to Sept. 29 shot down 18 confirmed German observation balloons or aircraft before he eventually was shot down by enemy fire.
â€œHe was known among his many nicknames as the â€˜Arizona Balloon Buster,â€™â€™ and Frank Lukeâ€™s career, his short history, was just unbelievable,â€™â€™ Colangelo noted. â€œHere is a young kid that left Arizona, set the record for kills in World War I during a very short span, and then eventually had the air force base deservedly named after him.â€™â€™
Luke Air Force Base, which opened in World War II, is the only active training site in the world for F-16 pilots. It graduates 470 pilots annually.
Don Luke, the long-time Valley car dealer who was a nephew of Frank Lukeâ€™s, said his uncle was a shooting star in life that few people ever got to know.
â€œMy dad barely knew him because they were years apart. Uncle Frank was the second oldest kid in the family and my dad was the ninth of nine children growing up,â€™â€™ Luke said. â€œBut we heard the stories, like when Frank captained his high school football team to the state championship while he had a broken collarbone, and there were a lot of other stories like that, too.
â€œI guess you could say that Frank Luke Jr. was an all-around American who was fearless through and through. But to do what he did in just those 18 days of combat back in September of 1918, well, youâ€™d have to be (fearless).â€™â€™
According to the lore, Luke shot down all 18 aircraft over France with the knowledge that shooting down observation balloons was particularly dangerous because they were protected by other aircraft overhead. It often took two or three encounters before they would fall from the sky â€œlike a ball of fire.â€™â€™ Sadly, Lukeâ€™s last flight ended with him being shot down and then losing a gun battle to German troops who tried to capture him. Obviously, Frank Luke Jr. never gave up.
Besides the renaming of the courses and he naming of the holes, Colangelo said he is very much looking forward to another salute to America that will be hosted by The Wigwam. The Patriot All-America Invitational golf tournament is set for Dec. 28-30 on the Robert Trent Jones-designed Gold Course. The 54-hole amateur event, which is the first of its kind to combine the talents of 82 nationally recognized players in a holiday bowl-like experience, is the joint effort of the Arizona Golf Association and the Golf Coaches Association of America in conjunction with the tournamentâ€™s beneficiary, the Folds of Honor Foundation.
â€œWeâ€™re so excited about the Patriot All-America, which I believe will be the first of its kind ever in college golf,â€™â€™ Colangelo noted. â€œTo be able to bring all these All-Americans here at that time of year, and to raise money for the Folds of Honor, I just could not be more delighted in being part of that.â€™â€™
The Folds of Honor helps to ensure that no family is left behind after the field of battle, making sure to honor their sacrifice and educate their legacy. Currently, there are more than 220,000 dependents of fallen and wounded military service men and women who do not qualify for federal educational assistance.
As for who the next hole at The Wigwam will be named after, Colangelo said heâ€™s keeping that under wraps, at least for the time being.
â€œWe have a great list of people from Arizona who are worthy and deserving of such an honor so weâ€™re still talking about it,â€™â€™ he said. â€œBut itâ€™s a great list that will unfold over time so weâ€™ll keep you tuned in.â€™â€™
As for buying other golf courses, that, too, is a work in progress, Colangelo said.
â€œYes, we want to (buy more golf courses), but weâ€™re being very selective about what type of courses we buy,â€™â€™ Colangelo said. â€œIt has to fit our model, so weâ€™re just going slow and steady (with the search).â€™â€™
But as Colangelo quickly pointed out, â€œThe Wigwam was one of those perfect fits.â€™â€™
â€œI had remembered coming here in the late 60s, and what a great part of the community it was then,â€™â€™ he recalled. â€œAnd coming back to it over the following decades, well, itâ€™s just such a pristine property, an iconic 80â€”year-old resort that weâ€™re having a lot of fun with.â€™â€™
Colangelo certainly put his money where his mouth is, as JDM Partners has spent $10 million on a year-long renovation, which is why The Wigwam has never looked better. Colangelo also said that golf remains a big part of his future at JDM, â€œalthough Iâ€™m still very involved with basketball, too.â€™â€™
Or as Colangeo spun it with that familiar wink of an eye: â€œBasketball, baseball, golf . . . you notice itâ€™s always involving a ball, just different sizes.â€™â€™
Which is cool, because if Jerry Colangelo can do for golf what he did for the Suns, the Diamondbacks and USA Basketball, it will give the game a needed boost from one of Arizonaâ€™s all-time biggest hitters.