MESA, Ariz. -- If it's March in Arizona, getting into the swing of things has two meanings: Baseball and golf.
It's the perfect double-header for a sports fan. Play a round of golf at any of the Valley's great courses in the morning, and then hit a Cactus League game in the afternoon.
The best part: There are so many terrific golf clubs in the Valley of the Sun that golfers can play just about anywhere and have no more than a 30-minute drive to the nearest Cactus League ballpark.
So, without further ado, here's a geographic guide to the best golf/baseball combo the Valley has to offer.
The Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians train at Goodyear Ballpark in the far West Valley, and there are several quality courses nearby.
A few miles south is the Golf Club of Estrella, designed by Jack Nicklaus Jr. It's an underrated desert course, but be forewarned: The 83 deep-faced bunkers can be extremely hazardous to a golfer's score.
The Raven Golf Club at Verrado in nearby Buckeye is a must-play course. Located at the foot of the White Tank Mountains, Verrado was named one of the "Top 10 New Golf Courses You Can Play" by Golf Magazine when it opened in January 2004.
Home to the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, Peoria and its surrounding neighbors on the west side offer several quality courses.
Try the Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia, a Gary Panks five-star design that is light on the checkbook.
Or head a few miles north to the Carefree Highway and check out Quintero Golf Club, formerly a private club that's now open to public play. Quintero has the most spectacular collection of par 3s in the Valley, and the conditions are always impeccable.
Another West Valley spring training site -- the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals play at Surprise Stadium -- and more courses to check out.
About 15 minutes south lie the three courses at Wigwam Resort. There's not a cactus on the property. Instead, its trio of courses are nestled among rolling hills, parkland trees, lakes, canals and streams.
If you can only play one, try Wigwam's Gold Course, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that is 7,430 yards from the tips.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox train at Camelback Ranch, which is a couple of three-irons away from University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals, and Jobing.com Arena, home of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Golfers can't go wrong with any of the previously mentioned courses in the West Valley, but they can also go a few miles south and east and try the Raven Golf Club near South Mountain. There's no other course like it in the Valley; more than 7,000 pine trees were imported to give the Raven a Southern, parkland feel.
The Milwaukee Brewers play on the west side, in the suburb of Maryvale. Golfers won't find a lot of high-end courses in the area, but Grand Canyon University Golf Course (formerly known as Maryvale G.C.) is well worth the few bucks it costs to play. The tree-lined course has several doglegs but is far easier than many of the Valley's top-flight courses.
The Oakland A's are based at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, and there's no shortage of quality courses nearby. Karsten Golf Course is a classic Pete Dye links-style course that is located just across the street from Arizona State University.
Karsten is known for its mounding in the fairways and one of the best finishing stretches in the Valley. No. 16 is a 248-yard par 3, No. 17 a 581-yard par 5 and No. 18 a 471-yard par 4.
It's fitting that this golf mecca now hosts three Cactus League teams: The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, and the San Francisco Giants a few miles south at Scottsdale Stadium.
Drive a few miles north, and the possibilities are endless. There's the Tournament Players Club of Scottsdale, site of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. You'll imagine the crowd and hear the boos as you play the par-3 16th. Troon North is pricey, but the Monument Course and Pinnacle Course are arguably the best the Valley has to offer.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play at Tempe Diablo Stadium, and golfers will want to check out the Raven at South Mountain, just a few miles away on Baseline Road, and the two courses at Whirlwind Golf Club.
The two Gary Panks designs at Whirlwind, Cattail and Devil's Claw, are located on the Gila River Indian reservation and are as much a history lesson of American Indian culture as they are golfing adventures.
No Cactus League team -- with the possible exception of the Diamondbacks -- are as popular as the Chicago Cubs, who play at HoHokam Park.
Two Mesa golf courses should have favored status as well: Red Mountain Ranch Country Club is a Pete Dye design that is much tougher than its length (6,653 yards) would suggest because the mounding around the greens makes approach shots, well, Dye-abolical.
Longbow Golf Club isn't visually spectacular -- it's situated in the flight path of Falcon Field Airport -- but the Ken Kavanaugh design is a simple, straightforward course whose best feature is its lightning-quick greens.
March 6, 2012