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Double whammy: Can't beat an Arizona golf and Spring Training vacation

By Brendan McEvoy, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- At the conclusion of the 2003 World Series, the Texas Rangers dominated the headlines with talk of trading Alex Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox. When that trade fell through, the fans and media expected to see Rodriguez playing in the Arizona's Cactus League this March for Spring Training.

HoHokam Park
During Spring Training, baseball stars are more accessible to fans than at any regular season venue.
HoHokam ParkLongbow golf course in Mesa - No. 7Golf Club of Estrella - hole 2

But in a shocking turn of events, Rodriguez was shipped to the New York Yankees just days before pitchers and catchers reported. And unless the basement-dwelling Rangers could pull off one of the greatest upsets of all time and win the World Series in 2004, the only surprise left in this season is where they make their Spring Training home: Surprise, Ariz.

The Rangers are the exception to the rule in the Cactus League. While they're rebuilding, half of the teams that make Arizona their home for Spring Training are just trying to keep a good thing going. Six Cactus League teams have made the playoffs at least once in the last three years. And three teams that haven't -- Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres -- will be formidable threats to the perennial powers this season.

For the month of March, Major Leaguers will work out in the 80-degree dry heat of Arizona. They'll be more accessible to fans than at any regular season venue. Future Hall of Famers, like Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Vladimir Guerrero and Ichiro Suzuki, will be on display, fine tuning their skills. Tickets to games cost as little as $2. Great seats at most parks top out at $25. Basically, it's a baseball fan's dream world that also happens to take place in a golfer's paradise.

Golf and baseball are two of America's most passionate past times. Only Florida and Arizona could stake a claim to have the best of both worlds -- both states host Spring Training and have world-class golf. But Scottsdale/Phoenix has a leg up: Dry heat wins over humidity and rain is less prevalent than it is in Florida.

Below is a short summary of where each team plays, and where you should stay and play during your preseason tune-up through the Cactus League.


Chicago Cubs

Key moves: Acquired RHP Greg Maddux

First home game: March 4 vs. Giants

Ho-Ho-Kam Park: From Phoenix, take 202 Loop to Exit 12, McKellips Road. Turn right onto McKellips. Turn right onto North Center Street. Park is on the left.

Best bet: Longbow Golf Club, located at 5601 East Longbow Parkway in Mesa, re-opened in November after a major redesign and is considered one of the best values in the Phoenix area. The course has 13 new holes, tops out over 7,000 yards and is challenging but playable. Golfers are treated to flybys of old war planes before they land at Falcon Field just miles away and scenic views of Red Mountain. While most desert golf results in lost balls for the mid to high handicapper, Longbow has sculpted washes filled with crushed granite which catch wayward shots. Balls off the beaten path are easy to find.

Solid seconds: Las Sendas Golf Club, located at 7555 E. Eagle Crest Drive in the desert uplands at the east end of town, was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Lots of mountain scenery here plus a tough course -- 6,874 yards from the back tees with a slope of 142 and a rating of 73.5. Beware of the greens, which are fast and undulating.

Only a short drive from Mesa, Ocotillo Golf Club is a 27-hole design with a wild collection of waterscapes concocted by golf architect Ted Robinson. The Chandler course located at 3751 S. Clubhouse Drive has so many canals and lakes that you could pick Ocotillo up and move it to Florida and it would fit right in.

Where to stay: To soak up more baseball atmosphere, the Best Western Dobson Ranch Inn, is a great choice. It serves as headquarters for the coaches, executives and some Cubs players. The inn is a 10-acre resort with about 200 rooms and has a Western flavor. It's located at 1666 S. Dobson Road in Mesa.


Milwaukee Brewers

First home game: March 4 vs. Athletics

Key moves: Acquired OF Ben Grieve, 2B Craig Counsell, SS Junior Spivey

Maryvale Baseball Park: Take I-10 west, exit 51 Ave. north. Enter stadium parking lot on 51st Ave between Thomas Rd. and Indian School Rd.

Oakland Athletics

Key moves: 1B Eric Karros, OF Mark Kotsay

First home game: March 5 vs. Brewers

Phoenix Municipal Stadium: Take 202 Loop to Priest Exit. Go north on Priest one mile.

Best bet: The Raven at South Mountain is an upscale daily-fee course in downtown Phoenix. It is well-known for its service and quality course conditions. The Gary Panks-David Graham design is a playable track with five sets of tees that top off at 7,078 yards. With generous landing areas, golfers of every handicap should be able to keep their ball in play and score at or below their handicap. It's not much for scenery -- patio homes line the edges of the property -- but the gentle mounds and emerald fairways are pleasing to the eye. It's located near the Tempe border at 3636 E. Baseline Road in Phoenix.

Solid seconds: Quite close to the A's stadium is the city-owned Papago Golf Course, 5595 E. Moreland. This is the city's most popular municipal course, set among the picturesque red rocks of the Papago area. It's inexpensive, but the conditions aren't as solid as the high-end courses.

Near the Brewers stadium, Estrella Mountain Ranch Golf Club is a solid option on the west side of the Valley of the Sun. The high-end, daily fee course offers mountain scenery in the middle of new home developments. This course was designed by Jack Nicklaus II, eldest son of the Golden Bear. The course plays at 7,116 from the back tees with a rating of 73.6 and a slope of 136. It's located at 11800 S. Golf Club Drive in Goodyear.

Where to stay: To be frank, this part of Phoenix is not a tourist's paradise, so you might want to stay in nearby Glendale or out in Scottsdale. But the Maryvale area is close to the airport and to lots of chain motels and restaurants.


San Francisco Giants

Key moves: None

First home game: March 5 vs. Cubs

Scottsdale Stadium: From downtown Phoenix, take Rural Road north. Rural Road becomes Scottsdale Road. Make a right on E. Osbourn Road, stadium is on the left.

Best bet: We could go on and on with recommendations, but be sure to try We-Ko-Pa, on the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation, just a few miles away. We-Ko-Pa, a desert-target course designed by renowned Scottsdale architect Scott Miller, is located at 18200 E. Toh Vee Circle in Fountain Hills. You want to strive for accurate tee shots here; this is not a forgiving course.

Solid Seconds: It's a bit of a drive, but SunRidge Canyon located at 13100 N. SunRidge Drive in Fountain Hills is true target-style course that will test your accuracy off the tee. The layout is a dramatic mix of twists and turns down the mountain for 10 holes, and back up for the last eight. The greens are quick and tough to hold with mid iron shots.

Perhaps the most underrated golf experience in Scottsdale can be found at Talking Stick Golf Club, located at 9998 E. Indian Bend Road. Its two 18-hole layouts are in top notch condition. The North Course is true links-style golf with brash bunkers and open fairways. Talking Stick's South Course is more of a traditional tree-lined design with strategic elements that will test your nerves. Both courses have unending views of the mountains. Since the property is on an Native American reservation, no houses impede the scenic surroundings.

Where to stay: Scottsdale is loaded with plush resorts like the Westin Kierland and the Phoenician, for example. But the real fun is to stay downtown near Old Town Scottsdale so you can walk to the ballpark, the galleries and Western stores, and the fantastic restaurants. We'd suggest Marriott Suites Scottsdale Old Town at 7325 E. Third Ave. as one possibility.


San Diego Padres

Key moves: Acquired LHP David Wells, IF Jeff Cirillo

First home game: March 7 vs. Mariners

Peoria Sports Complex: 101 From Phoenix, take 202 Loop west to 100 Loop North. Take the Bell Road exit. Go east on Bell and make a right on 83rd Avenue.

Seattle Mariners

Key moves: Acquired SS Rich Aurilia, 3B Scott Spiezio, OF Raul Ibanez

First home game: March 4 vs. Padres

Peoria Sports Complex: From Phoenix, take 202 Loop west to 100 Loop North. Take the Bell Road exit. Go east on Bell and make a right on 83rd Avenue.

Best bet: The Raven at Verrado in Buckeye located at exit 120 off of I-10 is a 20 mile drive from Peoria, but the new John Fought-Tom Lehman design is well worth the trip. The course just opened in January and it's in perfect condition. The green fee includes two meals, free (non-alcoholic) drinks and snacks off of the beverage cart and all the service The Raven golf clubs have been known for. The design is a memorable collaboration of short par-4s and tough par-5s with enough fairway to keep mid-to-high handicappers in the game.

Solid seconds: Think about playing a little farther southwest at the Wigwam Resort which has three older courses, two designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., and one done by Robert "Red" Lawrence. They offer traditional style golf with fairly long and wide fairways. Wigwam's Gold Course is the most challenging and in the best shape. Wigwam is located at 451 N. Litchfield Road in Litchfield Park.

Another club near Wigwam is Palm Valley at 2211 N. Litchfield Road in Goodyear. Palm Valley has a short course (4,764 yards from the back tees) that was designed by Hale Irwin and a regulation length course (7,015 yards from the back) designed by Arthur Hills.

Where to stay: There are lots of motel choices in Peoria, some of which are within walking distance of the stadium.


Kansas City Royals

Key moves: Acquired RHP Kevin Appier

First home game: March 5 vs. Rangers

Surprise Stadium:The stadium is located on Bullard Avenue, 1 1/2 miles west of the intersection of Bell Road and Grand Avenue (U.S. Route 60). Bullard Avenue is also 2 1/2 miles east of Loop 303.

Texas Rangers

Key Moves: Traded SS Alex Rodriguez for 2B/OF Alfonso Soriano

First home game: March 4 vs. Royals

Surprise Stadium: The stadium is located on Bullard Avenue, 1 1/2 miles west of the intersection of Bell Road and Grand Avenue (U.S. Route 60). Bullard Avenue is also 2 1/2 miles east of Loop 303.

Best bet: Cimarron Golf Club at Sun City Grand is a desert-style course designed by Greg Nash as part of a home development. The course plays at 6,800 yards with water in play on nine holes. The club is located at 17100 W. Clearview Blvd., Surprise.

Solid seconds: Any of the courses mentioned for Peoria are viable options for Surprise. Two other Nash courses are nearby: Desert Springs Golf Club and Granite Falls Golf Club.

Where to stay: Try the Quality Inn and Suites at 16741 N. Greasewood St. in Surprise.


Anaheim Angels

Key moves: Aquired RHP Bartolo Colon and OF Vladimir Guerrero

First home game: March 5 vs. Padres

Diablo Stadium: Take I-10 to exit 155, Mirage Drive west. Make a right on 48th Street and then a right on W. Alameda. Stadium is on the left.

Best bet: Phantom Horse Golf Club at the Pointe at South Mountain has recently been renovated, including the addition of an island green on the par-4 No. 18. The first nine holes have a very traditional feeling -- lots of green grass, palm trees and water hazards. The back nine takes you up South Mountain where it's more of a desert-target style course with a peaceful park-like setting. Phantom Horse is located at 7777 S. Pointe Parkway in Phoenix. The course is now a par 71 and measures just over 6,300 yards, about 100 yards longer than before.

Solid seconds: Any of the options listed under Mesa are good choices, as is The Raven at South Mountain, which was mentioned as the "Best bet" in Phoenix. The Legacy Golf Club, located at 6806 S. 32nd St in Phoenix, offers lush modern conditions. The traditional Panks design was built on a giant ranch once owned by Arizona pioneer Dwight B. Heard.

Where to stay: Right next door to Diablo Stadium is the Wyndham Buttes Resort, located at 2000 Westcourt Way in Tempe.

Brendan McEvoy, Contributor

Brendan McEvoy spent five years with Times Community Newspapers, a Reston, Va.-based chain of 18 weekly newspapers covering the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

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