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Braves and Diamondbacks No Strangers to the Links

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

PHOENIX - When the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves get the National League Championship Series underway Tuesday, you can bet that baseball will be the only game on the players' minds.

Just don't bet the ranch.

Both teams feature a dugout full of players that relish an afternoon spent on the golf course, and with games one and two of the best-of-seven series situated in one of the country's golfing hotbeds, don't be surprised if more than one gamer makes his way out to the links.

Aces in the Hole

The Diamondbacks traded for Philadelphia Phillies ace Curt Schilling, they knew they were getting a Cy Young Award caliber hurler. What resident ace Randy Johnson, a.k.a the Big Unit, may not have known was that he was getting a new golfing partner.

The imposing lefty and the gritty righthander started a new golfing tradition this season on road trips. If the team was traveling and Schilling and Johnson were off, they'd head out to the local golf course, the stakes being one of the proshop's nicest shirts.

The winner of the match got to wear the shirt into the clubhouse that evening, proclaiming to all who the victor was. Word on the street is that Schilling collected the most trophies, but Johnson is no slouch on the links himself.

The Big Unit makes his offseason home at the Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, amid five Jack Nicklaus designed golf courses. A self-professed golf addict, Johnson plays his mullet off to earn his 12 handicap, and practices his putting non-stop on a green he had installed in his backyard.

The Atlanta Braves triumvirate of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz have made little secret of their love for the links. All three pitchers carry single digit handicaps, and Smoltz has reportedly fired a couple of rounds in the high 60's.

All three have made quite an impression on a number of PGA golfers during celebrity tournaments.

"They're all good guys and pretty solid golfers," said Lanny Wadkins following one outing. "They obviously have a lot of time to play golf - they only work once every five days. They're all very competitive, very focused when they're playing. Smoltz has the lowest handicap, but if I had to guess, it looks to me like Maddux has a lot of golf talent. Glavine can hit it wilder quicker than the other two."

Said Tom Kite: "They're all good players, but the thing that struck me was that because they're all such good athletes, they can incorporate any advice you give them into their game so quickly."

Kite couldn't help but give Smoltz some advice before a charity outing, and he came away amazed at how quickly the pitcher incorporated his instruction into his game.

"The other day, I saw Smoltzie on the practice green and he couldn't make anything," Kite said. "He was saying how many putts he'd missed during the round that day. I told him, 'Well, you've got too much weight on your back foot. Try putting more weight on your front side and getting your hands forward.' Fifteen, 20 putts and he had incorporated that into his stroke and was making putts, boom-boom-boom."

Fielder's Choice

And it's not just the pitchers that are hooked on the game.

Third baseman Matt Williams is a regular at some of the Valley's golf courses, including the Raven at South Mountain. Secondbaseman Jay Bell is a frequent playing partner, and neither player is reputed to be short off the tee.

Williams also enjoys the TPC of Scottsdale, but he recently admitted in an interview with a national golf publication that other players should beware when he steps in the tee box.

"To give you some idea of my game," Williams said, "at the eleventh at the TPC of Scottsdale, I teed off and hit the fifteenth green."

Play Where the Pro Play

Some of the host team's favorite layouts ...

Troon Golf North Golf Club (480.585.5300): Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish formed one of the greatest dynamic design duo's in the modern era of golf course architecture. And then, like Sonny and Cher, Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston (wait, they are still together), they split up.

But fortunately, Arizona is a community property state - as in the community still has access to one of Weiskopf and Morrish's greatest Grand Canyon state accomplishments: Troon North's Monument Course.

The course opened back in 1990, and was heralded by a number of publications as the most lavish, high priced, daily-fee golf course this side of the Pecos. Sitting alongside the Monument Course is the Pinnacle Course - produced a few years later by a single, yet capable Weiskopf.

Either course will run you about $240 this time of year. And if you can somehow fit in 36 holes in one shortened winter day, you can actually brag about having spent half a grand on greens fees in less than nine hours.

Among locals and experts, the front nine of the Pinnacle course is considered to be the crème de la crème. But as a whole, the Monument Course offers up a more negotiable round of golf with some incredible views of the valley.

Grayhawk Golf Club (480.502.1800): Phil Mickelson loves Grayhawk - so much he represents the course on the PGA Tour - and there is no reason you shouldn't fall in love with both of the facility's fabulous layouts.

The Talon Course was designed by Gary Panks and David Graham, and never met an earthmover it didn't like. In terms of natural, and unnatural beauty, there are few courses in the southwest that can match it. Ribbons of bulkhead run along fairways and greens that are lined with arroyos and small canyons.

The par 3 11th hole features the famous swinging bridge, which in turn features an opportune moment to focus on the road, and not your freshly opened beer.

Some players who actually consider negotiating island greens, prickly plans, and rock filled chasms player-friendly, feel that the Talon Course is the easier of the two tracks. Play the 7,135-yard Raptor Course, and you might agree with them.

If you are a Tom Fazio fan, or if you don't know the preeminent course designer of the last 20 years from the Fonz, you will still drool over the Raptor course (never thought you would drool over anything named after a flesh eating dinosaur, did you?)

Fazio's only "public access" course in the state, Raptor is all that and a bag of Triceratops horns. The course plays to a redoubtable 136 slope from the tips, where it weighs in at 7,135 yards. Golf Digest rated the Talon the 12th-best and Raptor the 18th best courses in the state in 1997 (4th and 9th place among their public access competition.)

Best of the Rest

To say that the Boulders, the Phoenician and the TPC of Scottsdale are the best of the rest is akin to saying that Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore are the way to go, but if you have the time check out Neve Campbell, Liv Tyler and Gillian Anderson (okay, the last one was a personal preference.)

The Boulders - named so because it is tucked among some prehistoric rocks of Sysiphisian proportions - consists of two top shelf layouts that took nearly 25 years to fully congeal. The South Course was primarily designed by Morrish, and features the most holes with Boulder-esque views. The North Course is slightly more traditional and tight, and actually features some of the more memorable holes.

If it is variety you crave, the venerable Phoenician (480.423.2449) may be your bag. Located on the southside of Camelback Mountain, this indulgent creation of one Charles Keating offers up 27 holes divided into the Desert, Oasis, and Canyon and nines.

The Boulders (480.488.9026) is a GOLF Magazine Golf Medal resort that hardly needs an introduction when speaking of price-be-dammed golf facilities. Golf at this posh digs can run you over $200, and with room and board, the tab can approach $500. Finally, the TPC of Scottsdale (480.585.3939) beckons. Not necessarily because it is the best track of the group. But because it is fun to say that you played were the pros played. The Phoenix Open has been held at this Weiskopf/Morrish designed course since moving over from the Scottsdale Princess.

Travel Golf West can provide you with a golf package to Arizona's finest golf courses. Call 1-888-662-7130 for more information.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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