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Here the greens are billiard-smooth and truly green -- none of that rumpled multicolored indoor/outdoor carpeting you find elsewhere. Instead of being made of cheap plastic, the putters are genuine metal. And the contours and unsloped lips around the holes make the two 18-hole courses challenging enough to make you want to keep score.
Even better, the approach to the courses doesn't lead through a dungeon of pulsating video games. Instead, it takes you past a driving range, where your children can see firsthand the horror that shanked and sliced balls bring to the faces of local duffers.
The admission prices are 50 cents for kids and $1.50 for those 18 and older; during certain times, admission costs drop further: $1 for a whole family, 25 cents for seniors and zip during free swim times.
Call before you drag out the swim fins. All pools don't operate on the same "season" and are only open certain weekends throughout September and May. Coming in May 2001: a cool new pool at Arizona Avenue and Ocotillo Road featuring a "Water Vortex" that spins and sprays kids, and a "Current River" for lazy floating.
Readers' Choice for Best Free Kids' Fun: Encanto Park
But during autumn Fall Ball, kids can hunt and gather all the stitched orbs they want. The stands are rarely more than half full. Most of the crowd seems to be slow-moving retirees or the players' families and friends. Errant balls are sometimes so abundant that we've seen bigger kids sharing their many with smaller kids who have none.
And when the youngsters aren't hunting balls, they can watch the best in up-and-coming baseball talent from major league farm teams. Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra are just two of the players who've stopped here on their way to the majors, not to mention last year's best-named gamer Milton Bradley. The league has six teams, playing at five Cactus League stadiums. The season runs from October 3 through November 19.
This year, one Mill Avenue worker bee whose office affords an unobstructed view of the intersection at Fifth Street and Mill Avenue has one-upped 'em with a camera closely focused -- 24/7, updated every 30 seconds -- on a bench just outside Cold Stone Creamery ice cream and sweet shop.
Chow down, Tempe! You're on candied camera!
It did make the morning drive more riveting than the hackneyed "wacky" fare that he and his partner Greg Simms usually dream up (like polling listeners for "kissable news anchors," for instance), but frankly we're too cynical about radio in the year 2000 to think Smiley's weeping was anything but crocodilian in nature, especially since he snapped back into his "professional" voice so quickly you'd think Don Pardo just walked into the room.
Maybe a marketing group told him the only way to beat Dave Pratt and Howard Stern in the morning ratings was to get disaffected female listeners by becoming a sensitive weeping jock. Or maybe someone just shoved the latest Arbitron numbers under his nose and let the teardrops fall.
Every bakery department in the Fred Meyer chain is now equipped with a computer program capable of reproducing your favorite photo in edible ink on completely digestible rice paper, which is then placed atop a decorated cake of your personal choosing. They can even blow up one of those wallet-size school mug shots of your child and transform it into cake covering.
And if Donner Pass-style dining on a photo of your kid's face doesn't excite you, there are always those Polaroids you've got hidden in your underwear drawer. Your crumby creation is limited only by the twistedness of your own imagination.
Suddenly, this year's fun in the Mexican sun was interrupted by an abstinence-only public service announcement approved by the Arizona Legislature, produced by the state Department of Health Services and funded with our tax dollars.
The ad featured head shots of a half-dozen Jennifer Aniston look-alikes, taking turns delivering the following lines:
"To all you guys out there who see me as just another sex story to brag about to your friends: reality check. You know that thing between your legs? That is not what makes you a man. Not now. Not ever. But don't worry. There's a solution for guys like you. It's called a blow-up doll. Personally, I'd rather keep my self-respect than sleep with you."
The commercial ended and the screen filled again with writhing, near-naked coeds in Cancún. Earth to Arizona Legislature: "Come again?"
Opened in early 1999 by fledgling art czars Ryan McNamara and Andy Guzzanato, Barlow & Straker is the ne plus ultra of local performance spaces -- and it rarely performs below expectations with a lineup that's wild, weird and wacky -- but rarely fathomable.
Take, for example, last year's "Squeak and Clean," a performance by Phoenix artist Angela Ellsworth and collaborator Tina Takamoto. While Ellsworth exercised for two straight hours on a NordicTrack in a gigantic exercise ball hooked up to vibrating massagers (attached to large bars of soap, no less), Takamoto simultaneously scaled a gallery wall in rock-climbing gear and made gestural drawings with her feet.
Well, maybe you had to be there. We were -- and we're still trying to figure it out.
Estrella Mountain Ranch
11800 South Golf Club Drive
Estrella Mountain Ranch
11800 South Golf Club Drive