BEST PUBLIC GOLF COURSE 2004 | Bear Creek Golf Course | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix
While many of the Valley's city courses are brown in attempts to save the region's depleted water supply, Bear Creek's fairways are as green as an Irish countryside. Give thanks to effluent, reclaimed sewage water known as "poop water" in these parts. It allows a city to feel okay about keeping decadence lush in a drought-riddled desert.

Crafted by Nicklaus Design's Bill O'Leary, Bear Creek is built for quality speed on a local's paycheck. Subtle risk/reward scenarios meet you on each of the links-style holes, with water, sand and, most often, snarly desert scrub, waiting to eat an errant or ill-conceived shot.

In the off-season, you can have this private-club-caliber golf challenge for around $20. And you can often bag 18 holes in three to four hours.

Bear Creek also includes an 18-hole short course, which is ideal for a quick golf outing with the kids.

And don't worry, you can't smell the poop water.

Readers' Choice: Papago Golf Course

Thanks to the sweetly surrealistic tiny town structures that make up Castles N' Coasters, our favorite local mini golf course, you can take a cheap date around the world in 72 holes. From the spooky Old West mine shaft to the jaunty New Orleans riverfront hotel, past the African jungle huts, the hillbilly outhouse, Islamic temple, Franciscan mission, Hopi tepees and the ever-popular Candy House and Hippy House (a psychedelic favorite among boomer parents), the Castles N' Coasters courses take putters on a miniaturized international trek -- complete with location-specific sound effects and music blaring from tinny hidden speakers -- that make for the best small world tour this side of Disney.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain.

Readers' Choice: Golfland/Sunsplash

Serious paintballers rank their favorite splatter spots according to their own peculiar rating systems. Some consider the atmosphere between players and referees the key. Others look for fields with a variety of bunkers, barrels, ditches and cool places to commandeer. For many, it's which place is cheapest: A full day of play can run between $60 and $100, depending on the cost of paint, air, field fees and snacks. Still others simply pick the field that's closest to their house: For players on the young side still dependent on mom's minivan, the best paintball park is often the desert area behind their best friend's house.

Lately, the pick of many Valley teams and tournament players has been Game-On, a sprawling assortment of fields (including one fashioned like a castle and another like a marketplace) located near 67th Avenue and Southern. For the strapped splatter junkie, Game-On's prices are hard to beat: The noob-friendly park offers trial games for five bucks, including all equipment, and allows a BYO paint policy for experienced players. For the best team speedball action, say those in the know, show up Sunday afternoons -- and prepare to leave looking like a bruised bag of Skittles.

Tempe Bicycle is the best bike shop in town for a few simple reasons -- selection, prices, service, and above-the-call extras like its free weekly bicycle clinics. Just blocks from ASU's campus, its location doesn't hurt, either. Inside the cavernous warehouse, there's an unkempt grease-monkey feel to the place, which is crammed with every sort of accessory possible alongside rows and rows of two-wheelers. There's really no competition, so don't be surprised if we continue to call Tempe Bicycle the best.

Tie one on at Don's Sport Shop, where free Saturday-morning casting classes let fly with fly-fishing basics. Lacking the proper equipment? No worries: Don's crew will hook you up with a loaner -- and even let you try out the shop's demo rods at the pond that sits next to the shop. Also on the agenda: an annual fly-fishing fair; "Fly Tying 101," "Tying Bass Flies" and "Intermediate Fly Tying" classes; and private and group lessons. For hard-core anglers, the state's "premier shooting sports and fly fishing outfitter and dealer" guides trips to fishing holes in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. And if you want to experience the reel world without a chaperone, Don's staff is happy to help plan and book your adventure -- free of charge.
Cowtown takes this one for riding the delicate line between keeping it real and keeping it friendly enough for the Skateboard Moms (the hottest new voting demographic) whose pocketbooks fuel the industry. Diehard skate rats give Cowtown props across the board for keeping the latest decks, hardware and videos on hand, while sponsoring a hard-core team of local riders. And Mom can be sure she won't be growled at by some dirtbag while she's shopping for junior's first setup. Everybody's happy.

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