BEST QUICKIE GOLF COURSE FOR DOWNTOWN WORKERS 2005 | Encanto 9-Hole Golf Course | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
So you're sick of the grind -- the tough morning commute, the uptight boss, the boring gig. And you like to whack the little white ball around now and then. Then why wait for the weekend, when there's so many other things facing you? The Encanto courses may not be as challenging or as beautiful as any of the fancier tracks to the north (we've heard of Troon, mind you). But if you can spare a few hours for nine decent holes with the goofy sticks, you won't go wrong with this venerable city course. The price doesn't hurt -- no more than a sandwich and a fancy Starbucks drink -- and the relaxation factor is incalculable. We know a prosecutor who routinely strips down to a tee shirt at lunchtime and slips over to the driving range to hit a large bucket or two. Then he drives back downtown and returns to his job of sending people to prison. See? It works.
A good city golf course must have open arms to all ages, skill levels and pocketbooks. And if it's a city course in a course-saturated and golf-crazy place like the Valley, it needs to offer good golf, too.

Bear Creek in south Chandler fits both bills. Besides offering good golf at a great price, the course has an expansive and affordable driving range as well as an 18-hole executive course great for a quick $10 round. The main attraction is still the Bear course, designed by Nicklaus Design's Bill O'Leary. The course, while built for speed, offers subtle risk/reward scenarios on each of the links-style holes, with water, sand and gnarly 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 even less if you find a deal on Web sites such as www.golf602com. And you can often bag 18 holes in three to four hours. Also, yearly memberships can be had for around $1,000, which includes unlimited driving range balls. For a golf nut on a budget, this is an incredible deal.

On the Dinosaur Course at Gold Canyon Golf Resort, central Arizona's most spectacular mountains are on full display as you play one of Arizona's most impressive golf courses. Nowhere else do you feel like you're getting the vistas you'd find on a long, challenging hike when you're actually in a golf cart. The Dinosaur Course, simply put, is a unique sport-and-aesthetic experience that shouldn't be missed. If you can, try to hit the final nine as the golden hour of evening approaches. Nothing in golf compares.
Apache Stronghold remains Golfweek magazine's top golf course in Arizona.

This is heady stuff, and certainly debatable. Better than Troon North? The Boulders? Grayhawk? That's like saying Ferrari is better than Lamborghini. It's more a matter of taste than quality.

But for a weekend golf getaway from Phoenix, especially in July or August, particularly if you're not a trust-fund kid, Apache Stronghold is a hands-down winner. It is a lovely course in a lovely high rangeland setting 3,000 feet above the Valley.

Apache Stronghold, part of the Apache Gold Casino/Resort complex east of Globe on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, is probably better suited for the under-10-handicap golfer. The San Carlos Tribe offers great stay-and-play deals throughout the year. As for the course, not only is it long, at about 7,500 yards from the black tees, but most every shot is greeted with a brain-grating risk/reward scenario.

Expect to shoot poorly and love it.


BlueBallSports' "Putt-Her"

Chris Wehrle and his mom, Candy Phelps, are at the top of our "Wish I'd Thought of That" list, thanks to their Putt-Her golf club, which is flying out of pro shops across the land. The Putt-Her, like those old stag-party ballpoint pens, displays a bikini-clad woman when you tip it over. Although Mom, a retired peddler of golf attire, nixed the idea of the Putt-Her's shapely model winding up naked when you upend her, the duo's company, BlueBallSports, is hoping to introduce an all-nude stick featuring porn star Jenna Jameson one day soon. In the meantime, they've hit a hole-in-one with a photo of a local Polish babe, not to mention a deep understanding of the relationship between the birdies and the bees.
Serious racqueteers are unanimous in their praise of the Scottsdale Athletic Club. The enterprise began decades ago as the Scottsdale Tennis Club and over the years has evolved into a full-fledged tennis, fitness and dining/banquet facility. The club's pride and joy are its 11 immaculate courts, each featuring a lighting system that is the equal of any tennis center in the Southwest. This is the place where the touring pros come to practice.

Non-members are welcome for lessons and clinics by club pro Jarek Jabczynski, a world-ranked player and member of the Polish Davis Cup team.

And no, we don't know how many Polish tennis players it takes to win a Davis Cup match.

Phoenix Rock Gym's personable owner Paul "Dief" Diefenderfer has been scaling the big buttes around Arizona for 30 years -- he favors Pinnacle Peak and the giant domes of Cochise Stronghold near Tucson -- and he designed his indoor rock gym, now situated just across from the APS power plant on University Drive in Tempe, as a small-scale replica of his favorite canyons, cliffs, crags and crevices.

Phoenix Rock Gym was the first indoor climbing facility in the state, and still carries the most cred with the outdoor extremists. On weeknights, once the kids have cleared out, the 15,000-square-foot mini-canyon is filled with Dief's pro bouldering buddies. But the 17-foot overhang in the spacious beginners' area is designed to bring home the thrill of the big-time climb to the lil' lowlanders. "The kids love it, 'cause when you fall, you kind of swing out, and go for a ride," Dief says. "As long as you've got a rope on, falling is fun!"

Perhaps because of its proximity to the hugely popular -- and stunning -- Peralta trailhead, this newish (c. 2001) trail seldom gets its props as one of the Valley's best. Don't make the same mistake. A 10-mile trek along the edge of the Superstitions, the Lost Goldmine Trail brings a hiker close to both giant saguaros and stunning mountain views without a grueling uphill trek. Unlike the Peralta, too, the parking is free and the release from the burdens of civilization is total: On this trail, you won't be bothered by an endless stream of dog walkers and Boy Scouts, pushing their way to the summit. For most of the hike, we're betting you'll find yourself blissfully, wonderfully alone.
There are 170 miles of trails through the Superstition Mountains, which, by far, give hikers the most intense Sonoran Desert experiences within an hour of Phoenix.

One of the longest, meanest and most rewarding hikes in the Superstitions begins at the Reavis Ranch Trailhead. From this trailhead, you can work yourself deep into the wilderness and onto several of the area's most scenic walks.

Twelve miles in, in Roger's Canyon, you'll reach one of the finest Salado cliff dwellings in the region. Vandals apparently aren't willing to hike 24 miles round-trip. The cliff dwellings are in pristine shape.

Obviously, this is not a hike for the weak or ill-prepared. Take all precautions necessary for a long, difficult hike in the desert. There are many switchbacks, washouts, sharp drop-offs, sharp rocks and other obstacles that make this trip not only one of the most beautiful in the area, but also the most dangerous.

Most people would stop at "shabby" when describing Papago Park, but we think it's one of the coolest and most underutilized hiking areas in the Valley. Yes, the Phoenix city park is something of a faded dowager; yes, it's trashy; yes, the pea-green muckhole generously termed a pond looks as if it might spontaneously combust; and no, the hiking here doesn't require the technical skills of Piestewa Peak or Camelback Mountain. However, if you venture out of the more visited areas of the park, you'll find a lovely remnant of Sonoran Desert squeezed between ever-encroaching Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale. You might even encounter a coyote, a diamondback or a Gila monster, and you're almost guaranteed to see a jackrabbit or a baby cottontail gallivanting through the scrub that dots the desert washboard. Perhaps most important, you'll be all by your lonesome, save the occasional mountain biker whizzing by on your left.

Oh, how we hate to give this away, but here's our usual route (which is, by the way, unmarked and unnamed): After parking at the landmark known as Hole-in-the-Rock, head west by northwest toward the Big Buttes on McDowell Road. After you cross Galvin Parkway and close on the Buttes, you'll strike a trail that takes you gently around them, or you can path-find your way over them, which is technically quite challenging and a heckuva lot more fun. Once past the Big Buttes, head due south toward Saddle Butte. Climb up to the saddle and then scramble down the other side. Head south by southeast across the washboard. Re-cross Galvin and head due east, where you'll soon find yourself in the Phoenix Zoo parking lot. Look to your left for the nuclear pond and follow its southern flank to another trail that borders the north side of the zoo. Your next landmark -- no, it's not a desert mirage -- is the odd-duck pyramid, situated incongruously upon a small butte, which houses the corpse of Arizona's first governor, George W.P. Hunt. From the pyramid, look north toward Hole-in-the-Rock and set your star by it.

We usually finish with a breathtaking 360-degree view of the Valley from atop the Rock, followed by a windows-down, moon-roof-up, stereo-blasting drive on Galvin, the Valley's only truly crooked street. Ah, but that's another story . . .

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