BEST MINIATURE GOLF 2007 | Golfland | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Screw the FBR Open. Who needs it? The only golfer we follow with any regularity is Korean-American sweetie Michelle Wie, and she doesn't have the plumbing to play the PGA. After all, what kind of golf is it when there's no windmill to putt-putt through, no Lost Dutchman-themed course, or King Arthur-themed greens? Hey, we've seen the FBR on TV, and all those putting greens are obstacle-free. Where's the challenge, the thrill of whether or not you'll make it past a mini-sawmill, or through a perilous medieval fortress? Heck, do you think when the Scots invented this game back in the early 17th century, they intended for it to be played on open expanses free of clutter and childlike distractions? Okay, maybe they did. But then again, those crazy Scots wear skirts, too, and that's the last thing we want to see Tiger Woods wearing. (Michelle Wie's another story.) Point is, Mesa's Golfland allows one the opportunity to knock around ye ole gutta percha in civilized environs, with water slides, bumper boats and video games nearby. Hey, they don't call it Golfland for nothing.
Ah, the lush smell of bermuda grass and dried mud. The dull thwack of metal on polymer. The shower of grass in the air and the white smudge of a ball rolling on the ground.There's nothing like passing a summer day at Encanto, where the greens are flat as prairieland and our confidence is as high as it gets. Except for a few thirsty-looking trees, there's little to get in our way except the carts and bodies of other players. Fore!We love Encanto's treasure of esteem-building par threes and fours, and the fact that the course is accessible to the masses, smack in the middle of town. But it's those City of Phoenix greens fees that keeps us coming back — just $27 in the morning and $23 if you start after 11 a.m. (that's with a cart). With that kind of rate, we can hail down the beer girl every time she rolls by.
What we enjoy most about this easily accessible course is the dress code, as in there is NONE! You want to yank the ball around in your favorite ratty T-shirt and goofy shorts that cover at least most of your behind, go for it. That's not to say, however, that this mature track — which opened for business back in 1974 — is a piece of cake. No, if you're like us, that is to say, cursed with an errant swing pattern, unfortunate club choices and the putting stroke of an ax murderer, you'll end up using more mulligans than any self-respecting hacker ever ought to consider. Think trees, big trees, and lots of 'em. Also think water — the Western Canal zigs and zags through the course, and comes into play here and there. We also like the fact that the course is mostly flat and the fairways generally wide and forgiving. And the cost is relatively minimal. Summer rates are $18.50 for 18 holes and a motorized cart. Price-wise, the rest of the year ain't bad, either. So tee it up and give it a swack.
Most of the super-luxe courses in the Valley are super-private, but a few will let you on the links if you have the cash. We asked our favorite golfer for his favorite course — price being no object — and he didn't hesitate to spew out verbiage worthy of a Madison Avenue public relations firm:

"Troon North," came the immediate response. "The service is outstanding; all employees are well-trained and appreciate great customer service. The course is in incredible shape, tee to green. The fairways are immaculate, the sand traps well-manicured, and putts roll on the fast greens true to the line. The views of Pinnacle Peak and Four Peaks are spectacular."

We're sold, and we don't even like to golf. Maybe that's because it really is all about the course — of course. This one'll run you $75 or so, per player, and that's in the dead of summer. Could be hundreds in-season. But hey, great view. And bragging rights.

Sometimes we feel our hackles rise while riding the mean streets of the Valley. We feel lucky the dumbass serial shooters missed us, since we make such a pretty target in our colorful spandex biking jerseys. But we figure we're still bound to get creamed someday by a drunken legislator or some other idiot motorist. We like to avoid those risks by sticking to the miles of smooth-riding bike paths that slice through Tempe and Scottsdale.

Our favorite training ride, from Town Lake and Mill Avenue to Scottsdale and Chaparral roads, can be done entirely on these paths, for a decent calorie-burning distance of about 15 miles. The scenery's terrific the whole way, and varied enough to keep it interesting, going past rippling lakes and grungy county island properties and pricey Scottsdale townhomes. The path's northern end is near Shea Boulevard, and it can be accessed from a number of points between there and Town Lake for an enjoyable ride of any distance.

Construction of the new condos just east of Scottsdale Road at Town Lake knocked out the path for much of last year, but it reopened in the spring. We're waiting eagerly for the new pedestrian bridge (it'll be okay for bikes, too) scheduled to go up next year over Town Lake, which will make the ride even more pleasant.

This route keeps us in the saddle much longer than we'd like, but it's probably a two-hour ride for the hardest of bicycle butts. Where you start depends on where you live, but we do the loop clockwise, finding Maricopa Road from the East Valley. However you get there, you should eventually find yourself on Riggs Road/Beltline Road, a wind-blown dusty highway on the Gila River Indian Community way to the south of South Mountain. Fifty-first Avenue is the loop's western edge. Just after Beltline bends north is a Texaco store good for drinks and snacks. Sometimes, it stocks flat-repair kits, but don't count on it.

About half the time, we'll finish this ride by taking Dobbins Road to South Mountain Park's Central Avenue entrance and steaming up to the radio towers before heading home. We love the winding summit road because it's hard, and there's nothing like the burn we get from doing it after the round-the-mountain ride. Of course, free-spinning down the hill is one of life's greatest joys. From our home, this is about a 50-miler — enough to justify a couple of 44-ounce drinks and a long nap.

Bump-jumping BMX riders of the Valley haven't been terrorizing local shopping malls, co-opting canals, or taking over skate parks with their two-wheel trickery that much lately. It ain't 'cause the cops have tossed the lot of 'em into the slammer, but rather, it's because these cycle psychos have been pulling sick stunts at the stellar Chandler Bike Park. This 25,000-square-foot pedal-pusher's paradise, located at the city's Espee Park, is the lone bikes-only facility in the Valley and boasts dozens of different concrete ramps, jumps, hips, quarter pipes, and boxes where riders can catch plenty of air. While skate parks across the PHX have banned BMX bikes due to safety issues, it's completely cool if you wanna make like Matt Hoffman on your modified Haro here. Thousands of teens and twentysomethings from Tempe to Tolleson have come to the park to get their grind on since its grand opening in May (which featured appearances by such superstar riders as Mike Saavedra and A.J. Anaya), like 17-year-old Hunter Gacek of Avondale. "This park is the shit," he says. "It's a pretty far drive, but it's totally worth it."
We were jonesing to put fresh dust on our mountain bike, so we decided to make the long drive to San Tan. Last time we were out there, we took our high-clearance vehicle on rough roads deep within the craggy landscape, back to where the cliffs rise to breathtaking heights. You can't do that anymore. We'd heard most of the park was restricted now, and future trails are still being imagined. So we loaded up the bike and gassed up the SUV.

To get to the park from the Superstition Freeway, take Ellsworth Road way south to Hunt Highway, turn left, then right on Thompson Road, then another right on Phillips Road. It's a long trip even for those of us in the heart of the metro area, but it's worth it for the raw beauty of this 10,000-acre park.

We had fun looping around on eight miles of single-track, old jeep trails and sandy washes. A couple of the downhills may be challenging for the newest riders, but otherwise San Tan consists of tame, but fun, stuff.

Plenty of other visitors were here on the day we visited in midspring, despite the remote location. But the desert has its way of swallowing us, and the eye-pleasing vistas sear in our memory for recall during those long hours in the office. The landscape out here is unburnt, classic Sonoran desert full of fuzzy cholla cactus and distant high bluffs. We won a first-place trophy for our soul.

When we want the sweetest punishment on two wheels, we take a trip to this dominatrix of mountain biking trails. Sometimes nothing satisfies like a good whipping. She leaves us sweaty with exertion, yet chilly with the naked fear of imminent injury or death.

Mountain bike manufacturers go here when they want to test their equipment to the max. Only experts or fools take the trail all the way from Pima Canyon near the Pointe South Mountain to San Juan Lookout, 15 miles distant, but moderate riders should push themselves to at least sample the first couple of miles. After grinding up the steep gravel switchbacks, which are punctuated by rock steps higher than sidewalk curbs, the easy trails you'll ride will seem a lot easier.

National Trail is a gift to the Phoenix area, and it's as free as the desert breeze, thanks to city taxpayers. We try to be courteous to other park users even as we're careening down the hills.

We know from bike shops.

Allow us to start at the beginning: Our fancy mountain bike is what we call a nervous shifter. She's as nimble and fast as a thoroughbred, but after the first few months she lost her groove, derailleur-wise. The chain kept jumping the gear rings at unexpected times, usually right in the middle of a tough grind up a steep hill. The bike needed an expert's touch, and it didn't find it even after five — that's right, five — visits to a popular bike shop that will remain unnamed.

A friend told us to try the Landis shop on Warner Road. Less than 25 minutes after we wheeled her in, the wizards at Landis had our finicky steed tuned up perfectly. We were skeptical at first, considering the time we'd put in at the other store. But out on the trail the adjustment held. We can only assume the staff at Landis' three other stores are as good, but we've stuck with the Warner location out of sheer loyalty. We think our bike is in love.

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