Best Ride for Thrill Seekers 2008 | Fighter Combat International | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix

Before Tom Cruise became a maniacally mindless automaton of L. Ron Hubbard, the Risky Business star was kind of the shiznit. Whether he was working a pool table in The Color of Money, zooming around a racetrack during Days of Thunder, or shooting through the skies for Top Gun, everyone dreamed of being a blockbuster badass like Cruise. In fact, we're betting many of the folks who sign-up for the thrills and chills of Fighter Combat International are wanna-be Mavericks. (Hell, FCI's Web site even declares, "Be a Top Gun"). Potential pilots can head to Phoenix/Mesa Gateway Airport and sign up for various packages (lasting anywhere from half a day to five days). There, they are clad in flight suits, briefed on tactics, and flown into the wild blue yonder by veteran sky jockeys.

Inside two-seat Extra 300L high-performance aerobatic planes, they wage an aerial battle against combat professionals with simulated weapons. (You even get to buzz the tower at the end, just like Maverick). For more peacenik types, FCI offers aerobatics programs in which you can experience loopty-loops, inverted flying, spins, and other stomach-wrenching maneuvers. You'll need a Hollywood-size budget to live your dreams, as these thrill rides aren't for the thrifty, with combat packages running from $729 to a whopping $3,669, with the amount of dogfights and flight time varying ($469 to $1,574 for the aerobatic program). We're sure Tommy Boy would approve.

All go-karts are not created equal. It takes just one trip to F1 Race Factory to learn this.

For starters, the go-karts at F1 peak at about 45 miles per hour and handle like mini-Porsches. Racers don aerodynamic helmets, racing jumpsuits, and gloves. Once they're suited up, racers can choose from two air-conditioned indoor tracks, which occupy about a third of the 113,000-square-foot warehouse facility (actually the carcass of a former Sam's Club).

You know a kart-racing operation is serious when the very professional employees give Breathalyzer tests to racers who've been throwing back booze at the trackside bar and lounge. If you do get pulled over for racing under the influence, though, you can enjoy yourself at the restaurant/bar — complete with barstools built from automotive wheels and more than 30 TVs screening ESPN and the SPEED channel. You can also burn some time perusing the collection of retired racecars, climbing the rock wall ($5) or playing in Race Factory's decent arcade.

F1 Race Factory sits on a peninsula of land between Loop 202 and State Route 143, on the Tempe-Phoenix border. Unfortunately, the adage "you get what you pay for" holds true. And at $25 per racer per race, F1 Race Factory ain't gonna be a first date for cash-strapped teens.

Insiders say you should rent the entire facility (which includes unlimited racing) for a large party and split the cost. Each kart is electronically timed and ranked on a TV screen, making the competition and rivalry, well, addicting.

Real bowling alleys have a little grunge to them. They're not too slick, not too clean, cavernous but friendly — the kind of place where Walter and Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski might feel comfortable bellying up to the bar and knocking down some pins, where the pizza, fries, and wings are just-right greasy and the beer is good and cold. We think the Dude would approve of the lanes at Indian School and 30th Street. We think he'd like the fact that on a Saturday night, the feel is more small-town than big, and you can find some actual teenagers, unplugged from their electronic devices and communicating with each other directly over a game. We think he'd like the Sunday-morning bowlers — the little boy and his grandmother who come almost every week, the single dad herding his offspring — and especially the raucous Thursday-night bowlers, including a bunch of arty types.

But, hell, we've introduced this place enough. In the immortal words of Walter Sobchak, "Fuck it, Dude, let's go bowling."

Miniature golf really is the perfect sport. It requires more luck than skill, people of all ages can play together, and it's fun even if you suck at it. Tilting at windmills against a golfing pro can be annoying though, which is why we love Fiddlesticks. The park has two 18-hole courses; one is an easy course with traditional cute-ass castles, and the other is a sports course with red-rock waterfalls and simulated sand traps. If you've got one seasoned player, you can always ship him off to the sports course or the on-site driving range, which is outfitted with misters and lights for nighttime driving. And if dad the 8-over-par golfer insists on playing without giving you a handicap, you can just pray he'll run into a few water hazards.

Kickball has dominated the realm of sport for people who really just wanna get fucked up and mess around for far too long. But it's a little too first-year-out-of-college, binge drink-y for our taste. Luckily, we were introduced to the world of disc golf — a more laid-back way to drink, smoke, and still feel as though you're getting some kind of physical activity in. We're not quite sure how throwing a Frisbee around qualifies as sport, but it does, and people take it seriously. There's even a Professional Disc Golf Association and international leagues, and a store that sells discs (which we, like the novices, just called Frisbees until we learned that's a brand name, not a catch-all term), caddy bags, and other disc golf accessories. But unless you plan on getting really into it, we suggest just tagging along with someone who already has the equipment. And by the way, the game is actually pretty hard, so be prepared to fish your discs out of the water if you're playing on a course that has one. There are courses throughout the Valley. We're partial to the one at Moeur Park/Papago Park, but you can look them all up at

Not only is Aguila the newest, fanciest municipal golf course in Phoenix, it's incredibly cheap. You can walk the course for $16 (or $12 after 11 a.m.) or rent a cart for $27 (or $23 after 11 a.m.). Designed by Gary Panks and opened for business only 8 years ago, Aguila has an 18-hole championship course and a nine-hole par 3 course. Located on what used to be the Alvord family farm, the course has some of the prettiest views you'll find on a municipal court — South Mountain and the Estrella Mountains in two directions and the Phoenix skyline in another. Golf addicts in town call it the best-kept secret in affordable golf. Guess the secret's out now, but everyone deserves to know about this pretty, cheap place to play (especially since Papago, probably the most scenic course in town, is closed for construction.) There's a full-service pro shop on-site and, if you get hungry, the Eagle's Nest Café is open from sunrise to sunset.

Dobson Ranch may sound like the name of a private golf club, but it's not. The city of Mesa owns and operates the course. This year, there's no contest in this category: The storied and scenic Papago Golf Course in Phoenix is currently closed for a much-needed $8 million renovation (expect a beautiful new course at the historic Papago when it re-opens in November).

Phoenix's loss is Mesa's gain, for the time being, anyway. Dobson Ranch's championship 18-hole course has been in Arizona longer than many Phoenicians, since 1972 to be specific. That age means the course has its share of mature trees — which give a nice, non-desert feel to portions of the greens and fairways.

Those trees also provide some shade for cheap summer golfing on early, dew-laced mornings. With a summer rate of just $15 for 18 holes of golf, it's tough to beat Dobson Ranch, with its 6,712 yards of fairways. The city of Mesa keeps the Bermuda grass in great shape, and the course offers a driving range.

In a golf-centric metropolis like ours, one private club was designed with purists in mind: The Golf Club Scottsdale. Like any other private club, membership is limited (to 350 members in this case) and expensive ($110,000 gets you in the door). But it's what The Golf Club Scottsdale doesn't have that sets it apart — a fairway lined with homes.

True, the $2 million to $10 million homes alongside the Boulders and Estancia clubs aren't eyesores. But The Golf Club Scottsdale gives purists the opportunity to play an award-winning course amongst beautiful high-desert scenery and with nary a mansion in sight.

That's why Golf Magazine named The Golf Club Scottsdale one of the "10 to take your breath away" in 2005, and Golf Digest placed it among the top 10 Arizona courses in 2007.

Befitting such a majestic and secluded course, the mansion-like clubhouse hits well below par (that is, in a good way). Both the clubhouse and restaurant have an old-world Royal Palms-esque air about them. And like its neighboring north Scottsdale courses, The Golf Club Scottsdale will challenge even the most avid (and wealthy) of regular golfers, particularly — we hear — on the final four holes.

We played all sorts of sports in our younger days, but when it came to baseball, strikeout was our middle name. That's until Daddy took us to Main Street, Mesa just west of Gilbert Road to this batting range (which was called Danny's Dugout at the time — now we're really dating ourselves), where a friendly fellow took us into the slow-pitch baseball cage and taught us to stop whiffing at every pitch. Today, the creaky baseball and softball range still looks as it did in the those days, save for the misting system that keeps batters cool in the summer months, a remodeled clubhouse chock-full of arcade games and baseball gear, and an upgraded concession stand that divvies out $1 hot dogs every Wednesday and Friday night from 6 to 8 p.m. Home Run Stadium is open just about every day.

We feel the need to say that all the stadiums used by Cactus League teams are nice. We have no major complaints about any of 'em. But, there's a big difference between "nice" and "best," and a couple of key elements make Scottsdale Stadium just a little bit better. Start with grass in the outfield and a nice view of the mountains from the seats. Mix in the fact that it's located in the heart of downtown Scottsdale, walking distance from dozens of bars, restaurants (we like to eat off our beer buzz at Los Olivos, which is only a block away) and hotels. As a fellow baseball-loving friend says, Tempe and Mesa stadiums are nice, but look at where they are. Yeah, there's nothing there. So though you might pay a little more for your seat in Scottsdale (typical . . .), you can take comfort in knowing you're paying for the best. And the VIP area here has its own little scene going on. It may have pretty much nothing to do with watching baseball, but it's fun. It will cost a bit more, too — unless you're tricky. We know a guy who managed to make himself VIP for an entire season without spending a dime. But we can't disclose his secret. You gotta figure that one out on your own.

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