Best Batting Range 2009 | Casey at the Bat | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix

We love the egalitarian nature of this friendly north Phoenix "cage." The pitching machine on one end of this clean and spacious outdoor facility flips in strikes slow enough that a determined 8-year-old can feel comfortable going for it. Down on the other end, a burly slow-pitch type can pretend to be Babe Ruth (beer-ball style) on every pitch. In the middle sits the mighty "Big Unit," a hard-balling machine named after ex-Diamondbacks great Randy Johnson. It hits 80 miles per hour — which is about 20 miles per hour less than the surly southpaw reached regularly in his prime — and presents a nice challenge to most hitters. Twenty balls — most of them over the plate — for just a buck. Can't beat it.

It might be called a "golf club," but Fiesta Lakes, a down-home par three (tucked behind a Hilton and an abandoned Best Buy across from Fiesta Mall) is anything but fancy. The parking lot is gravel and the clubhouse is a trailer. This is the kind of course you won't feel self-conscious playing in cut-offs and flip-flops, which is why we like it. The driving range is the real delight, though: tree-lined and with the sort of rough but functional grass that reminds us of courses in the Midwest. You get a bucket of balls by putting a token in a rusty old contraption that looks as if it might be steam-powered, and then you can practice your swing off real tees instead of those annoying rubber tubes. And at $4 a bucket, it's the sort of bargain you're unlikely to find other places this close to town.

Purists everywhere will tell you that to truly play golf you have to walk. They are wrong. The truth is, walking sucks, and in the middle of a hot summer, it sucks hard. That's why someone invented the golf cart, and the Kierland Golf Club offers a nearly perfect version. Over time, the golf cart has evolved to include things like onboard beer coolers and cup holders. Now it's common to have a GPS and digital scorecards. During this great period of innovation in leisure and laziness, Kierland took what was already state of the art and cooled it off with golf carts equipped with G2 air conditioners designed by a Phoenix-based company, Coolwell Inc.

Golfers at Kierland can cruise the course in the Cadillac of carts in total comfort, even in the summer. Now all they need to do is design a cart that'll teach us how to hit the ball straight.

It sets up as a deceptively easy shot, even for duffers like us. About 180 yards dead ahead from tee to pin, maybe uphill a hair. Piece of cake, right? Nope. First, there's that big trap that looms to the immediate left of the green. Damned thing seems to call golf balls like an invisible siren. To the right of the green is a ridge that runs down toward a waterway that separates the course from the city's adjacent Enchanted Island Amusement Park. We've hit into that water more times than we'd like to admit. But it's the green itself that's the real killer. Depending on pin placement (which never seems to be generous), it's near impossible to get the ball to stop near the hole, especially if those greenskeepers diabolically put the flag on the edge of the upper tier. Putting uphill on number five is flat-out treacherous, because if you don't hit it hard enough, the ball might come right back to you. And if you're putting downhill, well, beware of sending it right off the green. Encanto is Arizona's third-oldest golf course. We only can imagine how many triple-bogeys have been recorded here. We personally know of at least five. But we'll really try not to make it six.

With the arrival of the snowbirds comes the most dreaded day in the life of any brave Phoenix summer golfer: September 1, winter-rates day at many Valley courses. It's like having cold water thrown in your face. The course you played for months at $15 a round instantly triples in price. You say to yourself, "But nothing's changed. It's the same course!" Only it has changed; people actually want to play golf when it's less than 115 degrees outside. Ken McDonald understands your pain. The par 72 championship course is scenic and always in great shape. They just got brand new carts and, most importantly, you can still play on the cheap. Winter rates at Ken McDonald fluctuate but rarely go above $38, and a round can be as low as $28. So don't put your clubs in the closet for the winter or settle for crappy executive courses; go to Ken McDonald.

Troon North is one of the premier golf courses in the world; but who's planning a trip to the Valley in the summer? That's when a devoted local golfer needs to pounce on the countless deals available.

For July and August, you can double-bogey your way through Troon for about $50 per round. This past summer, Troon offered a two-round package that came with a $140 Callaway golf bag. The package itself cost $140. So if you happen to need a new golf bag next summer, check with Troon; maybe you can buy a golf bag and get two rounds free. Makes heat stroke seem downright delightful.

The NBA is notorious for outrageous ticket prices. But we have discovered a relatively affordable way to see Steve Nash and the boys in person. The trick: Pick a corner, any corner. Only Shaq could have afforded seats parallel to the court, and end zone seats, while cheap, limit your view of what's happening on the other side of the floor and are therefore worthless (unless you only want to watch half the game). For $20.50, you can sit in section 231, row 6, seat 15, and have a full view of the whole court. You're still pretty close to the clouds, but lucky for us, basketball players happen to be quite tall.

Let us not forget, the Arizona Cardinals are the improbable NFC champs. They took us all the way to the Super Bowl last year. If you don't go to a game this year to show your support and at least say, "Thank you," you deserve to live in Tucson. Tickets, however, are pricey; some cost as much as $430 each. Don't waste your money. Section 437 is where it's at. For $40, you're not even sitting in the nosebleed section, and you have a great parallel angle of the field. There are $60 seats where the view is a little better. However, for a true fan — who just spent three hours in the parking lot with a 30-pack, a funnel, and your most immature friends — by the time you actually get inside the stadium, you shouldn't care where you're sitting.

In case you've forgotten — and judging by Phoenix Coyotes attendance records, you have — Phoenix has a hockey team. For how long is anyone's guess; they did just file for bankruptcy and almost moved to Canada (where people might actually go watch them). Well, while they're still here, is there anywhere to sit in Arena and not feel like you just got robbed? Of course! We've got the best seat in the house for you, for only $15. Right in the corner of the arena, section 205 gives you a great angle on all the action without the high prices that are keeping Phoenicians from actually going to the games. Hockey is an awesome sport. Check it out (while you still can).

After the Diamondbacks' atrocious season, it's hard to believe that anyone would still want to go to a game, no matter how cheap the seats are. It's a good thing they're in the same division as the Dodgers or they might not ever fill that place again. Chase Field is one of the best stadiums in all of baseball, and to be honest, there really isn't a bad seat. The best seat for your buck, though: anything in Section 108. Section 108 offers a great view of the field and hovers right over the opposing team's bullpen. And for $15, you can do something in Section 108 that you can't do in any other section of the stadium: Scream your head off at the opposing pitchers while they warm up. To any true fan, that's almost better than sitting in the dugout.

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