Tempe Town Lake

A typical city can't offer its residents a fully stocked lake right in the center of town — more likely, you'll get a polluted river full of mercury-filled carp and hypodermic needles. Lucky for us, this is not your typical city. Tempe Town Lake is filled and refilled with 12 species of fish, including rainbow trout, large-mouth bass, and flathead catfish. For $23.50 a year for Tempe residents, and $70.25 for everybody else, you can cast off from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. all year long.

Phoenix Tennis Center

No, they don't sell Perrier in the pro shop, some of the courts occasionally are dotted with leaves, and the noise factor from the nearby streets can be a pain. But we'll take this city-run tennis mecca any day, if only because it's cheap, the lights are good, and, if you learn how to play your cards right, it's easy to make a reservation for one of the 22 hard courts. Head tennis pro Matt Peck is an exceptionally nice fellow, and his teaching business always seems to be booming. And who can resist that scruffy little terrier named Spice always hanging around, yellow tennis ball in her mouth, surveying her domain? Helpful hint: If you can help it, don't sign up for one of the courts that abuts 21st Avenue. You may be just about to hit that nasty serve of yours when some turkey will drive by and honk at ya, just for fun.

Encanto Park

Some may take issue with giving this award to a place that charges for an activity that's typically free, but look at it this way: The hoopin' has gotta be good if it's all pay-to-play (not much, only a few duckets). Encanto is Phoenix's one-and-only spot for finding legendary pickup games that parallel those found in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Said another way, you'll rarely find armchair hoopers trying to work out their remote-control elbow on this concrete court. Basketballing hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

When the downtown Y remodeled its facility a few years ago, it upgraded the wooden upstairs b-ball court. The result is a full-on awesome gym — minus the creaky floorboards and dead spots in the paint. Don't have an indoor-worthy basketball? No problem, because you can rent one free of charge at the front desk, whether you're playing a game of H-O-R-S-E, running full-court in a pickup contest, or playing in a competitive five-on-five league. You either have to be a member or have a guest pass to enter the facility.

Lincoln Family Phoenix Downtown YMCA
When the downtown Y remodeled its facility a few years ago, it upgraded the wooden upstairs b-ball court. The result is a full-on awesome gym minus the creaky floorboards and dead spots in the paint. Dont have an indoor-worthy basketball? No problem, because you can rent one free of charge at the front desk, whether youre playing a game of H-O-R-S-E, running full-court in a pickup contest, or playing in a competitive five-on-five league. You either have to be a member or have a guest pass to enter the facility.
Casey's Sports World

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.

Fiesta Lakes Golf Club

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.

Kierland Golf Club

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.

Encanto Golf Course

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.

Ken McDonald Golf Course

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 Golf Course

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.

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