We-Ko-Pa Golf Resort
We-Ko-Pa's Cholla course is not for your twice-a-year golfer — it's a beast. In other words, if you're not in the fairway, you're screwed — and that's what makes it awesome. By the end of your round, you'll either swear off golf forever or think you're ready for the PGA Tour. The course has become the standard for desert golf and, in 2001, was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the 10 best new public courses in the world. The challenges of playing at one of the most difficult desert courses in the country aside, the place is gorgeous. Snaking its way through a mountainous desert landscape, Cholla provides views of the Valley that are worth the 110 strokes (and roughly 10 golf balls claimed by the desert) it will take your average golfer to complete the 7,225-yard course.
The Phoenician, Scottsdale
The only good thing about 120-degree heat is that the snowbirds who invade the Valley every winter can't bear the hellish temps and retreat to the comforts of their hometowns. This means Valley golf courses rely on the business of people who actually live here but aren't willing to drop nearly $200 on a round of golf. The Phoenician is no different. On May 23, rates at the posh course dropped to $60 a round — a far cry from the $189 greens fee the course charges in the winter. The course is gorgeous — it's a desert course without the symptoms of a desert course (i.e., acres of unkempt, snake-filled wilderness in which to risk your life in search of your ball). After all this is The Phoenician.
Ken McDonald Golf Course
It's hard to improve upon perfection — especially when perfection comes cheap. However, Ken McDonald Golf Course, the 2010 winner of New Times' Best Winter Golf Course, has managed to make the course even better than it was last year — including elongating its 11th hole. The par-72 championship course got brand-new carts last year, is scenic, always in great shape, and, most importantly, still cheap — even in the winter. Winter rates at Ken McDonald fluctuate but rarely go above $32, which is nice when rates at the Valley's premier courses skyrocket with the arrival of the snowbirds to upwards of $200.
Vistal Golf Club
We stood on the tee of the par-3 eighth hole, nestled in a box canyon on the base of South Mountain. We saw rocks to the left of a sloping green, a large sand trap guarding the front, and nothing but nastiness to the right. A thing of beauty, in other words. If we turned to look north, the skyline of downtown Phoenix and beyond might inspire us — and Lord knows we needed it. Vistal used to be called South Mountain about a decade ago, but a name change went along with a total layout re-design. The bold new look includes an ungodly number of what quaintly are called "hazards" — including sand traps, water, and undulating greens. We also really appreciate the classic rock music that is piped through the facility and into the practice areas. Unfortunately, our game falls decidedly short of "We Are the Champions" status.
Apache Course at Desert Mountain Golf Club
Desert Mountain Golf Club's Cochise Course prides itself on its signature holes: "four of the finest risk/reward par-5s to be found anywhere." The reward could be a shot at par. The risk could be getting mauled by a mountain lion. In March, a couple walking near the course spotted several mountain lions on a 546-yard par 5. Risking your life for the hopes of a birdie aside, the Cochise course consistently ranks in national golf magazines' lists of the top 100 golf courses. But, again — you could get mauled by a mountain lion.
Kiwanis Park Batting Range
Most outdoor batting cages suffer from the wear and tear of AZ summers, with ratty nets and sun-cracked equipment. And it's more than likely that the machines haven't been calibrated in years, resulting in more junk than strikes down the middle. Kiwanis Park is a rare exception, a batting range tended with loving care, thanks to the city of Tempe. Baseball machines start slow and top out at 75 miles per hour, but there also are slow-pitch softball machines, so you can practice for your office league, and fast-pitch softball machines for those training to be the next Jennie Finch. In addition to the cages, there's a pro shop to upgrade from that beat-up old batting glove and a concession stand to quench your thirst and sate those mid-practice hunger pangs.
Salt River Fields
Call us softies, but we were kinda sad to see Tucson lose its last two Cactus League teams. With the desertion of the Colorado Rockies and our hometown Arizona Diamondbacks before the 2011 spring training season, that city down south is now totally shut out of the fun. The consolidation of the Cactus League to the Valley seems especially silly since the hapless squads stuck in Florida's shitty-ass Grapefruit League sometimes have to drive four hours between ballparks. And, of course, along the way they risk being eaten by an alligator or mauled by a rabid manatee or getting malaria. Alas, Salt River Fields salves our conscience about thieving Tucson's teams. This gorgeous new stadium was constructed right off Loop 101 on the Salt River-Pima Indian Reservation. It's got top-notch amenities, but the view is what's truly stunning. On opening weekend, we sat on the crisp green lawn sunning ourselves while looking up at the snow-capped McDowell Mountains — one of the best baseball spectating experiences imaginable. So, yeah, we've got all the Cactus League teams now and a fantastic place to put the last two. Maybe Tucson can persuade some of those poor boys in Florida to move? Hey, if you were, say, the New York Yankees, wouldn't you want to be absolutely, positively sure Alex Rodriguez doesn't contract typhoid?
If the Arizona Cardinals ever decide to give up the ghost on hapless quarterback Derek Anderson, they might wanna consider giving local footballer Angel D'Rossi a call. Especially since the Arizona Assassins' captain tosses an average of 197 yards per game and completes passes 54 percent of the time, which are both better than Anderson. Unlike the Cardinals' QB, D'Rossi doesn't crack jokes on the sidelines when her team is losing, and, oh, yeah, she's a girl, to boot. She's one of more than two-dozen fierce females who play full-contact, semi-pro football as a part of the Arizona Assassins, the Valley's entry into the Women's Football League. And in many ways, they're even tougher than their male counterparts on the Cardinals. Unlike Anderson and the Red Birds, who play in air-conditioned comfort in their domed stadium, D'Rossi and company compete in outdoor games at Apollo High School's football field during late spring and summer, when temps start to rise. Try cracking a few jokes about that, Derek.
We first took notice of this wonderfully named superstar in the making in high school, when she toiled as a four-year varsity star for Phoenix St. Mary's. Even as a lanky 15-year-old, Dallas exuded joy on the pitcher's mound and possessed a great big heart. When she enrolled at Arizona State last fall, we knew she would be an immediate impact player, and we expected her to supplant junior Hillary Bach as the staff's ace. But who really expected Dallas to become one of college softball's very best chuckers right out of the chute? She led the Sun Devils to the College World Series, which they won in dominant fashion. Along the way, Dallas won new fans with her cheery disposition even in adversity, her gritty performances, and her obvious love for her teammates, who raised their own games to reach the Promised Land of women's softball this year.
We predicted that wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald wouldn't have the big numbers he had during the Kurt Warner era of Arizona Cardinals football, and we were correct. Without a good quarterback, a wide-out doesn't get many quality touches. That is, last year's pathetic crop of Cards QBs couldn't throw the pigskin into Town Lake. Nevertheless. Fitzgerald still is the best wide receiver in professional football, and we'll make another prediction: He will return to form with new QB Kevin Kolb, whom the Cardinals got in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles this summer. Nobody could make last year's signal-callers look good, but we think Fitzgerald will make Kolb glad he's moved from the Rust Belt to the desert. Because Fitz has got it all: size, hands, speed, leaping ability, wingspan. He plucks impossible balls out of the air. We're not exaggerating to call him the Captain America of Valley athletes (his physique rivals that of actor Chris Evans in the movie). Consider Fitz's most important accolade: In the Cardinals' run to the Super Bowl 2008, he smashed the league's post-season receiving record with seven touchdown catches and 30 overall receptions for 544 yards. The former Minnesota Vikings ball boy is a perennial Pro Bowl selection. If he and Kolb mesh as he and Warner did, the Cardinals could make it to another Super Bowl, or at least win the NFC West title again.

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