Hidden Gems — 19 March 2012 by Kirby Arnold
Paradise: Spring baseball and golf

One of the perks of my job as a baseball writer the past 13 years was the opportunity to spend nearly every day for at least six weeks during the winter at the Seattle Mariners’ spring training complex in Arizona. One of the biggest frustrations of that duty was, well, the fact I spent nearly every day for at least six weeks during the winter at the Mariners’ complex.

Not to complain because I considered it one of the best jobs a person can have. But in Arizona, you’re enveloped not only by ideal weather, but also surrounded by phenomenal golf.

All those courses were so close,yet so far away.

I’d be in the clubhouse grabbing interviews at 8 a.m., writing notes at 9, watching batting practice at 10, doing more interviews at 11, breaking for lunch at noon and watching a spring training game at 1, followed by more interviews, writing for the next day’s newspaper and an evening dinner. Meanwhile, foursome after foursome was teeing off just down the road.

Oh, the agony of a golf-playing baseball writer who couldn’t get away to play golf.

OK, I did play three or four times during spring training, mostly on the team’s few days off or the rare rainout. In my mind, that’s not nearly enough. If I’d had a choice, the workday wouldn’t start until noon, which conveniently would allow time for a 7 a.m. teeoff and a quick lunch before baseball.

If you’re a golf-playing baseball fan, that’s a daily schedule of your dreams. During March in Arizona, there’s plenty of baseball and golf to make it happen.

Fifteen of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams train in the greater Phoenix area, which has more than 250 golf courses. Your fault if you can’t get in a game before you watch a game.

If you’re looking for a dream day –golf in the morning and baseball in the afternoon – here’s my team-by-team recommendation:

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels are based in Tempe and within a shortdrive of numerous courses.  Among the best is the Raven Golf Club Phoenix, formerly known as Raven at South Mountain.  This course has long been considered one of Phoenix’s top public courses, which automatically makes it one of the best in the country.

A few miles south of the Angels’ training complex is the Whirlwind Golf Club, a 36-hole facility at the Wild Horse Passcasino/resort featuring the Whirlwind course and Devil’s Claw course.

Oakland A’s

The A’s are based in Papago Park, which is home to the Desert Botanical Gardens, the Phoenix Zoo and, within tape-measure homer distance of the ballpark, the Papago Golf Course. This Cityof Phoenix course, nestled among impressive rock formations, underwent a major facelift in 2008 and hosted the LPGA Invitational in 2009.

Just south of the A’s facility is the ASU Karsten Golf Course in Tempe. It’s the host course for Arizona State University, so if you play it you can literally say you walked in the footsteps of Phil Mickelson.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers’ complex is located west of downtown Phoenix in Maryvale, an area of the city that, well, let’s just say you’re not in the glitz and glamour of Scottsdale.  The Maryvale Municipal course is about a mile from the Brewers’ facility. A few more miles west of Maryvale, actually closer to the Dodgers/WhiteSox and Indians/Reds spring training facilities are quality golf complexes Palm Valley and the Wigwam Resort.

Chicago Cubs

HoHoKamPark in Mesa is a mini-Wrigley Field in March, but there’s something here you can’t find at Clark and Addison – nearby golf.  There’s the highly regarded Longbow Golf Club, along with two nine-hole layouts less than three miles from the ballpark, Royal Palms and Cypress. Another popular nine-hole course near the ballpark, Riverview, closed on March 19 in order to clear way for construction of the Cubs’ new spring training facility on that site.

San Francisco Giants

Located in downtown Scottsdale, the Giants are within a couple of relay throws from some of the country’s finest courses. If you want to spend some really big bucks (around $200 or more during the peak season), there’s the Grayhawk Golf Club and its spectacular mountain and desert views, and the TPC Scottsdale, home of the annual Waste Management Phoenix Open and the famous No. 16 stadium hole.

Arizona Diamondbacks/Colorado Rockies

The sparkling Salt River Fields spring training complex in Scottsdale is located across the Highway 101 loop from the Talking Stick Resort, which features a new hotel/casino and 36 holes of golf.

Texas Rangers/Kansas City Royals

The Rangers and Royals are located in the northwest corner of the metro area in Surprise, but they’re close to some quality courses. The Arizona Traditions and Great Eagle courses are popular among locals and visitors. With Sun City and other older-adult communities nearby, many of the courses are on the short side – in the 6,400 to 6,700-yard range from the tips.  That’s why many ballplayers drive a little farther for their golf, to Trilogy at Vistancia or  the Wigwam Resort.

Seattle Mariners/San Diego Padres

Located in Peoria and near the Highway 101 loop, it’s an easy drive to several courses near the Mariners/Padres complex.  Among the longtime favorites of players, media and fans are the Legend at Arrowhead, Trilogy at Vistancia and the 500 Club.

Chicago White Sox/Los AngelesDodgers

With the Camelback Ranch spring training facility located in the West Valley, the Wigwam Resort Litchfield Park and Palm Valley Golf Club in Goodyear are multi-course facilities popular with players and fans.  The Wigwam offers three 18-hole courses and Palm Valley two. Farther west in Buckeye, at the base of the White Tank Mountains, is the Raven at Verrado, a desert layout considered among the best in the country.

Cincinnati Reds/Cleveland Indians

The Goodyear Ballpark is located in the far southwest corner of the Phoenix region, and there’s no need to drive very far for quality golf.  A few miles south of the ballpark is the Golf Club of Estrella, to the west is the Raven at Verrado, while just to the north are Palm Valley and the Wigwam Resort.

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Kirby Arnold

Kirby was 10 years old when he played his first round of golf with his grandmother on the sand greens of the Versailles Country Club in Missouri, and his love of the game has never wavered. Only one thing stood between Kirby and a single-digit handicap: his job. Kirby worked 42 years as a sports writer and editor at newspapers in Missouri and Washington. He started while a high school sophomore at the Rolla Daily News in Missouri and covered a variety of events, including his own high school basketball games (he made sure his name was spelled right). He was a sports writer and editor for 10 years at the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, covering Southwest Missouri State University football and basketball, Missouri University football and basketball, and numerous motorsports events including the Indianapolis 500 during the 1970s and 1980s. He moved to the Seattle area in 1984, becoming assistant sports editor at The Herald in Everett, Wa., then executive sports editor from 1987-1998, a time when The Herald's sports coverage was recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as being among the best in the nation for newspapers its size. Kirby returned to the press box in 1999, taking over The Herald's coverage of the Seattle Mariners. He covered the Mariners/baseball beat the next 13 seasons and in 2007 wrote his first book, Tales from the Seattle Mariners Dugout. While Kirby pursued a rewarding newspaper career, one of his lifelong goals remained unfulfilled: breaking 80 on a consistent basis. Kirby left The Herald at the end of 2011, moved to Phoenix and immediately began spending more time at the golf course. His only excuse now is a 12 on the stimpmeter.

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