By Jim Street
LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. — The close relationship between baseball and golf is perhaps best personified by what has been happening for years in the Valley of the Sun.
On any given day between the middle of February and the end of March, you can play a round of golf one day and watch a Cactus League baseball game the next – or even do both in a day/night.
The golf courses range from mostly flat old-school courses that feature wide tree-lined fairways, lush grass, doglegs left and right, water/sand bunkers that seem to attract golf balls, to desert courses that feature up-and-down fairways, plants and other obstacles left and right that hide errant shots.
But variety is a good thing for avid golfers.
Although the Cactus League games had not yet started, the co-founders of Golferswest.com decided to make a five-day trip to play a few rounds of golf and renew some old acquaintances at the Seattle Mariners’ spring training complex in Peoria, a facility they have shared with the San Diego Padres since 1994.
The temperature also loomed large – 30-plus degrees in Seattle, 70-plus degrees in Phoenix.
Thanks to former Everett sportswriter colleague Kirby Arnold (and recent Hall of Fame inductee at his high school in Missouri), the golf/baseball trip started with a memorable golf outing at the Wigwam Resort.
There are three fantastic 18-hole courses at the world-renowned facility — built in 1909 by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company – Blue, Gold and Red.
The Blue and Gold courses were designed by renowned golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr., who took a few pages from the famed South Course at Firestone Country Club to make it the West Coast version.
The Gold Course is a must-play gem that ranges from 7,345 to 6,348 yards and has the status of being one of Arizona’s most challenging and respected courses. It even has a nickname: “Arizona’s Monster.”
Wigwam’s signature course has hosted a plethora of tournaments, including prestigious U.S. Open Qualifiers, U.S. Amateur Qualifiers, several NCAA Regional Championships and the annual Patriot All-American Invitational.
Since opening in 1965, it has been named one of the Top 100 Golf Courses in America. The course is tough but fair, although taking on the turtle-back greens are a challenge.
The Gold Course underwent an extensive renovation in 2015. Former British Open champion and PGA TOUR veteran Tom Lehman led the renovation project, focusing on modernizing the bunkering and layout of the then 50-year-old course while still keeping Jones’ design concept untouched.
As Rick Cicci, the Wigwam’s Director of Golf pointed out, the wide, tree-lined and lush fairways from tee to green make it difficult to lose balls and slow play. Five-hour rounds, which can happen often on a desert course, are rare.
Not so rare is running into a current or former Major League player.
Pitchers have the most “time off” during Spring Training so they get more time to, well, play golf. Hall of Famers Rich “Goose” Gossage and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez are avid golfers among The Wigwam clientele. So is George Brett, who spends his spring trainings in a house that borders the first hole on the Blue Course.
“We have a great relationship with the Cactus League teams,” Cicci said. “Before the Mariners and Padres moved to Peoria, all of the teams were in the East Valley.”
Of the 15 MLB teams that have training facilities in Arizona, there is the all-Ohio site of the Reds and Guardians in Goodyear, the Dodgers and White Sox in Glendale, the Rangers and Royals in Surprise, Mariners and Padres in Peoria and the Diamondbacks and Rockies in Scottsdale. Two teams share one stadium – brilliant.
The solo organizations are the Brewers (Glendale), Angels (Tempe), Giants (Scottsdale), Cubs (Mesa) and A’s (Mesa).
All of the sites are within a 35-minute drive of each other.
Enjoy the best of two worlds – golf and baseball.