Hope springs eternal: Spring training baseball and golf around Arizona's Cactus League
February and March aren't spring in most parts of the country, but the baseball and golf folks in Arizona have their own calendar. This is when 15 Major League Baseball teams kick off spring training in the Arizona Cactus League, and it's also ideal weather for golf.
It's easy to spend a couple of weeks in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, see half the teams in the majors and take in plenty of golf as well.
Greg Ellis, general manager at The Trilogy Golf at Vistancia in Peoria, Ariz., says this time of year there's a real sense of optimism, players are friendly and accommodating, and nothing beats sitting on a hillside at a ballpark with a hot dog and an adult beverage. Combine the experience with golf, and you've got a real special day.
"There's nothing better than being able to play golf in the early morning and getting to the ballpark for a 1 p.m. game," Ellis said. "It's the perfect combination."
With that said, here is a quick rundown of the Cactus League teams, their ballparks (most venues host two teams) and a selection of golf courses that are within a few minutes of the parks. Click here for this year's schedule.
Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies
Ballpark: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, north Scottsdale. Home for the Rockies and Diamondbacks. The theme for this innovative complex, the design of which allows fans to see more of the action and relate to the players, is "Two Teams -- Two Tribes -- One Home," with the two tribes being the Pima and Maricopa tribes that comprise the local Indian community.
Since the complex carries the "Talking Stick" brand, the closest and most logical choice when it comes to golf is Talking Stick Golf Club, which is also on Maricopa-Pima tribe land. Designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Talking Stick offers two unique courses -- the links-style North Course and the traditional tree-lined South Course -- that are always in excellent shape. Of course, it's far from the only game in town. The two courses at the TPC Scottsdale, the Champions Course and the Stadium Course are also nearby. While the Stadium Course is renowned as the home of the PGA Tour's Waste Management Open, the Champions Course, with its more reasonable green fees and condition, has become a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Of course, we would be remiss without mentioning one of Scottsdale's most revered layouts -- Troon North Golf Club, which features the 36 holes of the Monument Course and Pinnacle Course, classic desert-style target golf and impeccable conditions.
Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians
Ballpark: Goodyear (Ariz.) Ballpark. Goodyear has several excellent golf venues, but the area's favorite is probably The Golf Club of Estrella. Designed by Jack Nicklaus Jr., the course is as fun as many of the better known layouts in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, but at a fraction of the price. Set in the foothills of the Sierra Estrella Mountains, The Golf Club of Estrella is a great example of classic desert golf.
Another good option in Goodyear is the Tres Rios Golf Course at Estrella Mountain Park, a 1962 Red Lawrence design that was renovated in 1998.
Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres
Ballpark: Peoria Sports Complex. Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia is not only located in Peoria, but is also one the best bets for golf in the area. Often half of what it costs to play golf in Scottsdale, Trilogy Golf Club is a Gary Panks design that has earned Golf Digest's highest rating (five stars). The golf course, which can play more than 7,200 yards, is one of the more unique designs in the area, with rolling terrain, native grasses and more than 70 bunkers.
Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals
Ballpark: Surprise (Ariz.) Stadium. Surprise isn't too far from Peoria, so The Trilogy Golf Club at Vistancia is a good choice for Rangers and Royals fans as well. But baseball/golf lovers from both areas might also want to check out the Wigwam Resort just south of Surprise in Litchfield Park. The resort was established in the 1930s and now features three 18-hole championship length golf courses, including two designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. Throughout, you'll find anything but typical desert golf with wider fairways, streams and lakes.
Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox
Ballpark: Camelback Ranch, Phoenix. White Sox and Dodgers fans who play golf are sure to enjoy the Raven Golf Club at Verrado in Buckeye, just west of Phoenix. This upscale desert course, designed by John Fought and Tom Lehman, opened for play in 2004. Playing more than 7,200 yards, the course was laid out on the old Caterpillar Bulldozer company's proving grounds, and a boulder that survived demolition remains near the fourth hole.
In addition to the Raven Golf Club, golfers might also want to check out Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix. The Marriott resort has two excellent golf courses -- the original Palmer Course and the newer Faldo Course.
Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics
Ballparks: Maryvale Stadium and Phoenix Municipal Stadium, respectively. Fans of both the Brewers and the Athletics can choose between two classic Phoenix municipal layouts. Close to rand Canyon University Golf Course, a classic William Bell design that's been a favorite of the locals for years. Formerly known as Maryvale G.C., the course has plenty of mature trees, doglegs and is friendly for all levels of play. The course is renowned for its practice facilities and popular junior program. Meanwhile, Athletics fans are just a couple of minutes from another Bell classic, Papago Golf Course, which recently underwent a complete renovation that lengthened the old favorite to more than 7,300 yards. The course, which is set among the Papago Buttes, was restored by Billy Fuller, getting new bunkers, tees and grasses before it hosted an LPGA Tour event in 2009.
San Francisco Giants
Ballpark: Scottsdale Stadium. The Giants play right in the middle of Scottsdale, so the course choices are endless. Three 36-hole layouts really stand out, although there are plenty more venues from which to choose. Camelback Golf Club and McCormick Ranch Golf Club are nearby and rank among the area's favorites. If you're looking for something new, explore the Ambiente Course at Camelback, which debuted in 2013.
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, to the east in Fountain Hills, offers two of the region's very best layouts with the original Cholla Course, designed by Scott Miller, and the Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore-crafted Saguaro Course. Both have incredible vistas off the tee of the natural desert landscape and mountains in the background.
And if that's not enough, be sure to check out the 27 holes of the Westin Kierland Resort, which even offers golfers an option to take a Segway instead of a golf cart.
Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs
Ballparks: Tempe (Ariz.) Diablo Stadium and the new Cubs Park, respectively. Both of these ballparks -- the 15,000-seat Cubs Park debuts in 2014 to replace Hohokam Park -- are fairly close to the Arizona State University campus and its golf course, the ASU Karsten Course. Designed by Pete Dye, the course was recently lengthened and shortened to a par 70 for top collegiate competition. Featuring plenty of pot bunkers, water hazards and challenging greens, the course provides a good test at a reasonable price.
And for those, perhaps, looking for a couple more good golf courses as well as accommodations, there's the Whirlwind Golf Club at the Sheraton Wildhorse Pass in Chandler. Both courses at Whirlwind were designed by Panks, with the Cattail Course serving as the home of a Nationwide Tour event for several years.