Drive balls until you drop in Phoenix

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX - So you played a round at Wildfire yesterday and you're going to Troon tomorrow. Before you face that next 18, you need to pound some balls and get your chips to land next to the pin. Then again, maybe you should work on your sand saves, too.

If you're looking for a place to practice, you'll find plenty of options in the Valley of the Sun. But unfortunately a lot of courses you'd like to visit may have restrictions on their driving ranges. Some high-end daily fee courses like Grayhawk Golf Club or resort courses like the Boulders will only allow you the public player on the practice facility before you play a round. The other issue, of course, is finding a place with grass instead of mats and with a chipping area as well as a driving range.

But listed here are several courses with excellent practice areas connected with upscale tracks in the Phoenix area.

Jeff Steury, PGA professional on the sales force at Pine Canyon Golf Club in Flagstaff, says new courses are putting more money into their practice facilities. One reason why is that as rounds increase in price, players want to be sure they're better prepared to get their money's worth.

Peggy Chapin, head golf professional at the nearly new Whirlwind Golf Club on the Gila River Reservation, agrees with that. Her course has an excellent facility that's available for a daily pass of $15.

"We've done it because we want the revenue source, of course, but also because a lot of residents in the area want to drop by to hit balls," she says.

Here are some great courses with great practice facilities where you can drop by and hit balls and also see if you might want to play a round.

At the TPC: You can start on the range where the stars practice at the Tournament Players Club Stadium Course in North Scottsdale; this is the place where each year the Phoenix Open is played in January. You will enjoy excellent conditions at the entire facility. The price is a little high, as you might expect, at $16.15 for a bag of about 45 balls, but you buy full access to the range, the practice greens with bunkers, the chipping greens and the putting greens. The entire driving range is grass and you can hit in both directions to target greens. Address: 17020 Hayden, Scottsdale. Phone: 800-767-3574

At Eagle Mountain: The Golf Club at Eagle Mountain is located in Fountain Hills, just a few miles east of Scottsdale, and is a fantastic public course with a great practice facility. The club has a grass-tee driving range with targets; there is also a green with sand bunker that also can be used for chipping and is set up for pitching up to about 50 yards. You can putt on two lush greens kept in great shape. The cost to use the facility for a day is $10 for a bag of about 100 balls. But the course offers a discount range card for $75 for 10 bags of balls and also has an annual pass for $750. Address: 14915 Eagle Mountain Parkway, Fountain Hills. Phone: 800-767-3574.

At McCormick Ranch: McCormick Ranch Golf Club in midtown Scottsdale has two courses - the Palm and the Pine - and a fine practice facility open to the public. The all-grass driving range, chipping green with bunker and putting green are all well-maintained. The entire practice area is available for day use by buying a small bag of 35 balls for $5, a bag of 65 for $7 or 150 balls for $12. Address: 7505 E. McCormick Parkway, Scottsdale. Phone: 800-767-3574.

At Whirlwind: Whirlwind Golf Club on the Gila River Reservation in Chandler also has one of the best places to practice in the area in addition to an excellent 18-hole upscale public course. A daily pass that costs $15 gives you unlimited balls for use on the grass driving range with target greens. Also available is the chipping green with bunker and two putting greens. This practice facility is available on a complimentary basis before each round. Address: 5692 N. Loop Road, Chandler. Phone: 800-767-3574.

Besides these great clubs that offer practice facilities, our list includes a few standalone ranges, some including nine-hole short courses where you can enhance your chipping and pitching. These are huge places that do a big business in the winter season. One staff member told us that his range sells $80,000 in balls every month during the high season.

At the Mesa Golf Center, probably the largest practice facility in the Phoenix area, golf professional Denny Alberts, who teaches lessons there, says that even in the heat of summer, "you'll see 60 or 70 people hitting under the lights at night."

In Mesa: The Mesa Golf Center, in the western part of the city, has everything you need to improve your game on 40 acres, including a 9-hole par-3 course for your short game that allows unlimited play for the day for $5 in summer and $8 in winter. Use all your clubs at the huge grass driving range with more than 100 stations and target greens. For summer use, the center just installed a $45,000 mobile roof with spray misters to cool down golfers. Tee boxes are moved daily throughout an 80-yard area, so there's always fresh grass with minimal divots.

Range balls cost from $5 for 50 to $10 for 160. For very hard workers a basket of about 225 costs $13. A separate short game area has a $2 fee; it includes a chipping area with bunkers and a large putting green. Address: 3252 E. McKellips Road, Mesa.

In the west valley: The Adobe Dam Family Golf Center in Glendale has a lighted grass driving range with 50 stations where tee boxes are moved daily. There's a 9-hole executive walking course with fairly small greens to test your precision shot making. A short game pitching and putting practice area will round out a practice session. The facility offers a summer pass for unlimited use of the entire facility including the golf course. Buckets of balls range in price from $3.75 for 35-45 to $25 for 460-500. Address: 3847 W. Pinnacle Peak Road, Glendale.

In Scottsdale: Crackerjax Driving Range in North Scottsdale has a range with mats that is a full 300 yards with seven target greens. There are lights for night practice. The range has two levels and uses a prepaid card system in which 135 balls cost $10.

No grass here, but what's unique at Crackerjax is that some tee boxes have an automated ball delivery system. You hit your ball and another one pops up on a tee from under the plastic mat in front of you. You can adjust the height of the tee electronically to suit yourself. Next to the tee area is a synthetic surface chipping and putting green.

This is also a place where you can bring the family, and everyone can find something to do. Among the possibilities: A miniature golf course and a putting course, bumper boats and go-karts for adults and children, batting cages, and an arcade and games area.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

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