Tucson: Old school Spring Training with modern marvel golf courses

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

TUCSON, Ariz. — Baseball's Spring Training used to be a very low-key affair where baseball players mingled with the few fans there with ho-hum ease. No one needed to put on an attitude or walk around town with their own platoon of personal security guards.

Spring Training - Tucson
When baseball's stars leave the ballpark, they often hit the golf course.
Spring Training - TucsonThe Gallery - Tucson Golf CourseVentana Canyon - Tom Fazio Golf Course
If you go

A Spring Training/Tucson golf trip may just bring you back.

Not to the days of wool uniforms. But at least to the time before Spring Training tickets started being scalped (thank you, trendy Scottsdale).

Tucson, the no-longer-little town of half a million people and counting, still does Spring Training a little more small time. Only three teams are based here (the Chicago White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies) and they are not teams with exceedingly rabid fan bases. Which means getting that priceless one-on-one encounter with a player isn't out of the question.

"I prefer Tucson as a Spring Training spot because it's easier to get around, there are not as many people and the players seem a little more relaxed," regular Cactus League traveler Leonard McArthur said. "And there's no Barry Bonds."

No wonder McArthur's in a good mood (unless your name is Barry). He's one of the baseball fans/golfers who've discovered an important secret about Spring Training. Your best chance of running across players without a bunch of other fans around just may be on one of Tucson's golf courses.

"The players are always on the higher-priced courses," McArthur said.

This is where Tucson's size comes in handy again. There are only so many high-end courses in the area where major leaguers are going to be drawn.

Forget the local munis. Even a rookie straight from Double-A baseball knows better than to be caught there.

These guys live in a world where a bad suit can earn them an endless run of ribbing from teammates. Imagine the mileage being spotted on a bad golf course would get.

High-end Tucson golf

Not surprisingly, trendy is a surer bet than Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning. And no golf spot is trendier in Tucson right now than Dove Mountain. This is the private club where the Accenture Match Play Championship was just held for the first time.

This means Major League Baseball players watched Tiger Woods and company go for the greens on the John Fought design and pretty much guarantees they will too.

Golf nut/reacquired Diamondbacks lefthander Randy Johnson will be here at some point. Not that we'd necessarily recommend approaching "the Big Unit," who infamously shoved a cameraman on his first day in New York.

Public golf courses are not a sure strikeout, though. Celebrities love celebrity golf architects and Tom Fazio seems to be a particular favorite of baseball players. His Mountain at Ventena Canyon always attracts players the caliber of Todd Helton.

It's quite a switch to go from the Rockies' very old school Hi Corbett Field to the decidedly modern mountain wonders of a Fazio. Corbett's hosted spring games since 1937. Hall of Famer Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians pitched and golfed in this desert air.

Feller, who's now 88 and still making public appearances, would probably prefer a place like Omni Tucson National, which has a course that's so green and parkland like with trees that it would fit right in if it was dropped into the Midwest. After being in the Arizona sun all day, many modern ballplayers embrace this green too.

"Tucson National's too expensive to play very often, but it's a thrill every time you do get there," said regular Tucson golfer Jason Dickinson, whose Air Force career takes him to golf spots around the globe. "It's just so green and it's a fun design."

Golfing White Sox and D'Backs

The White Sox and Diamondbacks play in the much more cutting edge Tucson Electric Park. This place can seat 11,500, some of them in theater style seats, and the teams even have official golf tie-ins. They promote Arthur Pack Desert Golf Course and Ajo Country Club on their Web site.

These are decent enough courses close by. Just don't expect to see any actual White Sox or Diamondbacks on them.

Where did both squads golf on their official team outing? The Gallery, of course.

Frequently controversial and usually entertaining White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen does golf, too.

By almost all accounts, Guillen's a bad golfer. But that didn't stop him for declaring that he bets he could make a par on the PGA Tour easier than Tiger Woods could get a hit in a major league game.

Imagine what Guillen might wager with you on a Tucson golf course?

Now, you just have to find him.

"A round with Ozzie would be the ultimate," McArthur said. "You're talking stories for life."

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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