There's no better way to knock off the winter rust for golfers or baseball players than a March stint in Arizona or Florida. Grab an early-morning tee time, then spend your afternoons at the stadium watching exhibition games in the Cactus or Grapefruit leagues. Here are four fine value courses where you can play ball and catch your favorite team.
You could spend $272 to play the TPC Stadium Course (home of the raucous FBR Open), but why would you? For less than half the price you can tee it up at the sister Champions Course, which is better than ever after a 2007 redo by Randy Heckenkemper that added nearly 700 yards to the old Desert course and turned a back-tee slope of 119 into 140. You'll love a pair of risk/reward split-fairway beauties: the 477-yard, par-4 5th and the 359-yard, par-4 15th. The fun of playing Scottsdale's most compelling value track makes up for the joy you lose in no longer having a chance to jeer Barry Bonds during Giants games at nearby Scottsdale Stadium. Finish your day at Don & Charlie's (480-990-0900) on the edge of Scottsdale's Old Town. The ribs are the best in town.
A recent reworking by Gary Koch has given this tight, flat layout a new vitality a bit like the World Champion Phillies in '08. Water affects play on 10 holes, including the 397-yard, par-4 9th, where a lake guarding the inside elbow of this dogleg-left will drown any left-leaning shot. The closing hole is menaced with trees, bunkers and water, and that's before you reach a tough green. The easiest drive of your day will be the last one: just 15 minutes north to the game at Bright House Field. A couple of blocks south of the stadium you can get breakfast and lunch at Lenny's Restaurant (727-799-0402) in Clearwater, which is so Philly Red you'd swear the Liberty Bell is right next door.
A recent refurbishment of the Dye Course will subject you to the kinds of landmines and stumbles that have cursed the Amazin's for the past two seasons. Those come in the form of gnarly grass bunkers, vast coquina-shell waste bunkers, pine-straw rough and mountainous greens. The adjoining pair of Tom Fazio courses named Ryder and Wanamaker are terrific values as well, but Dye gets the nod here. Fans should head to Norris' Famous Place for Ribs (772-464-7000) in Port St. Lucie to discuss why things keep going wrong over the best barbecue baby-backs in the region.
After a playoff choke in '08, it's appropriate that the Cubs will play this spring at HoHoKam Park, next door to Mesa Cemetery. You'll find a little more life 15 minutes east at Longbow. Six years ago architect Ken Kavanaugh redesigned his 1997 original (to accommodate a business-park expansion), but there's plenty of nature and no homes blighting the landscape. Views of Red Mountain are a plus, and you can save some green by booking your tee times online. Cubbies fans can drown their sorrows at Macayo's in Mesa (480-820-0237), which carries on the tradition of tasty, affordable Mexican eats that Woody Johnson started in Phoenix in 1946.