The Rockies’ move to Scottsdale’s new Talking Stick complex brings the entire Cactus League into a single golf orbit.
From the 15th-floor, open-air deck of Talking Stick Resort, the Colorado Rockies new spring training complex is little more than a Carlos Gonzalez long ball away.
Better yet, everything will be closer for Colorado fans when Cactus League action starts this spring. A 75-minute flight, rather than an extra leg to Tucson, will put Coloradans in the greater Phoenix area, which for the first time ever will boast 15 Cactus League teams—half the majors—in a 35-mile radius.
If that isn't enticing when temperatures still hover around freezing in Denver, consider this little nugget: The Phoenix metro area, including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community near Scottsdale where the Rockies will be based, has more than 200 golf courses and 400,000 square feet of spa facilities.
Within 10 minutes of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick—a $100 million, 144-acre complex the Rockies will share with the Arizona Diamondbacks—are six of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 You Can Play: both Troon North courses (Pinnacle and Monument), both We-Ko-Pa courses (Cholla and Saguaro), as well as The Boulders and Grayhawk. “North Scottsdale is a golf mecca,” says Scott Bordow, a longtime sportswriter in the Valley of the Sun. “If you’re coming for Spring Training, bring the sticks.” Though Troon manages it, Talking Stick Golf Club’s North and South Courses does enjoy a high ranking—yet. But it has everything else.
There are two Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw courses on site, with the more open, 7,133-yard par-70 North used as a USGA qualifier and for Gateway Tour events. While the conditioning is impressive, what golfers will notice immediately is the fact that there’s not a home in sight on any of the 36 holes, even though it’s just minutes from the heart of Scottsdale.
“They’re two really good, fairly visitor-friendly courses,” said Ed Gowan, executive director of the Arizona Golf Association. “You don’t have to play them a dozen times to tame them.”
You can conquer your thirst at the Wildhorse Grille, a popular spot to relax after a round—and one of Talking Stick’s eight restaurants, which span every imaginable type of dining, from an international buffet to steak and seafood at the prized Orange Sky room.
It's easy to understand how the Native American ownership decided on this simple name for its top restaurant. On a late fall evening, a memorable sunset was the perfect aperitif to a light meal at our chic, private dining room set off with fine crystal and a high-backed white leather couch.
The food didn't disappoint, even though we chose some non-traditional fare: a flavorful goat cheese/beet salad and mussels gratin finished with a tangy dish of sorbet. The restaurant also has a world-class list of wines, and Shadows lounge offers specialty martinis and a fine selection of cigars.
Want more? Take the elevator down a floor to Degree 270, a chic nightclub for 30somethings with more views and entertainment, or head to the casino floor or sports book for a different type of action.
“It has so much to offer,” said Melissa Matthews, a communications expert for Scottsdale’s convention and visitor bureau. “It’s really its own destination.” The $440 million resort includes 497 guest rooms, a 240,000 square foot casino, a large pool/garden area with 20-plus cabanas, and world-class, 13,000-square-foot, open-air spa on the 14th floor.
It’s just one more thing for Coloradans to soak in when spring arrives in the desert, where the average daytime temperature in February is 77.
“It should be a better value flying into Phoenix, and with better airfares, maybe fans can come down two weekends instead of one,” Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman Doug McKenzie said.
In this case, more is better.
The Rockies, meanwhile, should be fresher not having to make that two-hour drive from Tucson for most away games. “It’s a great facility, in a perfect location,” Gowan says. “They’ll be very happy being here. Players will love it. Fans will love it.”
INFO TO GO:
Talking Stick Resort
9800 E. Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale
Talking Stick Golf Club
9998 East Indian Bend, Scottsdale
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick
7555 N Pima Rd, Scottsdale
With half of Major League Baseball training within 35 miles of the Rockies, the Valley of the Sun is baseball heaven come spring.
1235 N. Center St., Mesa
Getting tickets to Cactus League games should be easier with 15 teams now training in the greater Phoenix area. But the Cubs are still the Cubs, and with so many Chicago transplants in the area, not to mention winter visitors, they can still be a tough ticket to secure. So book early or book a package. Granted, Mesa is not trendy Scottsdale, and none of the hotels downtown are considered resort properties. But chains like Marriott, Hilton and Holiday Inn offer good deals, so you’ll have plenty to spend on souvenirs and tickets. Mesa does have one thing other cities lack: Los Dos Molinos (260 S. Alma School Road). This small family-run restaurant has some of the best Mexican food around, with tortillas made fresh daily to accompany everything from adovado ribs, chimichangas and enchiladas. Just be wary of spicy sauces and potent margaritas. As for golf, Dinosaur Mountain Course at Gold Canyon (gcgr.com) is one of the top-rated desert courses in Arizona, with its famous elevation changes and tons of wildlife. Las Sendas (lassendas.com) also is a fine choice with the course etched into the Usery Mountains east of Mesa.
10710 West Camelback Road, Glendale
The West Valley used to be considered out there, but the 101 and 202 freeways have made accessing these games quick and easy. The airport is just 15 minutes away and north Scottsdale just 25 minutes. The downside to dining near Camelback Ranch is that almost every restaurant is a chain. But Westgate (westgatecitycenter.com) is still the place to be, with nearly 20 different dining options. Start with Yard House (9401 West Westgate Blvd.), which offers up more than 100 different types of beer and ales from across the U.S. and around the world. There’s also Gordon Biersch (6915 North 95th Avenue), Calico Jack’s Cantina (6770 N Sunrise Blvd) and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville (6751 North Sunset Blvd) Shopping is also plentiful, and there’s an AMC Westgate 20 to take the kids to the latest show. For golf, head a little further west and check out the Golf Club at Estrella (estrellagolf.com), a Troon course given 4 1/2 stars by Golf Digest.
1933 South Ballpark Way, Goodyear
If you’ve gone this far west, why not check out what Jerry Colangelo and partners have done at the Wigwam Resort (wigwamresort.com), one of the Valley’s most historic properties and a new member of Destination Hotels and Resorts. Colangelo’s investment group purchased the 440-acre property in a bankruptcy auction a year ago and is spending $7.5 million on renovations to bring the iconic resort back to life. It will be family-friendly, with a children’s pool area with slide, some of the best wood-fired pizza around, and an organic garden and fresh-squeeze juice from the native citrus being replanted. The Wigwam also is the only 54-hole resort in Arizona, with the Gold Course rated one of the state’s best parkland courses. Nearby is Phoenix International Raceway (with three races slated for the last week in February). Also close are the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, which play home games in nearby Glendale. Tip: The Wigwam’s casitas offer outdoor patios, perfect for post-game cocktails or even star-watching. One non-chain restaurant worth checking out is Bella Luna Ristorante (14175 W Indian School Rd) in Goodyear.
Tempe Diablo Stadium
2200 W. Alameda Drive, Tempe
Just 10 minutes from Sky Harbor, the stadium is close enough to fly in, play 18 holes in the morning then take in an afternoon or night game. The spacious layout of the ballpark, including a left-field lawn area that seats 2,500, makes for a relaxed atmosphere. For sheer convenience, stay at The Buttes (marriott.com), a Marriott property built right into the rock outcroppings. It has several pools and a water slide, spa, tennis and volleyball courts, and, of course, great views from its Top of the Rock restaurant. There’s also the luxurious Tempe Mission Palms (missionpalms.com) right off Mill Avenue in the heart of downtown Tempe near Arizona State University. Want something new? Head south to Sheraton Wildhorse Pass (wildhorsepassresort.com) on the Gila River Indian Community near Chandler, with a spa, Troon-managed Whirlwind Golf Club (whirlwindgolf.com), equestrian center and casino. For more golf, The Raven at South Mountain (theravensouthmountain.com) is both fun and challenging, and Arizona Grand (arizonagrandresort.com) winds through the protected Sonoran desert preserve at South Mountain. Or test your skills at Arizona State’s Karsten (asukarsten.com), a links-style, Pete Dye layout where Sun Devil greats including Phil Mickelson honed their skills before turning pro. The locals feast on cheap eats at Haji Baba (1513 E Apache Blvd.), where $4 will get you a great chicken shawarma sandwich. There’s also an Oregano’s Pizza Bistro (523 W University Dr.) in Tempe that complements its five other Phoenix-area locations.
Maryvale Baseball Park
3600 N. 51st Ave., Phoenix
phoenix.gov/SPORTS/marystad.html; 800 933-7890
The stadium may not have all the bells and whistles of the larger venues, but the homey atmosphere, close-in practice areas, cheap tickets and constant giveaways make it very fan-friendly. There also are plenty of budget-conscious motels in the area. If you’re not full from brats at the game, the chains at Westgate may have to suffice, but there are a few hidden gems in the area. Chelsea’s Kitchen (5040 N 40th St) is a straight shot down Camelback, and offers up some down-home cooking, with a great outdoor patio with heaters for chilly nights and everything from a fab ahi taco platter (trust me) to short ribs and Dixie pan-fried chicken. There’s also another Los Dos Molinos on this side of town (8684 S. Central Ave.) for those who crave great Mexican. For golf, check out the Raven Golf Club at Verrado (ravenatverrado.com), a 6,855-yard gem that Golf Digest in 2006 highlighted as its Bargain of the Year. The elevation changes and views are dramatic but watch out for the bunkers—they’ll eat you alive. Tip: Look for $5 lawn seats at Brewers game, as well as the sausage races.
Phoenix Municipal Stadium
5999 E. Van Buren, Phoenix
Once the springtime home of the Giants as well as the AAA Phoenix Firebirds, the stadium was christened back in 1964 by none other than Willie Mays, who hit the first home run there. The 8,000-seat stadium underwent a renovation in 2003, but it still features its trademark accordion roof and light poles from the Polo Grounds in New York. With such a central location, there are plenty of choices in lodging, from budget to luxurious. For the latter, check out The Phoenician (thephoenician.com) or Fairmont Scottsdale Princess (fairmont.com/Scottsdale), both AAA Five-Diamond properties with championship golf, high-end spas and fine dining. Another superb option is the JW Marriott Desert Ridge (jwmarriottdesertridge.com) and its acclaimed Wildfire Golf Course (wildfiregolf.com). Royal Palms (royalpalmshotel.com), meanwhile, may be the ultimate spot for couples to get away for a romantic weekend. For families, Papago Park offers family-friendly hiking and biking trails. Golfers can go just about any direction and find great choices. Papago Park Golf Course (papagogolfcourse.net) site of the 1971 U.S. Public Links, is worth a look after a 2008 renovation replaced the tired turf, added strategic bunkering and contoured greens in an effort to restore its proud heritage.
Peoria Sports Complex
16101 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria
Completion of the 101 loop now makes the Peoria Sports Complex, the first two-team facility built in the country, easily accessible from just about anywhere. Golfers can go west to check out the Trilogy at Vistancia (trilogygolfclub.com/vistancia) near Surprise, or within minutes be in the north Valley to play courses such as Troon North (troonnorthgolf.com), Grayhawk (grayhawkgolf.com) or the TPC Scottsdale (tpc.com). Or they can even stay at the JW Marriott-Desert Ridge (jwdesertridgeresort.com) for the best of both worlds. Another resort in the center of it all is Xona Resort Suites (xonaresort.com), perfect for buddy trips with 3-and-4-bedroom suites, breakfast and golf packages, fully stocked kitchens and a new lounge, the Orange Iguana, that serves as a great 19th hole. If you stay in Peoria, check out Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill (16067 N Arrowhead Fountain Center Dr.) or Dillons (8706 West Thunderbird Rd) for down-home barbecue.
7408 E. Osborn Road, Scottsdale
The presence of defending World Champions makes the region’s red-hot center even hotter. Scottsdale has a hip downtown, dozens of art galleries, shopping galore (even a Barneys) and more golf per square inch than anyplace outside of Myrtle Beach. It’s also still the top spot for postgame player watching. Just about any night expect to see someone involved with Major League Baseball dining at Don & Charlie’s (7501 E. Camelback Road). Ditto for some of the upscale Scottsdale clubs or restaurants. “You’ll see all the young players there because all the good-looking women will be there,” says Scott Bordow, a sportswriter who has covered Cactus League games for years. In addition to Don and Charlies, Mastro’s Steakhouse (8852 E. Pinnacle Peak Rd.) and Mastro’s Ocean Club (15045 North Kierland Blvd.) draw top marks for food, service and atmosphere, while Cantina Laredo (7361 E. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd.) is the best for Mexican fare. Cowboy Ciao (7133 E. Stetson Drive) has an award-winning wine selection. As for golf, one can play 36 holes a day for a week and never play the same one twice. Don’t miss We-Ko-Pa (wekopa.com) just east of Scottsdale and Fountain Hills and on the Fort McDowell Indian Community. The two acclaimed courses, Cholla and Saguaro, sit on land that will never be used for residential purposes, thus preserving the natural Sonoran setting. Closer in are the 27 Scott Miller-designed holes at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa and the Stadium and Champions Courses at TPC Scottsdale (tpc.com), home of the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open (wastemanagementphoenixopen.com). Tip: Scottsdale Fashion Square is the largest mall in the Southwest, with a $130 million renovation last summer adding an entire new wing.
Texas Rangers/Kansas City Royals
15850 North Bullard, Surprise
Outfield lawn seats are just $7 at Surprise Stadium but one of the best seats may be from the centerfield party deck. For $30 you’ll get admission to the game, entry to the party deck, a drink coupon and all-you-can-eat buffet—plus a chance to see one of the teams that made it all the way to the World Series. As for golf, there are a lot of local bargains, with public courses such as Hillcrest (hillcrestgolfclub.com), Granite Falls (no website; 623-546-7580) and The 500 Club (the500club.com) just a few miles away. Or hop on the 101 and head back to North Scottsdale for an endless selection of high-end courses where green fees are still significantly less than they were before the recession hit. Foodwise, chain or not, you can’t go wrong with In-n-Out Burger. For a change of pace, check out Vogue Bistro (15411 W Waddell Road) or Bronco Billy’s Pizza (14010 N. Litchfield Road).