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Greens and gridirons at Arizona State

By MARTIN KAUFMANN
Managing Editor/The Golf Life

TEMPRE, Ariz. – Sun Devils Law No. 7: “Hit the books; annihilate your opponent.”

So it was that the Governor and I found ourselves in The Library near the Arizona State campus late on the Friday night of homecoming weekend. We had been grinding the past two days on a couple of the reliable local tracks, and just a few hours earlier had putted out on No. 18 at ASU’s Karsten Course as the sun sank over Sun Devil Stadium.

Now the only grinding being done was by the Librarians, who lined the top of the bar of Tempe’s most infamous nightspot, seven across, clad in naughty Catholic schoolgirl garb – high white stockings, low white halters and short plaid skirts – prancing to “Addicted to Love.”

Study hall was never like this. But then, the uncracked books that lined The Library’s walls made clear that the ASU student body, a fair portion of which was on hand to lube up for the next day’s game, didn’t come here to study.

It’s no accident that Arizona State is known as one of the nation’s biggest party schools. Sun Devil Nation earned that reputation with a lot of hard work, late nights and plenty of grinding. Speaking of which, the sound system had transitioned to “Your Shook Me All Night Long,” and the Librarians were engaged in a risqué ritual that no doubt would have dismayed the nuns and priests of my youth.

It had been a long day, but as midnight approached, I was catching a second wind.

“I’m not feeling tired anymore,” I yelled to the Guv.

The Guv laughed.

• • •

Sun Devil Law No. 65: “Arrive early, stay late, be a part of history.”

I arrived in Phoenix the day before with the Governor, my garrulous lensman, who has a politician’s knack for glad-handing and chit-chat. Hence, the Guv.

We headed directly to Camelback, an old-school track a few miles north of Tempe. By chance, we were paired with a couple of TV sportscaster types – one from Salt Lake City, the other from Houston – and were soon swapping stories about the biz. Trust me when I tell you that we sportswriters can be famously self-absorbed, so when you put four of us in the same group, there’s an inevitable one-upsmanship to see who can tell the best stories and drop the most names. Stockton told me that. . . . Well, the last time I talked to T Mac. . . . blah, blah, blah. We’re insufferable. But we play ready golf and tip the cart girls well, so we’re never turned away at the pro shop counter.

We cased Tempe that evening, dipping in and out of the bars and restaurants along always-electric Mill Avenue. It was difficult to walk anywhere in the vicinity of ASU without seeing mention of the Sun Devil laws, a clever, self-perpetuating marketing campaign.

Maybe it was the jet lag or maybe it was the trauma of being immersed amid students half my age, but I suddenly felt old and tired. Even the Governor wasn’t his usual verbose self. So we headed back to the hotel.

I was feeling much more energized the next day at the Karsten Course, particularly after the starter told us it was “one of Pete Dye’s friendlier designs.” In truth, the design is probably more Perry Dye than Pete Dye. Regardless, we had an enjoyable round at Karsten, though the setting is somewhat diminished by the power plant that sits prominently next to the course.

But I already had my mind on another House of Heat: Sun Devil Stadium. I wasn’t the only one: From our perch in the Owl’s Nest at Mill and 5th that night, we could see students carrying out a 90-year-old ASU tradition, walking up a serpentine trail to illuminate the “A” on “A” Mountain.

Despite our late night of research at The Library, the Governor and I were up early on game day for the homecoming parade down University Avenue, the faithful thrusting three fingers in the air, ring finger tucked under, to signify the devil’s pitchfork. That preceded the unholy 38-3 whooping that ASU laid on their obliging homecoming doormats, the Stanford Cardinal. I decided that was condign punishment for Stanford’s singular affectation of a nickname – apparently some pseudo-intellectualism from the Harvard of the West. Pre-political correctness, Stanford used to be the Indians. It also used to be a football powerhouse. Where have you gone, Jim Plunkett?

The Governor had less weighty matters on his mind, having secured a cozy piece of real estate near the corner of the end zone, smack dab in the middle of the ASU dance team, all clad in paint-on, shimmering black pants and tiny white tops.

“Now I see why you like shooting football so much,” I said.

The Guv laughed.

Nearby, Sparky, the ASU mascot, was trying to ignite the crowd. “He seemed bigger on TV,” the Guv said of Sparky. I nodded. Up close, he seemed like – how to say this? – a dweeb.

By early in the third quarter, ASU was in mop-up mode, and by the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the Guv and I had retreated again to Mill Avenue, Tempe’s epicenter, for dinner, later capping the night at the much-subdued Library.

• • •

Sun Devil Law No. 56: “A fan comes to the game; a Sun Devil never leaves.”

Alas, it was the day after the game and the Governor and I had to leave. But not before
a morning tee time at We-Ko-Pa’s Cholla Course, the state’s third-ranked public course on Golfweek’s Best list. We-Ko-Pa’s Saguaro Course, which opened after our visit, bulleted to the No. 1 spot. The numbers don’t lie: In perhaps the nation’s most golf-rich environment, We-Ko-Pa’s 36 holes top the must-play list in the Scottsdale area.

We-Ko-Pa also is all about golf (well, that, and gaming, the chief economic engine for many tribes). No houses detract from the views of the Four Peaks and other surrounding mountain ranges. Add the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation to the long and growing list of tribes that know how to deliver a sublime golf experience.

And that’s what matters. So what if the homecoming game was a rout. So what if we didn’t learn anything at The Library, other than the fact that our mores still tend to be a bit flexible after a few Coronas. It was fall, and we were playing golf in the desert, with a little football and some mischief mixed in.

That led me to adopt my own Sun Devil Law: Repeat trip next year.

• • •

Martin Kaufmann is the managing editor of The Golf Life. To reach him email [email protected]

The playbook

The site: Tempe, Ariz.

The game: Stanford vs. Arizona State, Oct. 21, 2006

The courses: Almost too many to mention in America’s most golf-rich metropolis. ASU’s Karsten Course (www.asukarsten.com) gets overshadowed by the fact that 15 of the top 20 courses on Golfweek’s Best state list are located in or near Phoenix. We-Ko-Pa’s two courses (www.wekopa.com), ranked Nos. 1 and 3 in Arizona, are a must.

Don’t forget: Talking Stick Golf Club (www.talkingstickgolfclub.com) in Scottsdale.
Both of its Coore/Crenshaw-designed courses are top 20 statewide.

Don’t miss: The redesigned second course at TPC Scottsdale (www.tpc.com/scottsdale/). The Champions Course, opening in November, will complement the Stadium Course, home of the raucous FBR Open.

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