Regional Park at Weston

We're not talking about the game. We're talking about practice. So why's it so hard to pick up a good pickup game? By the time you find a court that isn't covered with broken glass and discarded condoms and one that actually has nets on the baskets, there are downs so deep you need a calendar to figure out when you'll get on a court. If you do finally get a game, you end up covering some six-foot-eight guy with a nickname like "Da Meat Hook" who takes every opportunity to drop vicious, 360-degree tomahawk dunks on your face. We can't promise you're not going to get posterized, but at least the Regional Park at Weston, with the nicest outdoor facilities in Broward County, eliminates the search for a place to play. On the eight well-lighted courts, the games run the gamut of ages and skill levels, so you don't need to be trying out for the AND1 mix-tape tour to get in a game. Best of all, the lights stay on till 11 p.m., just in case you want to "practice."

Everybody who's not a moron knows that the real fruits of leisure are to be found in the outdoors. But sometimes, Fort Lauderdale's greatest offering, a stretch of golden sand on the placid Atlantic, isn't enough. Sometimes, a beach is just a beach. You can sweat, swim, and soak up sun. Done that. And yet, there is one way to make beachgoing the most kick ass time ever. Just cruise south of Las Olas Boulevard, enter the gate of South Beach Park, pay $6 for a carload, and drive all the way to the end, where volleyball courts stretch from the picnic benches to the beach. Bring people looking for social refreshment and a workout, or just a ball. Pickup games are everywhere, full of new friends to be made -- the athletic kind. It's addictive fun that'll have your body moving like no club DJ ever could. The park, which also has basketball courts, is open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Greenacres Bowl

Sure, Don Carter Bowling Center has shinier lanes and more of 'em too. But that's precisely what attracted the group of obnoxious high school brats that ruined your perfect game the last time you went. Fortunately, their kind isn't as prevalent at Greenacres Bowl -- even if it's the only thing to do in Greenacres on a Friday night. Greenacres Bowl may be home to 20 year-round leagues, but it's just as fit for the occasional bowler; you don't need to be Homer Simpson to enjoy Saturday's "All You Can Bowl Night" ($20) or Friday's "Rocking and Bowling" ($17 for three hours, starting at 10 p.m.). Of course, if you're throwing a party, there's bound to be one or two bowl-a-phobes; they can hang out in the Thirsty Gator Lounge or the arcade room -- or, more appropriately, order you some of those tasty chicken wings from the snack bar. If it's Friday night, the Thirsty Gator has karaoke, which attracts some interesting characters, to put it mildly. Hey, at least they stay inside the lounge and away from the lanes. Now you've got no excuse for all those gutter balls.

AMF Davie Lanes
It's pretty basic: Davie Lanes has four domestic beers on tap and some of the best burgers and Cajun-spiced fries around. And they fry those babies up fresh too. Oh yeah, and they've got those things that have three holes that you like to put your fingers into. No, we're not talking about a bevy of down-low girls (though there usually are a few bowling babes showing off their benders on any given night). Lame ripoffs of Kingpin movie jokes aside, we're talking about bowling balls -- and 32 lanes to roll them down. You can play two games for $21.09 (shoes and ball included) and get a couple of soft drinks in the deal. But who the hell drinks soda while they're bowling? We went straight for the Michelob Ultra. The place is entirely hospitable for the serious kegler, the shameless gutter-baller, and everyone in between. All are welcome at Davie Lanes. If Jesus were to go bowling, he'd probably hit this alley. We happened to go on a Tuesday night, when the place offers discounted games to people with developmental disabilities. And their good time couldn't help but rub off on the rest of us. Bless you, Davie Lanes.
Lake Worth Shuffleboard Courts

Indulge your inner (or outer) senior citizen with 28 covered shuffleboard courts just west of downtown Lake Worth. After the spring, the shuffle clubs tend to clear out, leaving more space for the casual player. The cost, including equipment? One thin dollar per person. The building is also the site of regular bridge games, art classes, voting, and various civic clubs, so you may just run into the Finnish War Veterans when you go to put cue to disc. Play from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday and until 10 p.m. Tuesday and Friday.

You probably drive past it several times a week, the mass of intricately stacked wood rising ten stories in the air off I-95. From a distance, it looks as though it could be made with matchsticks, but it's actually built of roughly 1 million feet of pine and fir lumber. And when you get on top of that baby and ride, it's one heck of a 3,200-foot-long, two-minute thrill. Like all the best wooden coasters, you spend a good part of the ride suspended above your seat. It may be the only game in town, but it's got a bit of national clout. A group of roller-coaster enthusiasts gave it a ranking of 34th best "woodie" in the world out of 163 listed. And only four of those that ranked higher lie south of the Ohio River. We're no experts, but that sounds like it might be something a little special. Undoubtedly special is the price -- $10.60 for unlimited rides (and $6.25 for the fool who wants to ride only once). You need to ride it five times before you really get your fill. But if you take a kid with you, be prepared for the worst, because youngsters will go on the thing until they're ordered to the ground. A 9-year-old boy recently rode it 23 times straight, which isn't uncommon. But loosen up with the children -- it's a time that neither they, nor you, will soon forget.

The sheer duration of the National Hockey League lockout places it among the most baffling stoppages in the history of North American sports, and it may well signal hockey's withering into second-tier entertainment. Owners claimed players' salaries were devouring 75 percent of revenue; reckless expansion had diluted the league; with TV ratings down, ABC and NBC dumped their hockey coverage, and ESPN plans to relegate the sport solely to ESPN2. Quagmires rarely carry silver linings, but at least a belt-cinching labor agreement will probably extend the life of the 30-team league. Not only that but in the likely event that the owners impose a salary cap, "small market" teams such as the Panthers may be able to afford some formerly exorbitant talent. The Panthers' 2003-04 player payroll was in the bottom tenth of the league, and only one player, right wing Valeri Bure, was among the league's 100 best-paid. If big-market teams dump expensive free agents to avoid a luxury tax, the Panthers (and the Penguins, the Oilers, et al.) figure to be in terrific position to add discount stars. Assuming hockey survives its own self-righteous cannibalism -- and the Panthers cough up some cash -- look for South Florida to boast an NHL team more competitive than that of recent seasons.

A lot of factors go into judging a great golf hole: natural beauty, approach technique, and overall feeling come into consideration. But as most serious duffers would agree, the single most important factor is challenge. A great hole separates the weekend warriors from the hardcore linksmen, sending the former to the clubhouse whining and discouraged and the latter triumphant and even a little better as human beings. The 18th at Colony West -- recognized by the Florida State Golf Association to be the toughest and longest par 71 in Florida -- is such a hole. Lined with trees on either side of a narrow, right-doglegged fairway, with a water hazard about 300 yards from the tee, this par-four hole is all about the drive. If you lay up just before the water, you get a shot at making it to the green across the way in two and getting in at par. If you don't nail the drive just right, you're done for. Not for the faint of heart, Colony West's 18th hole is the perfect finisher for a uniquely challenging course.

Art and Culture Center of Hollywood

You love your rugrats. They're funny, smart, cute, and they rarely vomit at the wrong time. Well, that doesn't mean you don't occasionally want to free yourself and your mate for a Saturday-night romp. Dancing, maybe. Or bowling. Or, hell, just sitting on a bus bench in peace for a few minutes and breathing deeply. Our suggestion: Try stowing the twerps aged 4 to 12 at the Art and Culture Center's parents' night out, which takes place the second Friday of every month and lasts from 6 to 10 p.m. It costs $15 per kid -- juice and pizza included. The babysitters, if you want to call them that, are generally experienced teachers, so your beloved little monsters will try all kinds of intellectually stimulating things. Among 'em: supervised arts and crafts, games, and even shows. And they'll do it in perhaps the coolest boutique arts mecca between Miami and Fort Lauderdale -- or maybe between Havana and New York. Parents should call in advance; spots are limited.

When Pat Riley stepped down as Miami Heat coach two years ago, he took a lot of flack for bailing out on the team. But the man with the best slicked-back hair in America had already lost face. Remember when he traded Jamal Mashburn to the Hornets in 2000 only to have the Monster Mash dominate the Heat in the first round of the following year's playoffs? It's hard to, uh, rebound from something like that. Riley, looking older by the day, stuck it out for another two tough years before handing the reins of the team over to Stan Van Gundy, from whom very little was expected. He was short, balding, and fat -- the George Costanza of coaching. But Van Gundy, with his self-effacing humor and oven-fresh attitude, shocked the world in his first season, leading the Heat to the second round of the playoffs with the help of his sensational rookie, Dwyane Wade. This season, however, presented an even more daunting -- if enviable -- challenge: To integrate Shaquille O'Neal into the team and bring it to championship level. Van Gundy answered that call with pitch-perfect tone and a beautiful strategy, Diesel Power, which features Shaq's passing talents rather than his scoring ability. By giving Shaq a central role in the half-court offense, every player has been able to profit from Shaq's presence, from Udonis Haslem to Christian Laettner. And it has proven that Van Gundy is master of his domain.

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