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Tee up in San Antonio during the Final Four

Image: Bandit Golf Club
Bandit Golf Club is typical of San Antonio's scenic value
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Visitors to San Antonio spend as much time with the River Walk as Ryan Seacrest does with his makeup artist.

This meandering, well-laid out path along the banks gives the city its heart — and much of its commerce. It's cool to stroll it at daytime and even cooler to do it at night when the music's coming out of clubs and restaurants, beckoning tourists to stop in.

This weekend's Final Four will be played at the Alamodome, but it will be centered around the River Walk. Want to run across one of those famous coaches whose team has long since been eliminated (Mike Krzyzewski, anyone?) Do the River Walk.

This path is what separates San Antonio from spread-out, far-flung Texas mega cities Dallas and Houston. It gives it a center point and, in many ways, a heart.

It also can get boring pretty quickly if you're in town for more than two days.

"The River Walk's great the first night," frequent San Antonio visitor Drew Parker said. "It's pretty good on the second night. But starting around day number three, it goes downhill fast."

You'll be surprised by how small and puny looking the real Alamo is too. The famous last stand's site sits in the middle of the city, lorded over by bigger buildings, and takes three hours max to see (and that's if you're an extreme history buff — under two is more like it).

Yes, you're going to have to find something else to do in-between the college basketball madness.

Golf, anyone?

With highs in the mid 80s forecast for Final Four week, you'll find plenty of people looking to a sporting activity that's not played indoors or confined to a 94-foot court. The search need not be in vain either with the home of the Alamo also the address of a PGA Tour host course in the hills overlooking the city (Westin La Cantera Golf Club, tel. 800-446-5387), and an Arthur Hills design that will test your game under pressure (Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa, tel. 210-647-1234).

San Antonio.s River Walk is the No. 1 tourist attraction in town.

"As far as Texas cities go, San Antonio's extremely underrated for its golf," said Diana Yang, a Houston resident who sometimes sets up golf for visiting overseas business executives. "Austin gets talked about more, but San Antonio's golf is just as good, if not better."

It helps that San Antonio golf tends to be much hillier and usually more interesting than Houston and Dallas' largely flat tracks.

Take the Quarry Golf Club (tel. 210-824-4500). This Keith Foster design has a front nine that plays through rolling grasses and a back nine that runs through a 100-year-old quarry pit. You putt on greens surrounded by towering rocks, probably watch a few drives carom off the gray stone.

The cement for the State Capitol came from this quarry. Now it's where good rounds often go to die.

Westin La Cantera also has rocks to avoid and 36 holes of golf (The Resort Course and the newer Palmer Course) in a real retreat setting just north of downtown. La Cantera really puts you in Texas hill country, and it does it in style. It's been ranked the No. 2 resort in North America by Conde Nast Traveler and it cost $115 million to build, back when that figure was a little higher than the Yankees payroll.

It doesn't matter if you'll never be able to afford a ticket in the new Yankee Stadium though. You can find a course you can afford in San Antonio. A good course.

This is one of those places where golf isn't king. Which makes it a good locale for value hunters. Even in the heart of Final Four week, a tourist bonanza where open wallets are usually the norm, a number of the best courses in San Antonio are offering special "Midweek Madness" discount deals.

You have to get people off that River Walk somehow.

Throughout the year, greens fees under $100 for some of the best courses are still the norm. The Bandit Golf Club (tel. 888-923-7846) typifies San Antonio's golf bargains. Out a ways from the city, you get those hills, deer scurrying around and hawks flying overhead — often for less than 50 bucks.

San Antonio's beyond Final Four party time

If the team you love didn't end up making it to the Final Four, if you suddenly find yourself cursing that millionaire college basketball coach who downplayed the importance of free-throw shooting, you still might not want to write off San Antonio as a trip option.

Just a few weeks after the Final Four, San Antonio breaks into a 10-day fiesta (April 18-27) that's essentially one long party. It's Mardi Gras for those with kids — or pacemakers. There are over 100 events, with plenty of parades, dancing and elaborate floats that actually float down the San Antonio River.

Dating back to 1891, San Antonio Fiesta is meant to honor the memory of those who fought at the Alamo.

Though it's the seventh largest city in the U.S., the compactness and river focus of San Antonio's downtown attractions make it seem like a much smaller place. One where families feel comfortable hopping on a gondola to get off the River Walk and take a different water view. One where golf is regarded in a relaxed way.

"Golf isn't in your face all the time," Yang said. "A lot of people in San Antonio could care less about golf. Because of that it's more wide open for those that do."

Even when one of sports' biggest events of the year is taking over the town.