Sixteen-inch softball Credit: Marty Perez

THERE ARE LOADS of ways to display
your awesome skills in
Chicago, and there’s no reason
to stick to the big four of football,
basketball, hockey, and baseball.

The Chicago Park District maintains
six public golf courses.
Weekend greens fees for nine holes
at the South Shore Cultural Center
(7059 S. South Shore Dr., 773-747-6250) on the south side and at

Columbus Park (5701 W. Jackson,
312-746-5573) on the west side are
a paltry $15.50. If you want to go a
full 18 holes, check out Jackson Park, another south-side course
(6401 S. Richards Dr., 773-667-0524), for $25.50. None of these
courses are like a country club, but
then none are dog tracks either.
Jackson Park, in particular, is a
real steal. With a couple of holes
well over 500 yards and one par
three that plays at 210 yards, it’ll
test the mettle of the weekend
duffer. Waveland, aka Sydney R. Marovitz in Lincoln Park (3600 N.
Recreation Dr., 312-742-7930), on
the other hand, while appealing
because it’s right on the north lakefront,
is best avoided, unless a five-hour
round of nine holes is your
cup of tea. A better option on the
north side is the nine-hole Robert A. Black course in Warren Park
(2045 W. Pratt, 773-764-4045):
the pace is quicker and the greens
are generally better kept. If you
want to practice, check out the
driving ranges at Diversey Harbor (141 W. Diversey, 312-742-7929) and Jackson Park. The sixth
course, at Marquette Park (6700 S.
Kedzie, 312-747-2761), charges
$16.25 for nine holes and also has
a driving range.

If you like to combine competition
with serious drinking, there’s
always darts, and the steel-tipped-dart
scene might be right up your
alley. Though most of the heavy-duty
dart bars, like Di’s Den (5100
W. Irving Park, 773-736-7170) and
the Family Bar (6340 W. Irving
Park, 773-685-8134), are on the
northwest side, places are cropping
up closer to the lake. Mullen’s on
Clark
(3527 N. Clark, 773-325-2319), the Nisei Lounge (3439 N.
Sheffield, 773-525-0557), the

Blarney Stone (3424 N. Sheffield,
773-348-1078), and Cody’s (1658
W. Barry, 773-528-4050) are all
excellent places to get in a game of
cricket or 501. There’s almost never
a charge to use a dartboard, and
most bars will allow you to use
their house darts in exchange for
an ID. If you want to get good,
however, consider purchasing your
own darts either online or at one of
the many bars that sell supplies.
The Windy City Darters (windycitydarters.org) run all levels of
leagues and tournaments
throughout the year. There’s a $24
annual fee to join and it’s $18 for
any season you want to play. If
you’re lucky, you’ll find a bar to
host and pay your team fees. The
Windy City Open, an international
dart competition that draws the
best players in the world, was held here September 14-17.

With pool tables decorating virtually
every barroom in town, it’s
easy to get up a game if you have an
ID and a pocketful of quarters.
Famed as a location for Martin
Scorsese’s The Color of Money,
Chris’s Billiards (4637 N.
Milwaukee, 773-286-4714) has
dozens of full-size tables, funky, old-school charm, and even
bleachers for when the pros come
to town. Marie’s Golden Cue (3241
W. Montrose, 773-478-2555), dark
and grimy to the core, is cheap, and
if you want to polish your game
there’s no better place to practice
your stroke in peace. Finally, for
$20 you can join the local chapter
of the American Poolplayers
Association
(chicagoapa.com), a
league that runs games four nights
a week all over the city.

Chicago doesn’t lack for venues
when it comes to bowling. At
Diversey River Bowl (also known as
Rock ’n’ Bowl, 2211 W. Diversey,
773-227-5800), Guns N’ Roses and
AC/DC accompany the action.
Rates vary according to the day of
the week, but expect to spend $20-$35 hour, depending on the day,
and look for specials like $1 games
on Monday afternoons. If you’re
looking for something a little
cheaper and more sedate, then
consider Lincoln Square Lanes (4874 N. Lincoln, 773-561-8191).
This grungy second-floor space
above a hardware store charges $4
to roll a game and $3 for shoes.
The bar has a view of all the lanes,
the perfect place to drown your
sorrows after yet another gutter
ball. Last in what is by no means
an exhaustive list, if the itch hits at
3 AM, don’t despair. Waveland Bowl (3700 N. Western, 773-472-5900) is open 24 hours and
features 40 lanes, electronic
scoring, and a full bar. The place
rocks even on Christmas.

If team sports float your boat,
the Chicago Sport and Social Club
(chicagosportandsocialclub.com)
has got most of them covered for
the 21-and-over set, including two
local favorites. The first time I
played 16-inch softball, my buddy
Roger, a native north-sider, told
me: “Keep your fingers spread
wide or you’ll be sorry.” Several
days later I stood in the middle of
a downtown field with an acornsized
lump on my thumb knuckle.
Practically unknown outside the
Chicago area, 16-inch is played
without gloves, using a ball whose
circumference is four inches more
than that of the normal orb. After
a few innings the ball becomes soft
and mushy, and only the heaviest
hitters can send it more than a few
hundred feet. The advantages are
obvious: it’s cheaper because you
don’t need a glove, and because
the ball doesn’t travel you can play
in the smallest of public spaces.
It’s also a great coed sport.
Through the Chicago Sport and
Social Club it’s $85 to play, and
team fees range from $750 to
$1,300. Or if that’s a little too
pricey, go to a sporting goods store
and get a ball and a bat and invite
your friends to the park. Do yourself
a favor, though, and keep your
fingers spread wide.

Who doesn’t love dodgeball?
It’s not only a guilty pleasure, it’s
become a serious competitive endeavor. Chicago Sport and
Social runs a coed league that
plays seven games per season,
including a single-elimination
playoff. Teams consist of four men
and four women, though the rules
can be relaxed every now and
then. The team fee is $700-$800
and the individual fee is $85. As
my friend Kevin says, “It’s really
just about getting up on Sunday
and getting rid of your hangover
by hitting some strangers really
hard with a ball.”