The fundamental fantasy of the golfing world is that best is supposed to be brutal. Year after year, Houston hackers hold the notion that tribute should be paid to the toughest holes. Of course, that ignores the basic premise that this game is geared toward finding that rare feeling of oneness with nature. So stifle the raves about 490-yard par fours transcending the 200-foot canyons and elevated greens guarded by Saharan bunkers, and start communing with the sheer beauty to behold from tee to green and beyond. Old Orchard Golf Club was created with a unique respect for the finer aesthetics of the game. Nothing shows that off more than No. 4 at the Stables Course. The view is accented by a windmill in the distance. Plenty of trees surround the hole, and a waterfall and stream splash down the fairway border and extend beyond the narrow, well-trapped three-tier green. Challenging? Naturally. And scenic. And peaceful. The kind of on-in-two feeling that the game of golf is supposed to be all about. On this hole, a drop in blood pressure is par enough.
For most of us, table tennis (it was called Ping-Pong in our day) was a game best played in the rec room with Uncle Charlie and a few of your Little League team buddies. One visit to the Houston Table Tennis Center on West Bellfort, and you'll realize just how far this little game has come. With 24 tournament-caliber tables, a pro shop and a lounge complete with pool tables, this place is the center of the world for table tennis mavens. While rank amateurs can play for $6 an hour or $8 a day, you also are likely to see some of the finest practitioners of the game flailing away at the little white ball with as much intensity as Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. The center hosts regular tournaments and provides coaches who can teach you how to execute shots like spinny loops, defensive chops and fast counter drives. But you'd better tell Uncle Charlie to at least put on a shirt without mustard stains.
For most of us, table tennis (it was called Ping-Pong in our day) was a game best played in the rec room with Uncle Charlie and a few of your Little League team buddies. One visit to the Houston Table Tennis Center on West Bellfort, and you'll realize just how far this little game has come. With 24 tournament-caliber tables, a pro shop and a lounge complete with pool tables, this place is the center of the world for table tennis mavens. While rank amateurs can play for $6 an hour or $8 a day, you also are likely to see some of the finest practitioners of the game flailing away at the little white ball with as much intensity as Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. The center hosts regular tournaments and provides coaches who can teach you how to execute shots like spinny loops, defensive chops and fast counter drives. But you'd better tell Uncle Charlie to at least put on a shirt without mustard stains.
The billiard cloth has long since faded to a lighter shade of green; the cues are sometimes as curved as an archer's bow, and a few tables are as level as a raked stage. The Waugh Drive Pool Hall is not about the tools of the trade. This Montrose institution -- 33 years of operation and counting -- is the kind of place where Charles Bukowski would have played pool. In short, it's a dive, and in a part of town that's being gentrified beyond recognition, that's enough for us. There's rarely a wait for a table, and even if there is, the beer's only $1.50 a bottle ($2 for "premium"), and the jukebox has all the best hits from the 1970s. Waugh Pool, as it's known among regulars (or at least the regulars we know), recalls a time when breaking balls was indeed a cheap form of entertainment, not one that required an ATM in the corner. Tables are a mere $5 an hour (regardless of the number of players). With a price like that, we can do without the mahogany tables, the mood lighting and the frat boys trying to imitate Tom Cruise from The Color of Money.
The billiard cloth has long since faded to a lighter shade of green; the cues are sometimes as curved as an archer's bow, and a few tables are as level as a raked stage. The Waugh Drive Pool Hall is not about the tools of the trade. This Montrose institution -- 33 years of operation and counting -- is the kind of place where Charles Bukowski would have played pool. In short, it's a dive, and in a part of town that's being gentrified beyond recognition, that's enough for us. There's rarely a wait for a table, and even if there is, the beer's only $1.50 a bottle ($2 for "premium"), and the jukebox has all the best hits from the 1970s. Waugh Pool, as it's known among regulars (or at least the regulars we know), recalls a time when breaking balls was indeed a cheap form of entertainment, not one that required an ATM in the corner. Tables are a mere $5 an hour (regardless of the number of players). With a price like that, we can do without the mahogany tables, the mood lighting and the frat boys trying to imitate Tom Cruise from The Color of Money.
When it comes to adventures in baby-sitting, water parks are a no-brainer. But don't let the big guys drown out Houston's best-kept secret: Adventure Bay. On just 12 acres in far west Houston, it's intimate enough to let older kids roam free (though we suggest the buddy system) through the Master Blaster uphill coaster, four huge tube slides and one achingly steep body slide (watch for wedgies!). They can also run along the man-made river, navigating around moms on tubes taking a slow float through the clean, well-landscaped park. Because crowds haven't discovered it yet, there's hardly a wait for any slide -- at any time -- and Adventure Bay is just a fraction of the price of the bigger parks. And it's the only one in town that lets you bring your own cooler of snacks and drinks (sans alcohol). Grown-ups still can imbibe beer and margaritas, as well as burgers and barbecue, served there. Our only concern is that the freedom it offers from crowds could be its downfall, forcing Houston's newest water park to close before it has a chance to really get going.

When it comes to adventures in baby-sitting, water parks are a no-brainer. But don't let the big guys drown out Houston's best-kept secret: Adventure Bay. On just 12 acres in far west Houston, it's intimate enough to let older kids roam free (though we suggest the buddy system) through the Master Blaster uphill coaster, four huge tube slides and one achingly steep body slide (watch for wedgies!). They can also run along the man-made river, navigating around moms on tubes taking a slow float through the clean, well-landscaped park. Because crowds haven't discovered it yet, there's hardly a wait for any slide -- at any time -- and Adventure Bay is just a fraction of the price of the bigger parks. And it's the only one in town that lets you bring your own cooler of snacks and drinks (sans alcohol). Grown-ups still can imbibe beer and margaritas, as well as burgers and barbecue, served there. Our only concern is that the freedom it offers from crowds could be its downfall, forcing Houston's newest water park to close before it has a chance to really get going.

I'm sorry, what did you say? The Fruit Loop offers the best blading in town? Honey, you need to start thinking like a realtor: location, location, location. What a difference a couple of miles makes. With its stratospheric tax bracket, River Oaks offers the smoothest asphalt, the safest environs and the most beautiful scenery in town. Forget the sweaty multitudes, close quarters and repetitive circles of Memorial Park. Houston's most prestigious neighborhood attracts in-line enthusiasts with its graceful curves and hills, expansive manicured lawns and careful (Sunday) drivers. This premier blading mileage, bounded by Kirby, San Felipe, Willowick and the namesake country club, winds past mansion after mansion of the cream of Houston's real estate crop, so you can exercise your Lotto fantasies as well as your legs.
I'm sorry, what did you say? The Fruit Loop offers the best blading in town? Honey, you need to start thinking like a realtor: location, location, location. What a difference a couple of miles makes. With its stratospheric tax bracket, River Oaks offers the smoothest asphalt, the safest environs and the most beautiful scenery in town. Forget the sweaty multitudes, close quarters and repetitive circles of Memorial Park. Houston's most prestigious neighborhood attracts in-line enthusiasts with its graceful curves and hills, expansive manicured lawns and careful (Sunday) drivers. This premier blading mileage, bounded by Kirby, San Felipe, Willowick and the namesake country club, winds past mansion after mansion of the cream of Houston's real estate crop, so you can exercise your Lotto fantasies as well as your legs.
Step out of the city and into the Wild West. Down Cyprus Woods Road out in Humble is Cyprus Trails. You pull into the driveway, and the yard is filled with horses tethered to trees and roaming around. On your left is a pen filled with puppies and a potbellied pig. Kittens crawl through the haystack; there are more than 30 horses surrounding you. Inside the ranch house, battered western saddles hang from the ceiling beams. On the wall are spurs, horseshoes and paintings of horses. Darolyn Butler-Dial and her husband, Mark Dial, run the ranch. You can saddle up an Arabian for $25 trail rides, three times a day. These relaxing rides take you deep into woods surrounded by wildflowers and across cool creeks. There's one trail that leads across sandy white beaches on the way to Old Spring. (We didn't know there was white sand within 500 miles of Houston.)

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