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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007 09:00 pm

Best of Sports & Recreation

The best of the city

Untitled Document BEST POOL HALL Mowie’s Cue 1277 Toronto Rd., 217-529-7616
Mowie’s Cue isn’t your daddy’s billiard hall. Instead of being dark and cramped, Mowie’s is spacious and well-lit, with eight large-screen televisions, free wireless Internet service, and a new high-tech jukebox that lets you download whatever song you feel like hearing. In lieu of a movie date, which will cost way more money than you’ll spend here, a couple can shoot stick at Mowie’s for just $4.50 an hour after 6 p.m. and drink a beer or one of Mowie’s other nightly drink specials. On Sundays, military personnel play for free. God bless America — and Mowie’s Cue. Runner-up: Break Time

BEST PICNIC SPOT Washington Park
1500 South Grand Ave. West, 217-544-1751
At Washington Park, this year’s choice for Best Picnic Spot, finding a place to kick back for a bite is easy. Choosing which place to lay out a blanket for a picnic — that’s the real challenge. If you’re toting the rugrats along, head west to the covered picnic area that sits in direct sight of the park’s playground. Looking for a romantic spot for an afternoon nosh? Put down your basket next to the pond or stretch out near the Rees Memorial Carillon. Don’t forget to pack a Frisbee with your grub and lace up the walking shoes before setting off on your picnic — Washington Park isn’t just for devouring potato salad. Runner-up: Lake Springfield
Weight Watchers 2581 S. MacArthur Blvd., Suite B, 800-651-6000
The Duchess of York swears by it, and apparently our readers do, too. Weight Watchers is your choice for best method of taking off the pounds. The wildly popular program set up shop in Town and Country Shopping Center and hosts several meetings each week. What’s the secret? There’s no miracle serum, just a four-pillar approach in which equal attention is paid to food, exercise, behavior, and support. With confidential weigh-ins and plenty of shoulders to lean on, Weight Watchers’ members keep coming back — with any luck, smaller each time. Runner-up: FitClub
Wayne Carrels High Intensity Practical Exercises 3430 Constitution Dr., Ste. 113, 217-632-3706
In the past year, fitness trainer Wayne Carrels has changed locations, and his new 4,000-plus-square-foot workout room, which can accommodate classes of as many as 50 at a time, has brought significant economies of scale to his life’s mission. “In the two months since I opened, more than 1,500 people have worked out here,” he says. “The charge is $5 a class.” Despite the larger class size, the activity is more challenging. “We have more dynamic things to do,” he says. “I’m also the strength coach for the Springfield Junior Blues, and they work out here, too.” The change of venue keeps Carrels’ glutei maximi firmly planted in the new facility: “I used to do personal fitness training at people’s homes, but not any more. They come here.” Carrels, who’s planning three health-awareness classes for the fall, says, “We’ll talk about choices people have in terms of fitness and nutrition.” He claims that his enthusiasm for physical conditioning is infectious, in a good way: “Even when I’m watching a movie, I’m thinking about it. It rubs off on people.”
Runner-up: Matt Kern, Better Body

FitClub FitClub South, 3631 S. Sixth Street Rd., 217-787-8348; FitClub North, 2701 E. Sangamon Ave., 217-788-8250; FitClub West, 2811 W. Lawrence Ave., 217-787-1111
Since its beginnings as Fitness America, in 1994, FitClub has written an MBA-textbook tale of success. Today the business employs about 170 full- and part-time staffers at three facilities in Springfield, as well as one in Carlinville. St. John’s Hospital, a name prominent at one part of the Sixth Street facility, leases space and shares FitClub’s warm-water therapy pool. Kevin W. Imhoff, D.C., a co-owner of FitClub, describes the company’s mission: “We look at ourselves as providing a higher level of service, which translates into a higher level of success for our members. Here you get started with sessions with certified professional trainers and a program created with your needs in mind. We offer goal reassessments built into the membership cost. FitClub offers far more exercise classes, the warm-water therapy pool no one else has.” The dynamic of fitness has evolved since the early days. Many members spend more than the usual hour and extend their visits, socializing with friends, taking some premium healthy refreshment, and working out. “It’s the most medically based club in town,” Imhoff says. “There is an actual crash cart and defibrillator on scene. A cardiac nurse is here in connection with Memorial Medical Center cardiac rehab three days a week.” FitClub also offers an Added Value Program. Vendors around town offer discounts to FitClub members. Members and nonmembers are welcome to visit, which provides the usual information about the facilities, plus recipes, video demos of exercises, and video samples of class offerings. “Members or not, we want this community to be healthier,” Imhoff says. “That is our mantra.”
Runner-up: YMCA of Greater Springfield
BEST GOLF COURSE Piper Glen 7112 Piper Glen Dr., 217-483-6537
One of the newest courses in central Illinois, the 18-hole Piper Glen is located off Route 4, southwest of Springfield between the big mall and Chatham. The first round was played at Piper Glen in 1996. “It takes a while for a golf course to mature, depending on what kind of property you have,” says owner David Impastato. “If you build it on a cornfield, it will take longer than if you cut it out of an area that’s already mature. We were built on an old cattle farm, so we have some mature trees, rolling terrain, and a few ponds.” Polecat Creek runs through the course on several holes. Impastato, who grew up in Taylorville, purchased Piper Glen from creator/developer John Klemm in December. “We have a championship course that’s geared to family play,” he says, and the course has been ranked one Golf Digest’s “50 Under $50.” Nonpeak golf, including a cart, costs $35. Piper Glen also offers discounted twilight and senior rates; go to for details and a virtual tour of the course. Season memberships offering additional savings are available to adults and juniors (high school and younger), and next year leagues for couples, men, and ladies will be introduced. Runner-up: The Rail
BEST TENNIS COURTS Washington Park Pro shop, 217-753-6225 The 12 courts and clubhouse, located in classic woodsy surroundings, have drawn “racqueteers” over the years the way line judges used to draw catcalls when McEnroe was playing at Wimbledon. Jim Bertrand teaches tennis and drills and watches the clubhouse when tennis pro/manager Manny Velasco is away. “I’ve been playing here for 12 years, and I’ve worked here for about three,” Bertrand says. From 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., singles play is $1.50 per person per hour and doubles are $1 per person per hour. Season passes are available. Access is first-come, first-served. Throughout the summer, the action is steady, but when students return to school the area catches its breath. Springfield attorney Eric Schwing, who recently played a few afternoon sets with daughter, notes that because the courts face north and south, the sun is seldom a problem. “If it’s late in the day, you’re facing south, and you’re right handed, keeping your eye on the ball can be a problem because you turn your head west and look directly into it as you swing. Even then, it’s a passing inconvenience.” Traditionally the tennis season concludes at the end of October. “You can still come out to play, though, Bertrand says. Late fall also marks the start of the season for platform tennis, which has its own leagues. “It’s a cross between racquetball and tennis on a miniature tennis court,” Bertrand says. “They play that throughout the winter.” “During spring, summer, and fall, Monday through Thursdays after 5:30 to closing are our busiest days,” he says. Six of the courts are lighted after sunset. “Springfield is such a family town, most players are occupied elsewhere,” he notes. Before-noon play on weekends is also popular. Runner-up: Springfield Racquet & Fitness Center
BEST BOWLING ALLEY King Pin Lanes Sangamon Avenue and Bypass 66, 217-544-0838
Rumor has it that bowling is losing ground to 21st-century pursuits, but you’d never know it from a visit to King Pin Lanes. Originally built in 1960 and expanded from 24 to 36 lanes in 1964, the establishment was extensively renovated after being bought by John Benanti in 1998. Tammy Gray, who manages Johnny’s Restaurant and Catering at King Pin Lanes, credits the new owner with “bringing the place into the new century. He added synthetic lanes, modernized it a lot, and it’s paid off. This year we hosted the men’s and women’s central-Illinois tournaments, and Special Olympics.” Even though winter leagues are “rolling,” there’s still lots of open play time — check the Web site, — for details. Contributing to King Pin’s popularity is Johnny’s. “When they opened, in 1960, the original Golden Tiara restaurant was very upscale,” Gray explains. “They brought in a German chef and offered oysters on the half-shell.” That approach lasted about six months, and the eats department was downsized into a snack bar for the bowlers. Gray arrived about a year after the new owner, and they opened a full-service restaurant with a homestyle menu that includes a half-pound King Burger, plus all-you-can-eat pasta from 4-9 p.m. Monday nights. The Web site offers discount coupons.
Runner-up: AMF Strike ’N Spare Lanes

BEST BIKE TRAIL Lost Bridge Trail
For years a “must ride” for cyclists from all over central Illinois, this asphalt-topped trail begins for most folks at the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Hanley Building, just off Dirksen Parkway on Springfield’s east side, and ends at the Rochester Depot, about six miles away. A recent extension leads to the Rochester Village Hall. This time last year, the trail east was going to be extended to an area near Abundant Faith Christian Center. Current status: unknown. That doesn’t bother dedicated year-round cyclist Joe Coffey, who digs the LBT big-time. “Once in Rochester, the rider has many options for riding farther. He or she will have to ride on county roads, but traffic isn’t too bad, and the scenery can be wonderful,” he says. “The Lost Bridge Trail has a tree canopy over most of it, and that is a huge plus in the summertime!”
Runner-up: Interurban Trail.

Washington Park 1500 South Grand Ave. West, 217-544-1751
Washington Park won by a landslide in both categories, which makes perfect sense. The playground underwent a phenomenal $400,000 renovation, funded by Springfield Parks Foundation (a private nonprofit organization), that was completed in September 2005. Unlike any other play area in the city, Washington Park has more than just swings and slides: It has gizmos on which kids can sit and spin themselves silly, creative constructions to climb on, and even a monstrous webbed orb they can climb and spin on simultaneously — all built into the wooded park so neatly that it almost feels as if the play equipment sprouted and grew right there. The tiny amphitheater built into the hill even became nationally famous, or infamous, when a local man complained that the stage floor featured a pentagram. It was immediately converted into colorful spoked-wheel design, but not before bloggers around the country got to riff on Satan’s sandbox. Now it’s all safe for your little angel. See you at the park! Runner-up, Restless Kids: Kicks Runner-up, Playground: Lincoln Park