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March 4, 2010

Guide To Hot Springs

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It was somewhat of an experiment for the Sun Belt Conference last year, who has adamantly said that it's been trying to find a central location for its conference tournament.

This experiment has a three-year period, however. The SBC tournament will be back in Hot Springs again next season.

Editor Jason Stamm checked out the sights and hidden treasures in Hot Springs last year to give you a recap and some ideas for this weekend.


Places to Eat
I've always said that the best places to eat are usually the ones off the beaten path, the 'Mom & Pop' local restaurants.

One night, I did head to Buffalo Wild Wings, who was one of the tournament sponsors and was one of the few places open late hours nightly.

The food of choice in Hot Springs, as any local will tell you, is Barbecue. There's a handful of good BBQ joints here, but the one I found to be the best during my stay was 'McClard's.'

This local establishment, at 505 Albert Pike, has some of the best home cooking you'll find anywhere. You can get a big rack of ribs or try the sliced pork or beef. And of course, it's all lathered with their authentic BBQ.

The cool story behind the sauce is that a traveler couldn't pay for a stay at the Westside Tourist Court and paid with the recipe for this BBQ. Shortly after, in 1928, the Inn was changed to Westside Bar-B-Que.

The restaurant is still in the family and the recipe is locked in a safe deposit box downtown. You can still buy a bottle of it for $4.

The other cool thing about the restaurant is you can see all the autographed photos of diners who have eaten here, from Jerry Jones, Bill Clinton, Jery Van Dyke and the Soprano's James Gandolfini.


Where to stay
The most convenient hotel by far is the Embassy Suites, which sits next to Summitt Arena and has a skywalk that connects the two.

There's also the Austin and the Arlington, two historic and old hotels in downtown Hot Springs.

For the modest priced, there's the Travelodge, just down the street from the arena and across the street corner from the Howard Johnson.

There's also resort hotels next to Lake Hamilton, such as Baymont Inn and Clarion Inn. In between, there's the Holiday Inn Express or the Best Western, the latter across the street from Oaklawn.


What To Do Here
Hot Springs may be most known for the national park which bears its name. The spring water, which comes out of the hills, is also, naturally warm water.

There's also Lake Hamilton, a short, 10-15 minute drive from downtown, with a myriad of resort hotels around.

While on my stay, I made it down to Oaklawn Park Race Course, one of the oldest and prettiest horse race tracks in the country. It's located on Central Avenue, right in the middle of Hot Springs.

The tourney fell during the middle of the spring meet, with live racing that builds up to the Arkansas Derby on April 11, one of the biggest prep races for the Kentucky Derby. You may remember Curlin winning here a few years back before his win in the 2007 Preakness Stakes.

There's also casino-style gambling here year-round as well as horse racing siumulcasting.

While there's also a handful of good golf courses, I was able to play 18 holes at Belvedere Country Club, located on the north side of the city, on Central Avenue.

The Bermuda grass wasn't in yet, but I was able to take advantage of the winter rate special of $32 for 18 holes.

But the place where I learned the most was on my last day in town, at The Gangster Museum of America. You wouldn't believe all the gangsters who used to frequent Hot Springs, until they were broken up in 1967, when gambling was shut down.

Big names like Al Capone, Owney Madden and Lucky Luciano were all big players here. They also apparently used the Belvedere Country Club as a big illegal gambling ring.


Looking Forward To This Weekend's Tournament

The Toppers just missed out on a first round bye, instead claiming the No. 4 seed. They'll play the lowest ranked seed, No. 13 New Orleans Saturday at approximately 6:45 pm CT.

But WKU still has plenty going for it, having won six games in a row to close the regular season. There's also some added motivation from a few snubs when the Sun Belt Conference's all-conference teams were announced Tuesday. Senior guard A.J. Slaughter and coach Ken McDonald were less than thrilled with the results.

But it could be a good thing. Last season, the Toppers weren't expected to do a whole lot, given what they'd lost from the year before, most notably Courtney Lee. But they used the motivation throughout the season.

Then, at this time last year, they were fired up by a few things. Slaughter wasn't named to the all-conference first team and forward Sergio Kerusch wasn't named the newcomer of the year. The result was a triumphant run to the conference championship and a solid win over Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Now that they're fired up again, it's hard not to think there's some similarities from last season. But there's 12 other teams looking to gain the crown as well.

GoMiddle.com publisher Randall Thomason broke down the tournament this weekend with some things to look for.

Check Out InsideHilltopperSports.com's insider's only look at WKU's Wednesday practice, including a full, in-depth injury report.


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