With all the sorrow inflicted by Hurricane Katrina, it may seem like a parody from the Onion to be writing about golf in New Orleans, but the battered city is definitely rebuilding and the game is boogying on back. At the time the storm hit, in August 2005, New Orleans was finally starting to establish itself as a golf destination. The historic downtown Audubon Park course had undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation. Pete Dye's TPC Louisiana had just hosted its first Zurich Classic, the city's PGA Tour stop. A superb David Toms course had opened, and plans were afoot to restore the Big Easy's most fabled golf landscape, City Park. Then, on one horrible day, sustained winds of more than 150 mph splintered clubhouses, cart barns and tens of thousands of trees. When the levees breached, two cherished courses drowned for weeks under fetid saltwater, and they may never return. Now, the good news. Many of the best courses were not severely damaged and have reopened to even more appreciative audiences. And New Orleans remains a complex but, ahem, intoxicating city, built upon world-famous jazz and jumpin' zydeco, sublime food and barely licit delights.
Wedged between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, New Orleans is flat and swampy. Some of the area's courses are squishy for days after downpours, so be sure to call ahead. The region's prime golf season is October through May, when daytime highs range from the low sixties to the mid-eighties. Although several of the finest courses are private, most allow reciprocal play or can be booked through Big Easy Golf (bigeasygolf.com). To make the most of the city, stay in or near the French Quarter. That means driving an hour or more to outlying courses, but you can pass the time by listening to WWOZ-FM (90.7), the marvelous jazz, zydeco and blues station.
Where to Play
Just across the Mississippi is the stately TPC Louisiana. This monument to earth-moving lies among languid wetlands and gnarly cypress trees (although far fewer since Katrina). It's also wondrously walkable. Initially, some Tour players grumbled about what they considered to be too-similar holes and tiny, unfair pot bunkers, but some careful tweaking during the course's ten-month closure after the storm smoothed out the rough edges.
The previous site of the Zurich Classic, English Turn Golf & Country Club, is an exacting Jack Nicklaus layout. Its mature oaks and plantation-style elegance survived Katrina quite nicely. Tiered greens, forced carries, water on every hole and a relentless, tournament-deciding final hole—471 yards into the wind—create all the drama you need.
Now for your road trip. Across the narrow, twenty-four-mile-long Lake Pontchartrain Bridge, head toward Hammond on Interstate 55. At Springfield, you'll find Carter Plantation, a David Toms design that has joined the state's impressive chain of environmentally sensitive courses, called the Audubon Trail. The layout, which can be played on foot, reveals itself with wide fairways cut from forests of tall, spindly pines, ghoulish cypresses and leafy gums. On your way back, stop in the town of Akers and treat yourself to a meal at Middendorf's, a revered down-home seafood shrine (see "Where to Eat").
Two club pros and a waiter in the French Quarter told me not to miss Money Hill Golf and Country Club, in Abita Springs. Named for pirate treasure believed to be buried on the grounds, it's a private Ron Garl design built on a seven-thousand-acre, red-clay estate that once housed a tung-oil factory. The Goodyear family, the estate's longtime owners, have created wildlife sanctuaries on the course. You should have little trouble getting off the tees—the fairways are generous—but more than eighty bunkers, plush rough and long carries over water, including at the 198-yard par-three fourth, keep you alert.