New Orleans' Best Greens

00:00 December 21, 2013

 New Orleans golf is entering into a bit of a golden era. Each and every course reviewed in and around the city was in adequate condition for not only the weekend warrior, but also scratch golfers. While the local topography doesn’t exactly lend itself to the breathtaking scenery of Hawaii or Arizona, the rise and revitalization of numerous courses since Katrina has left New Orleans golfers with quality options.
When choosing a local golf course, one must consider the layout, surroundings, location, condition, cost, practice facilities, concessions and more. The conditions of greens are particularly vital. If your putts aren’t rolling true, then golf won’t be the only four letter word in your repertoire.
Here and there, patches of grass were lost to disease, nematodes, and the like, but overwhelmingly the conditions and playability exceeded expectations. The best may still be yet to come as multiple facilities are planning improvements or expansion, but for now here’s where the courses and their accompanying facilities stand.

Hole in One – The Best
TPC Louisiana (Course of the Year): From the moment you pull up you’ll know this course is a cut above the rest. The current home of the Zurich Classic, TPC is indisputably the most difficult course in the area. It’s also probably the only must-play on this list for serious golfers.
Designed by famed golf architect Pete Dye and heralded as a U.S. top 100 public course, TPC Louisiana stretches over 250 acres of the Mississippi River Delta. The massive collection of over 100 sand traps allows for it to challenge players of all skill levels playing from each of its five sets of tees. The course plays anywhere from 5,121 yards from the women’s tees to a massive 7,400 from PGA Tour length. Combining lightning fast greens with Louisiana’s high humidity and low altitude, even professionals struggle at times.
For a single round it’s typically the most expensive course in the area, and for good reason – when in top condition, it’s literally a PGA Tour course. The practice facilities are second to none, with the driving range nearing perfection. Delicious food is readily available and the carts are well stocked.
One unfortunate recent addition is the occasional buzzing of far off engines, courtesy of New Orleans Motorsports Park. After a particularly bad shot, the distant engines are sometimes the only reminder that you’re not alone in the woods. Also, the layout can be pretty boring compared to other world class facilities.

Birdies – Quality Golf
Audubon Park Golf Course (Best Course to Walk): Mark Twain once said that golf is a good walk, spoiled.  Apparently he never got to play Audubon, which provides the opportunity to hoof it year round without wondering why you’re torturing yourself. You’ll enjoy strolling this Uptown treasure in part because it’s short and relatively easy, but also because there is sufficient shade in which to find comfort between shots.
There aren’t really practice facilities to speak of aside from a small putting green, but the twelve par threes are a nice test for your short game, especially since it’s always kept in good condition. It’s a bit pricy ($35 – 45), but all-in-all it’s one of the best executive courses in the South. There are few better outdoor activities in New Orleans than adventuring throughout beautiful Audubon Park. Add golf into the mix, and even Mark Twain might have enjoyed himself.

Lakewood Golf Club (Best Short Game Facilities): Devastated by Hurricane Katrina and brought back to life by the Firefighter Pension Fund, this Westbank course currently hosts the New Orleans Amateur Championship (The Mackel). It hosted the Zurich from 1963 until 1988, but the layout is different now. As a testament to its owners, Lakewood hosts a number of firefighter inspired features ranging from red sand flame bunkers to a giant wood fire hydrant carved out of a tree stump.
A sometimes challenging trek with multiple shots requiring flirtation with both water and sand hazards, Lakewood has re-emerged as one of the top courses in the area. It’s always in great condition, and you can count on the greens to roll true. The pro shop employees are top notch, and the new-era carts come stocked with ice and towels.
While the short game facilities are the best in the area, the driving range is awkwardly positioned. Lakewood’s clubhouse has the feel of temporary construction, and despite a few quality menu options its food offerings are largely inadequate for a course whose fees are among the highest in the area. Their on-course snack shack is seldom open. There has long been talk of an on-site hotel/clubhouse/restaurant being built. If it comes to fruition, Lakewood could very well turn into more than just a good course.

Metairie Country Club (Best 19th Hole): A members only course, Metairie is always in fine condition, and is home to one of the most professional staffs in the area. It’s a place where everyone will know your name – as long as you’re a member. The course itself is short and narrow at times. There are a few hazards to take into account, but it’s otherwise not too challenging.
The club host numerous members tournaments, and has a strong kids golf program. After the round, there are multiple venues to sit back and have a cold one or get a bite to eat.
The pool and tennis courts are both up to par, and the practice facilities are fine as well. Metairie ticks every box on the country club list.
Unfortunately, their driving range is inadequate for longer hitters. Irons will be fine, but if you like to grip it and rip it, you’ll be launching balls over their netted range onto the 2nd or 8th holes, or worse – Airline Drive.

Pars – Pretty Good
Chateau Country Club: Chateau is a semi-private club with plenty of amenities. The course itself is in good shape, and the club offers tennis, dining, and swimming. In a lot of ways this Chateau similar to Metairie CC, but just a tick below. It is, however, cheaper and open to the public.

English Turn (Hole of the Year – #15): A former Zurich Classic host (1989 – 2004), English Turn maintains the same layout that has hosted some of the most famous golfers to play the game. It offers the full country club experience, but accepts the public as well. When the course is in good shape, it’s one of the best in the area. So why isn’t it rated higher? They’ve simply had too many problems with their greens.
The par five fifteenth requires two solid shots and then a precise short iron to the area’s lone island green. Longer players may elect to go for the green in two, but it’s cake walk. The hole is a perfect example of risk-reward golf, and the best in New Orleans for 2013.

Joseph M. Bartholomew Municipal Golf Course: Reopened in 2011 for $9 million and with a new $4.3 million clubhouse under construction, this course is one to keep an eye on. The layout requires precision off the tee and while approaching the greens, and the final four holes don’t pull any punches. For now, it’s just a pretty nice golf course – a cut below Lakewood – but the new facilities could provide enough revenue for this course to really improve. As it is, you’re looking at an affordable round of golf on a quality course. The gas carts are disappointing, but adequate if you can handle the smell.

Timberlane Country Club: This semi-private club was hit by the recession, leaving multiple areas in need of repair. Fortunately, it’s cheap and the course itself is in good condition. This winter, a million dollar renovation will bring much needed updates to the facilities, but for now there are still eighteen respectable holes, and the last nine were designed by notable course architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. The lighted driving range is of the best around if you can ignore the passing cars behind you, and the putting green is adequate for short game practice. There’s onsite dining, tennis, and a pool.

Bogies – Pretty Decent
Bayou Berrier: You’ll enjoy some golfin’ on the Bayou…Berrier, that is. It’s a cheap, fun trek with plenty of opportunities for golfers of all levels to put up some good numbers. The facilities aren’t the best or most up to date, but there’s a full driving range and the course is in passable shape most of the time. The staff does a great job with fun tournaments, which occur quite often. Don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed.

North Course at City Park: What was once a 54-hole facility before Katrina is now just one substandard golf course in beautiful City Park. While the conditioning is good, the greens roll true, and the price ain’t bad, it’s still a poorly designed par 68 that tops out around 5700 yards, leaving any score requiring an asterisk. A dilapidated driving range, consisting of mats instead of grass, is mediocre at best.
A new 36 hole, $24.5 million facility designed with the intention of hosting the Zurich is slated to open in City Park in 2015; so expect at least one of the courses to give TPC a run for it’s money. It’s possible the North Course will also get some financial love, but it’s doubtful anyone intends to greatly modify the obscure layout.

Stonebridge: Located in Gretna, Stonebridge is rather challenging, requiring precision off the tee due to numerous water hazards. The price is right, and they offer a third nine ideal for those looking to hone their short games. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of lacking a full size driving range. Their clubhouse is nice, although the food options are limited. Second rate gas powered carts add some noise to an otherwise peaceful setting. Their sand traps are largely deemed “ground under repair,” and the mowing is spotty. To top if off, a $21 million flood control project threatens to limit play as early as 2014.

Not Rated – New Orleans Country Club

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