SPRINGFIELD, La. - It's only appropriate that David Toms' first attempt at golf course design mimics the man himself.
Carter Plantation Golf Club, part of a master-planned residential resort community located on 700 acres bordering the Blood River, doesn't wow you with a stunning setting or bold features.
Much like Toms' game, it's steady, underrated and straight forward. Toms, the 2002 PGA Championship winner, will never be compared with the "Big Five" - Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. Yet, there he is, one of the top 10 money winners of all-time on the PGA Tour.
He can play golf as well as anyone in the world when he's on. It's just that his quiet, low-key demeanor leaves him oft-overlooked when media types and analysts are picking favorites to win tournaments. The same could be said for Carter Plantation, which opened in 2003 and was immediately granted status as a member of the 10-course Audubon Golf Trail.
While Gray Plantation has been winning national awards and the TPC of Louisiana has hosted a PGA Tour event, Carter Plantation has quietly been succeeding better than its owners could have expected. There are already plans for expansion to the clubhouse and the additions of more villas to accommodate larger corporate outings.
Carter did earn a "Top 10 New Courses You Can Play" from Golf Magazine, giving Toms, a Louisiana native and former Louisiana State University All-American, immediate credibility as a designer.
"It's quite an honor and a testament to the property to be ranked ahead of so many great courses," Toms said. "The people behind the project (the Penn and Sharp families) gave us the resources to build the best course we could. Our goal from day one was to create a course that would be enjoyable and memorable for all players."
Toms left much of the day-to-day operations of building Carter Plantation to Glenn Hickey. Hickey and Toms built the course without any formal plans or blue prints, a bold move for their first project together.
They did it all on feel - from Hickey's artistry seated atop a bulldozer - and instinct, from Toms' innate understanding of strategy and angles he's learned from playing professional golf.
The 7,049-yard course winds through thickets of pine, live oak, cypress and tupelo gum trees. It's carpeted in Tifeagle grass on the greens and Tifsport on the fairways. Water comes into play on 11 holes with 86 bunkers sprinkled about.
Toms and Hickie manipulated more than 600,000 cubic yards of dirt to achieve an optimum playground from what is normally flat swampland.
"(Hickey) would sit back and just look at the hole, not sure where he would go with it," said Jared LeBouef, Carter's director of golf. "He would build a green in half a day. That's how good he was with a bulldozer. He is an artist."
The par 5s are all PGA Tour quality, three of them stretching to 550 yards or more from the tips. The mammoth 13th rolls to 592 yards from the men's tees and ends with a green surrounded by water and bunkers.
What the 13th takes, the reachable 14th hole might give back. The 330-yarder is splashed with cavernous bunkers and a treacherous green.
LeBouef's favorite story about the course is how Toms and Hickey designed the 14th hole on a napkin while talking one night. "It's a great little hole," he said.
A double-ended driving range, three practice greens and practice bunkers are additional features of the facility. Many people believe Carter Plantation was named after Tom's son, Carter, but it wasn't. Still, the course feels like a part of his family.
"I've been involved in Carter Plantation really since day one, with the initial shaping of the golf course," Toms told a local golf publication prior to the course opening. "I spent a lot of time compared to most tour players who do design work. I've been there many, many, many times. I know every curve of every hole, every bunker, every green."
Be forewarned, if you're visiting Carter Plantation. There isn't much to Springfield or the surrounding area. Fortunately, Carter Plantation isn't just a golf community. It's almost a full-service golf resort, with classy accommodations and a wonderful restaurant. A pool should be completed by the end of the summer.
Carter Plantation will never be the top dog on the Audubon Golf Trail. That honor will go back and forth between the TPC of Louisiana and Gray Plantation, depending on who you ask.
But it is a great addition to the greater New Orleans golf scene, which lacked quality options until the revamping of Audubon Park, a superlative executive course downtown, and the TPC. Carter Plantation is about an hour away from downtown, but it's worth the effort if you've had your fill of hurricanes on Bourbon Street.
Places to stay
Each of the nine separate villas, designed by Hawthorn Suites Golf Resorts, are just a short walk from the clubhouse. Each building offers seven spacious rooms that can be rented individually or as a group.
The rooms were designed with a foursome of golfers in mind. There's plenty of room for clubs and other golf gear that often ends up strewn around a cramped hotel room.
The beds and sleeper sofa are large and soft. Conversely, the kitchen area and dining table are small but efficient. The best feature, perhaps, are the large porches and second-floor balconies where golfers can chug down post-round cocktails and count up who won the money.
The rates are incredibly reasonable. For example, the Grand Cypress package includes green fees, a full breakfast, accommodations for $169, plus tax.
Where to eat
Marc Lyons, the executive chef at the Plantation Dining Room at Carter doesn't just serve good food. With a little help from the staff, he serves great food - in style.
During my visit, the presentation of our evening multi-course meal added even more spice to the Creole and Cajun food we savored. As each course came out, the wait staff surrounded the table and, on command, dished out another tasty treat.
Of course, the gumbo is a staple of the menu. Although steaks, beef and filet mignon are popular choices, the seafood entrees like swordfish or mahi mahi or duck are other favorites to try.
On cool Southern evenings, larger groups can move outside the small, cozy conference room to the atrium. The versatile 3,750-square-foot outdoor space between the golf shop and the restaurant that can be used for banquets, receptions and corporate seminars.
Without much nightlife nearby, Carter Plantation might be a good place to play 36 holes or book an early tee time to beat the summer heat.
Recreation amenities have been added for the budding residential development. Walking trails throughout the surrounding wetlands feature some quality birding. Massages are available, too.