Golf needs more courses like New Orleans' Audubon Park

NEW ORLEANS -- We played 18 holes in two hours and 40 minutes. It wasn't a par 3, and it was cart path only.

Okay, there were a dozen par 3s at Audubon Park Golf Course , but there were also a pair of par 5s and four par 4s, just enough to let you hit every golf club in your bag.

The best part, however, about this executive-length uptown New Orleans golf course that was largely spared the wrath of Hurricane Katrina is its excellent conditioning, scenery and charm. Audubon proves that you can make a short course as enjoyable as a so-called "championship" golf course, maybe even more so because you're not out there all day.

It's also proof that people will pay to play a well conditioned and thought-out golf course even if it lacks length. On most days, the tee sheet is full at Audubon, and so is the restaurant. In fact, the clubhouse grill is a favorite haunt of non-golfers.

Audubon is part of Louisiana's Audubon Golf Trail, although the name isn't what got it in the rotation of 12 courses. It just has too much charm and history to be left out of the mix.

In fact, it's a great starting point after flying into New Orleans. You could get there as late as 2 p.m. and still have time for a shower and change before dinner in the French Quarter.

It's the perfect club for the married golfer whose spouse doesn't play; she (or he) will hardly miss you.

Audubon Park addresses golf's sore points

Golfers quit because the game is too difficult, takes too long and is too expensive. Golf courses like Audubon are the solution to all three problems.

While Audubon is no pushover, this 4,220-yarder essentially takes care of one of golf's more difficult shots - hitting the driver. You could literally leave it in the car and still succeed here, although hitting long drives on the two short par 5s can make for easy birdies and even eagle opportunities.

Still, with 12 par 3s, it's like you've already hit the middle of the fairway on a dozen holes, so you're not having to hit two good full shots in a row, just one. This course will help you get into a rhythm with your irons, and if you miss these smallish greens, it's ideal for sharpening your short game.

Officials at Audubon Park keep the carts on the path to preserve conditioning with all the play they get here. Since par 3s are generally cart path-only anyway at most golf courses, it really doesn't slow down play because you're only talking about six other holes.

Also, there are no large treks between greens and tees, which often impede pace of play on other courses. This makes Audubon Park easy to walk. Either way, you move along.

Green fees (which include cart and tax and range from $30 to $40) are reasonable, especially considering the conditions. The Tif-Eagle greens are in excellent shape and so are the fairways, ranking up there with just about any high-end daily fee course and most private clubs.

Audubon Park was originally site of the World Cotton Centennial in 1884. The park, which also includes the Audubon Zoo, opened in 1898.

The golf course opened in 1904. It was a shoe-horned par 68 that wasn't all that enjoyable.

So in 2001, officials proposed a new golf course and clubhouse. At first, local residents and golfers opposed the idea.

"People just didn't want to pay a reasonable green fee," said Stan Stopa, director of golf. "They were used to paying $8 to $12."

It's the same kind of resistance officials are getting for the renovation plans at 54-hole City Park, which was wiped out by Katrina, said Stopa, who has been at Audubon Park for 27 years.

Despite resistance, however, architect Dennis Griffiths was hired to redesign the course around four natural lagoons next to Loyola and Tulane universities. Most holes have plenty of bunkering, undulating greens and water hazards, so it's anything but super easy.

With two sets of tees, Audubon Park is accessible to nearly every level of golfer. And who cares that it's a par 62? I still get to tell my grandchildren that I once shot a 68 here.

The clubhouse at Audubon Park Golf Course

The clubhouse is also a source of local pride. There's a beautiful wooden bar to saddle up to after the round. And with an improved menu and popular Sunday brunch, the clubhouse restaurant is extremely popular.

Stopa figures 80 percent of the people who eat there are non-golfers, which shows that food and beverage operations at golf courses can stand on their own if they offer quality at a reasonable price.

The best item on the menu? That would be the Stopa brisket sandwich.

"I guess when you've been here as long as I have you get a sandwich named after you," Stopa said with a smile.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Golf needs more courses like New Orleans' Audubon Park
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