NEW ORLEANS -- America's next "destination muni" has finally arrived. The South Course at Bayou Oaks at City Park officially opens Friday, April 21st. Golfers who will be in town to attend Jazz Fest or the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana (April 24-30) will now have the opportunity to play a brand-new course just minutes from the French Quarter.
The effort, no short order, was spearheaded by three groups: The City Park Improvement Association, State of Louisiana and Bayou District Foundation, the three of whom have committed $24 million to the reconstruction post-Katrina in 2005. The B.D.F. is emulating the " East Lake Model " and a portion of golf revenues will aid the revitalization of the Columbia Parc neighborhood just east of City Park.
Prior to 2005, City Park, a 1,300-acre green space with everything from equestrian to an amusement park, had 72 holes of golf. The North Course , a par-67 layout, was the only course to reopen after Katrina. The road to building a totally new, championship-caliber course was a long one, but it's finally here and will rival the Crescent City's other top courses. Bayou Oaks is set on 220 acres that made up the former East and West courses, and is located across the street from the North Course. A brand-new 13,000-square-foot clubhouse will open on day one. Golfers will use a tunnel to access the North Course driving range (long-term plans call for a refresh of this double-decker range).
First look at Rees Jones' Bayou Oaks
While Rees Jones earned muni prominence by updating Torrey Pines South and Bethpage Black for U.S. Opens, don't expect an "Open Doctor" type of penal design at Bayou Oaks. Having just played the town's two most recent Zurich Classic hosts, English Turn (a 1988 Jack Nicklaus design) and TPC Louisiana (designed in 2004 by Pete Dye), this course appears to be far more forgiving to all levels. The tee boxes are abundant and large (seven tee sets have been rated by the LGA, stretching back to 7,302 yards), which will make the course set up as easy or as tough as they'd like. There are lagoons all over, but in most cases it will take a pretty wayward strike to find them. There are only 46 bunkers and most holes have only have one -- if any -- bunkers to worry about off the tee. These traps seem to be places more for directional purposes than to gobble golf balls. The greens are large and are generally very receptive in front for low-running shots and there are very few forced carries.
Many holes have doglegs, oftentimes framed by marvelous oaks. Perhaps the standout hole is the more severe dogleg left par-4 13th hole, which is a hugs a pond as is darts left:
It's also worth noting that the shaping and mounding throughout is very subdued. English Turn and TPC, among other bayou-area layouts I've visited, do their best to crest sea level with waves of artificial mounding. That's not the case at Bayou Oaks. The roll to the land is extremely minimal, though most greens appear to be gently elevated. Combined with the relative lack of bunkers, and the fact during construction, the property was sand-capped and extensive drainage systems were installed, this course should be relatively easy to keep in tip-top shape.
Though technically not a TPC-brand facility, PGA Tour Properties assisted with the construction of the course, and TPC Network will co-manage the two City Park courses along with the city. Green fees for out-of-state residents will be pretty close to TPC Louisiana and English Turn, peaking out at $179 (In-state fees $79-99), but plan on dynamic pricing based on seasonality and demand. With such amenities as a brand-new clubhouse and GPS in golf carts, to go along with tour-caliber conditions, Bayou Oaks joins TPC and English Turn as the trio of publicly accessible championship golf, plus New Orleans golf scene's feather in its cap, short-and-sweet Audubon Park Golf Course .
It's tough to liken any muni facility to Torrey Pines or Bethpage State Park - those two are a head and shoulders above all else. But the new South Course at Bayou Oaks is every bit of a premium, destination-type muni course that I'd liken closer to San Francisco's TPC Harding Park or Crandon Golf at Key Biscayne in Miami - two fine munis within minutes of their world-class city attractions.