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Fractured Fairways
JOHN GARRITY
April 24, 2006
Hurricane Katrina--ravaged New Orleans will celebrate the return of the PGA Tour next week, but the city will need much more time to overcome the obstacles to resuscitating its golf industry and courses
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April 24, 2006

Fractured Fairways

Hurricane Katrina--ravaged New Orleans will celebrate the return of the PGA Tour next week, but the city will need much more time to overcome the obstacles to resuscitating its golf industry and courses

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There are other places a dead golf course can go. At Eastover, where Katrina demolished 36 holes and $2 million worth of golf carts and maintenance vehicles, developer Donnie Pate intends to bulldoze the weaker 18 and build houses. At Lakewood, now owned by the New Orleans Fireman's Credit Union, plans to build a resort hotel, condo development and retirement community are on hold.

Where the displaced golfers will wind up is another question. A healthy number of range rats turned out in early March when City Park reopened the Bayou Oaks driving range. The pro shop was an empty shell, but park policeman Bill Bayle sold $5 buckets of dirty range balls from an outdoor table. "We tried to wash off the balls with the hose," said Bayle, "but somebody stole the hose."

It's another day in City Park, another setting sun, another cool breeze. Cleveland Harris, 78, is practicing short pitches with a wedge to what used to be the Bayou Oaks North course putting green. The balls at his feet spill out of an unzipped shag bag.

Harris is a retired schoolteacher living on a pension. His house on Harrison Street, just east of the park, was flooded, so he's renting an apartment on Cadiz Street. Before that he spent months as FEMA's guest at a hotel in Baton Rouge. "This is my town," he says. "I plan to restore my house." But first he has to persuade authorities to remove the teetering pine tree in front of his gutted home. A gentle man with a sweet smile and soothing voice, Harris takes an easy swing and lobs a shot onto the overgrown green.

"I've been playing golf my whole life," he continues. "I was playing golf out here when it was against the law for black folks to play." In fact, Harris helped finance the 1950s lawsuit that gained blacks access to the park courses, first on Tuesdays and Fridays and later on an unrestricted basis. He rakes a ball from the pile. "It's very important that they get the golf courses going again because we need recreation," he says. "We need exercise."

The old man hits another nice high wedge, watching the ball drop to the ground with obvious pleasure. "I'm no fluke," he says. "I play the game."

It would be cruel to point out to Harris that New Orleans's nighttime temperatures will soon hit 70.

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