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With the setting sun at his back and a cool, gentle breeze in his face, Terry Casanova goes through his preshot routine. Down both sides of the fairway, magnificent oak trees cast their twisted shadows. Casanova doesn't have a caddie or a yardage book, but he thinks he has about 165 yards to the rusted barrel. � "This used to be one of my favorite holes," the 48-year-old securities broker says. "A short par-4. A driver and a little sand wedge." That was before Hurricane Katrina roared ashore last August and put New Orleans's Bayou Oaks Golf Club under millions of gallons of contaminated floodwater. Now the only golfers you see at City Park are a few sad souls like Casanova, who come out to hit balls on the unkempt meadow where Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead once roamed. "I've been playing out here since I was 10," he says. "It's terrible to see it like this." � Thirteen miles south, on the other side of the muddy Mississippi River, Etienne and Mildred Songy aren't much happier with the view. A retired couple, the Songys have lived in the Louisiana Pines subdivision of Algiers for 22 years, the principal attraction being their unobstructed view of the fairways and greens of Lakewood Country Club, site of the New Orleans Open from 1963 through 1988. But now the vista--even with hundreds of fallen trees cut up and hauled away--is less than pristine. "It's not nice to look at anymore," says Mildred, an avid gardener. "The grass hasn't been touched since Katrina. It's like moths ate it."
Out west on Airline Highway, the grass at the St. Rose Driving Range is mostly gone--parched by drought, smothered by ranks of trailers and RVs, and trampled by the boots of relief workers who have made it their campground. "There's probably 20,000 golf balls out there," says range owner Bruce Bourgeois, referring to the dirt-caked orbs that litter his property like cow patties. "We tried to pick them up, but we were too busy taking care of the relief workers." He sighs. "I want this to be a driving range again."
On the east side, where abandoned malls, churches and schools give the landscape the appearance of nuclear winter, the two ruined courses at Eastover Country Club simply bake in the sun.
It's not all bad news. When viewers tune in to next week's Zurich Classic, they will get the usual blimp shots of emerald fairways, sparkling water and white-sand bunkers. English Turn Golf and Country Club sits on relatively high ground near the river and suffered only minor freshwater flooding from Katrina. The flower beds will be bursting with pansies. The grandstands will be filled with fans.
But if religious broadcaster Pat Robertson were to look at New Orleans eight months after the storm, he might decide that golfers, and not libertines, were the targets of God's wrath. Golf equipment discounters Nevada Bob's and Edwin Watts have left town. The University of New Orleans will disband its women's golf team at the end of the season because of storm-related budget cuts, and men's coach Chris McCarter and his wife live in a FEMA trailer. Tulane has shut down its men's and women's programs. At upscale Metairie Country Club, members are pondering whether to restore a portion of their flood-battered, 66,000-square-foot clubhouse or simply raze it and start over. To make matters worse, Congress approved nearly $8 billion in tax breaks for Gulf Coast businesses last December but specifically excluded casinos, racetracks, liquor stores, massage parlors ... and golf courses. The beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency, swamped by aid applications from the South, has given little or nothing to public parks and golf courses. As one harried bureaucrat put it, " FEMA doesn't buy grass."
Twenty miles west of English Turn, the Tournament Players Club of Louisiana--the club that debuted a year ago as the Tour's New Orleans venue--lies in sleepy repose. Behind the big front doors, in a shadowy vestibule, the guest book is still open to the date it was last used, Aug. 25, 2005. "We had only a few golfers on the morning of the 26th," recalls marketing director Pamela Vitrano-Buie, one of three PGA Tour employees house-sitting the clubhouse while the course is rebuilt. "People had already started evacuating."
The hum of air conditioning and the piped-in voice of James Taylor confirm the Tour's plans to reopen the three-year-old TPC by September, but a quick tour of the property reveals extensive turf damage and thinned-out tree lines. "We had thousands of trees that were down or snapped in two," says course superintendent Jim Moore. "All the bunkers were bathtubs, and we couldn't even get to holes 2 through 6 for a couple of weeks. That was all underwater." And then came the army worms--voracious turf eaters that can devour a fairway in a matter of days. "They had two solid weeks, just out there eating," Moore says.
Fortunately, the PGA Tour does buy grass. Moore's crews recently began resodding, and there's no reason to think they won't have the Pete Dye--designed layout in tournament shape by next spring. The tree lines will need a little more time to fill in--say, a couple of decades.
Nature, we don't have to be told, is capricious. The Audubon Park Golf Course, an elegant executive layout in the New Orleans Garden District, looks as if it got a manicure and a pedicure from Katrina. Meanwhile, the city-run Joseph M. Bartholomew course, on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, took on up to 20 feet of chemically contaminated saltwater and a top dressing of dead sharks and redfish. Why did Audubon survive and Bartholomew perish? Hydrologists will tell you it's because Audubon is on high ground near the Mississippi levee, while Bartholomew occupies the precarious low land behind the lakefront barrier. Refugees from the late, lamented Lower Ninth Ward will claim there's more to it. The posh park course, a beloved track for in-line skaters, joggers and leashed dogs, is named for a 19th-century wildlife artist. The lakefront muni, a favorite of black golfers and home to the First Tee of New Orleans, is named for its designer, thought to be the first professionally trained African-American golf architect.
Well, nobody said hurricanes were fair. Besides, the Big Easy's rich and powerful golfers couldn't dodge the storm. New Orleans Country Club lost 55 carts, all its maintenance vehicles and the entire first floor of its clubhouse. At Metairie Country Club, where an estimated half of the members suffered the loss of homes and cars, the course took on anywhere from four to 12 feet of water. "I was one of the first to set foot on it, post-Katrina," says golf shop manager Joe Schick. "When I went out on the putting green it was basically black and crunching under my feet." Both clubs had insurance and a roster of deep-pocketed members. On a recent weekend New Orleans Country Club sparkled, its tennis courts, fairways and rebuilt clubhouse teeming with happy members. Metairie's infrastructure will take longer to repair--the clubhouse doors remain padlocked and the shop is in a trailer--but the course itself is green and inviting thanks to the efforts of staffers who towed a 500-gallon tank through the mire to hand-water greens battered first by flood and then by drought. Says Schick, "Now that we have the old guys playing golf again, it's almost normal."