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
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
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."