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Doing Hard Tee Time
Rick Reilly
November 29, 2004
True, 97% of the inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola will die there. And true, they've murdered, raped or robbed. But you've got to give them their propers: They sure build a nice golf course. It's the nine-hole Prison View Golf Course, just 21/2 hours north of New Orleans. This is the only golf course in the country on prison grounds, and it may be the only course in the world that requires a complete background check before you can get a tee time.
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November 29, 2004

Doing Hard Tee Time

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The other thing is, seeing all the prisoners in white T-shirts and orange pants playing basketball behind barbed wire and a huge guard tower, you don't feel so bad about leaving number 7 with a double bogey. This is because at least you are leaving.

Not everybody in the town of Angola is thrilled about the Prison View nine. At the convenience store up the street, Connie Knapps Ross, whose brother, prison guard David Knapps, was taken hostage and murdered by inmates in 1999, can hardly talk about it.

"I don't think it's right," she said about the course, "because it's supposed to be a maximum security prison, and it's a playground."

But the brains behind it, Warden Burl Cain, says he built the course to save lives. With 600 correctional staffers and their families living on the grounds, he was looking for new ways to keep the guards around during their off-hours, in case the inmates get the urge to go sightseeing. He had hunting, fishing, swimming, softball and tennis on the prison's 18,000 acres, but nothing for golfers. The nearest course was 45 minutes away. So he persuaded the prison dentist, John Ory, a 15 handicapper, to design a course on an old bull pasture.

On the backs of the prisoners, they did it for about $80,000, which they raised selling concessions at Angola's famous prison rodeo. Ory says trying to build a course this good near New Orleans without inmate labor would have cost "about three million." Ory is part of a hot new trend in this country: prison dentists building golf courses.

No, that's a lie.

But the truth is, the course is a good thing for almost everybody. "If just one [inmate who is released] gets a job because of this program and doesn't commit a violent crime," Cain says, "it'll be worth every penny we spent."

You really oughta go play it. There are hilltop views of the prison below. There's an island green. And the tee markers are old handcuffs painted red or white.

People play the course once and come back again, thus raising the prison's recidivism rate.

Besides, who doesn't love to walk the green mile?

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