The new championship golf course in New Orleans’ City Park evoked mentions of top public venues such as Torrey Pines and Bethpage Black when it was officially unveiled on April 21. The course is the centerpiece of a $26 million public-private project that is being hailed as a symbol of the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Officials couldn’t have asked for a better morning to unveil the new championship golf course in New Orleans’ City Park, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported.
Postcard weather conditions on Friday morning, April 21, welcomed golfers and greeted visitors to the official grand opening of Bayou Oaks, the centerpiece of the park’s new $26 million public-private project, The Times-Picayune reported.
C&RB reported earlier this year on the planned opening (http://clubandresortbusiness.com/2017/03/south-course-city-parks-bayou-oaks-open-april-21/) and on how Bayou Oaks has been seen as one of the most “eagerly awaited” new courses of 2017 (http://clubandresortbusiness.com/2017/02/forbes-lists-eagerly-awaited-new-golf-courses-2017/).
One hundred and twenty golfers were expected to tee off on the Rees Jones-designed championship tract, The Times-Picayune reported, when it opened for public play on the afternoon of the 21st, after more than a decade of discussion, eight years of planning and two years of construction. all playing slots had been booked weeks in advance, officials said.
“After Katrina, I don’t think anyone thought this would happen,” said Paul Levy, a New Orleans native and current President of the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). “This course is a tribute to the passion and perseverance of New Orleanians.”
The complex, which includes a driving range and practice facility as well as a new clubhouse with full-service dining, sits on 205 acres of land that roughly equal the footprint of the park’s old East and West courses, The Times-Picayune reported.
Greens fees will range from $59 to $99 a round for Louisiana residents, depending on the day and time. In-state residents may book a tee time seven days in advance, and out-of-state residents can book a tee time 90 days in advance.
The 7,300-yard, par-72 course was designed to accommodate players of all levels, from amateur to professional, and will feature 46 bunkers and multiple tee locations, The Times-Picayune reported.
Two annual-pass options will also be available starting May 1 and include a seven-day pass for $3,000 and a four-day pass (Monday through Thursday only) for $2,000, respectively.
“This course is going to be like Torrey Pines and Bethpage Black,” said Jones, the architect who, along with Greg Muirhead, also designed those famed public courses in La Jolla, Calif., and Farmingdale, N.Y., respectively. “This isn’t just a golf course. This is a gift to the community.”
City Park CEO Bob Becker said the course will be vital to the park’s bottom line, The Times-Picayune reported. Because recreational activities are responsible for producing 90 percent of the park’s operating, Bayou Oaks is expected to be the main generator of those funds.
“This course and this complex will produce much-needed operating revenue, which we can use to maintain other areas of the park,” Becker said.
“After Katrina, our Board wanted to re-imagine this park, not just repair the things that were broken,” Becker added. “We wanted to build back first-class facilities that the entire state would be proud of. This course represents the kind of facilities that we can all be proud of, because they are first-class.”
City Park’s golf tradition dates to 1902, The Times-Picayune reported, and from 1938 to 1962, the course played host to the New Orleans Open. Hall of Fame golfers Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have all competed in various tournaments at New Orleans City Park.
The project was funded by the State of Louisiana, the Federal Emergency Management Association, New Orleans City Park and the Bayou District Foundation, a locally based non-profit that helped raise money to finance the course, its clubhouse and its maintenance facilities, and which will now operate the course.
A share of the revenue from Bayou Oaks will support the Bayou District Foundation’s education initiatives at Columbia Parc, a mixed-income community of 685 households less than five blocks from the 3rd hole at Bayou Oaks.
“This park became a symbol for what rebuilding New Orleans was all about,” said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “We talked about not building [New Orleans] back to the way it was, but the way it should be if we had gotten it right the first time.
“What’s happened at City Park now is the best example of [that strategy], and of course [Bayou Oaks] is the crown jewel,” Landrieu added. “This project is the best gift that we could possibly give to New Orleans for [the city’s] 300th anniversary [in 2018].”
James Leitz, head golf professional at Covington, La.’s Tchefuncte Country Club, told The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La., as he prepared to attend the opening that Bayou Oaks “is going to be a first-class facility that can only enhance public golf in the [New Orleans] metro area.”
“Honestly, we all dreamed as kids what kind of golf course we could build on a piece of property like that,” Leitz, who said he played his second round of golf at City Park in 1973, when he was 13 years old, told The Advocate. “The types of trees we have in Louisiana, and the lagoons—there were so many possibilities.
“I can’t wait to see what it looks like,” Leitz added. “Everyone in golf is excited about it. Katrina was a death knell for golf there, even though the North Course reopened [in 2008].”
After its first three years, Bayou Oaks is expected to bring in about $5 million in revenue annually, The Advocate reported, though much of that total will go toward course maintenance. Another $800,000 will go to City Park for other purposes, while the Bayou District Foundation is expected to get several hundred thousand dollars.
A good portion of play is expected to come from corporate activity and tourists, The Advocate reported.
Alex Abruzza, Bayou Oaks’ PGA Professional Alex Abruzza told The Advocate that it’s imperative that the course be accessible to every level of golfer. To that end, Abruzza said Bayou Oaks has partnered with the PGA to host the “Play 9” program this summer, which will introduce newcomers to the game with a shorter nine-hole outing, rather than a full round of 18.
“Sometimes it’s hard for people to commit to a full 18, which can take four, four and half hours to play,” Abruzza said. “So we’ll be hosting some Play 9 events as a way to get people interested in the game. Maybe you’re too anxious to come out at 10 a.m. on a Saturday and tee off in front of a bunch of people. But maybe not so much on a Wednesday evening with just your friends.
“This course is designed with every golfer in mind,” Abruzza added. “Rees Jones just did a phenomenal job laying it out.”
Abruzza knows that success at Bayou Oaks hinges in part upon accessibility to the public golfer, The Advocate reported. He’s learned the history of golf at New Orleans City Park, which goes back more than a century, and realizes that reaching out to potential golfers (and youth golfers especially) will be an important part of his job.
“City Park was the center of junior golf in the city for years,” he said. “We’re hoping to make it that way again. We may not be able to jump right in because there are so many fine points to getting a course up and running. But by next year, I’m hoping we can be that kind of hub of junior golf, with summer camps and things like that. We have that capacity.”
That’s music to the ears of Jimmy Headrick, Director of the U.S. Kids Golf Gulf Coast Tour, The Advocate reported.
“We’re hoping to gain golfers, and a course like City Park has a chance to be the flagship of the sport in our city,” Headrick said. “People need access to public golf — the youth golfer, the beginning golfer, the everyday golfer.”
Bayou Oaks joins the operational City Park North Course to now give the facility 36 holes of play space, The Advocate reported. The par-68 North Course costs $25 (without cart) to play on weekdays and $28 on weekends.
Combined, Abruzza is hoping the public finds exactly what it seeks. “We’re going to do everything we can to make this the best golfing experience you can find,” he said.
The Bayou Oaks South Course will not only become a centerpiece of City Park and a potential future site for the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic, Forbes reported, but also integral to local neighborhoods. In addition to sustaining the park, a portion of net operating revenue will support community programs.
“It’s the dawn of a new day,” says J.T. Hannan, the director of public & governmental affairs for The Bayou District Foundation, which has led the development of a comprehensive community model that includes 685 mixed-income residential units spanning 13 city blocks, told Forbes. “You won’t just revitalize a golf course or neighborhood, but an entire community. It will be a multi-generational asset.”
The golf course provides an “economic engine” for the Foundation, through a project model that was inspired by the East Lake community redevelopment in Atlanta that’s been thriving for more than two decades, with increased graduation and employment rates and drastically reduced crime rates, Forbes noted.
“Housing had to be taken down after the hurricane, so they’ve resurrected a lot of the housing for lower-income families,” said Jones, who completely redesigned the golf course at East Lake in 1094.. “It’s really providing the same sort of opportunities for a better lifestyle as East Lake did.”
Bayou Oaks South’s 3rd and 13th tees offer scenic views of the New Orleans skyline, Forbes reported. Its design reflects the Bayou District Foundation’s conclusion that one high-end course, added to the existing North Course, would generate just as much revenue as rebuilding the park’s two other layouts.
In rerouting the course, Forbes reported, Jones and his team preserved the beauty of old oak trees and lagoons that existed on the property while also elevating and sand-capping the site to enhance drainage.
The first official event at the new course will be the Louisiana Mid-Amateur in August, Forbes reported.
“Our goal is to put the best golf out there possible,” said Hannan. “This course looks like it’s been there forever and it’s a total re-do. There are so many tourists and visitors to New Orleans already, and with the addition of a clubhouse and new facility five to 10 minutes from downtown, it will help our economic development in a way that probably wasn’t foreseen.”