Playwright Tennessee Williams famously said, “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” Williams, who did much of his writing from a series of residences in the French Quarter, was a bon vivant who loved wine, women (also men), and song. He was not, however, a golfer. Had he been a golfer, his list might well have stopped at the first two cities.
You don’t come to The Big Easy for the golf. You come for the food, the booze, the jazz, the architecture, the festive funerals, the whole funky joie de vivre. For golf, you’re better off in any number of towns—including Cleveland.
That said, New Orleans does sport a few fine places to play. At the top of the list is TPC Louisiana, just a 20-minute drive from the city center. Since it’s a TPC, you can expect three things—a professionally run operation, a stern challenge designed in collaboration with a Tour pro, and a melodramatic final hole. Louisiana has all that and more.
My playing partner was Ryan O’Dowd, the club’s director of business development, an affable, long-hitting fellow who shepherded me ably around the layout designed by Pete Dye in collaboration with not one but two players, Steve Elkington and New Orleans native Kelly Gibson.
This is the home of the annual Zurich Classic, but with five sets of tees, there’s a fitting test for everyone. I was pleasantly surprised to find no homes lining the fairways, just towering cypress and oak trees, clumps of impenetrable pampas grass, and sand—lots of sand—everything from sprawling multi-acre waste areas to tiny pot bunkers. But the fairways are mostly generous and the greenside bunkering is not particularly penal, with several greens open to running approaches.
As you might expect from a bayou course bordered on three sides by canals, water is a factor—as are alligators—and the last three holes form a classic Pete Dye finish: a serpentine but drivable par four with a green perched beside a pond; a pond-hugging par three with a bulkheaded green; and a bruising, 10-bunker par five that doglegs clockwise around a lake (left). Having survived that triad in one over, I look forward to seeing how the big boys will fare (albeit from tees a full sand wedge in back of mine) when the Zurich returns this year, two weeks after the Masters.
New Orleans has more than 1,500 restaurants, but the center of all things culinary remains the French Quarter and the granddaddy of French Quarter restaurants remains Antoine’s, in operation since the day 174 years ago when Antoine Alciatore arrived from Marseilles to show The Big Easy what great French cuisine is all about. Signature New Orleans dishes such as Chicken Creole, Crayfish Étoufée, and Shrimp Remoulade all came from Antoine, while his son Jules brought the world Oysters Rockefeller.
My wife had known better than to join me for 18 midwinter holes on a tough layout, opting instead for our cozy room at the Dauphine Orleans, a classic boutique hotel with a collection of exquisite cottages that have hosted everyone from Arnold Palmer to Liz Taylor. But she was not about to miss the courses at Antoine’s.
And what courses they were—oysters with foie gras, hearts of palm salad, and a rare, center-cut ribeye in mushroom sauce for me; crabmeat au gratin, crawfish bisque, and pompano Pontchartrain for her. All decadently delicious and served smoothly by a waiter with 30 years at Antoine’s.
We were both too full for dessert, but the offerings—cherries jubilee, peach melba, bread pudding in rum sauce, chocolate mousse, crème brulee—beckoned and there was one I couldn’t resist: Baked Alaska (left). It had been decades since I’d seen one of these, and I think it would have taken Libby and me a decade to eat the one presented to us, a football-size serving of sponge cake and ice cream, baked in a casing of meringue. After a couple of bites I surrendered, challenged and humbled just as surely and happily by this course as I was by TPC Louisiana.