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TPC Louisiana, others make for a great trip on the Audubon Golf Trail

Joel ZuckermanBy Joel Zuckerman,
Gray Plantation - No. 16
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Watch out for the water on No. 16 at Gray Plantation golf course in Lake Charles, La. (Courtesy Gray Plantation)

Food, music and good times have always dominated Louisiana. But there's also the Audubon Golf Trail, 12 highly-sought golf courses like the TPC Louisiana and Olde Oaks that are perfect for a Louisiana golf vacation. Our correspondent details several.

There are more than 160 golf courses in Louisiana, but only a dozen are currently members of the prestigious Audubon Golf Trail. These golf courses, found state-wide, are chosen because of design features, clubhouse facilities, service component and natural beauty. Named for naturalist/artist John James Audubon, each trail stop gains entry into the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for Golf Courses. This is a national organization dedicated to protecting the environment and preserving the game's natural heritage.

"Expect to be treated well around here," says Hal Sutton, a Shreveport native and the 2004 Ryder Cup Captain. "We appreciate your business, and folks in the golf industry here give 100 percent effort."

Not a surprising conviction, as for all of its myriad charms Louisiana has yet to be truly discovered as a golf destination. Tourism is an important part of the culture, but the focus is on food and music.

Sutton himself designed Olde Oaks Golf Club, a gateway stop in the northwest corner of the state in Shreveport.

The facility features a trio of nine-hole courses known as the Cypress, Oak and Meadow, spread out over gently rolling terrain that is somewhat uncharacteristic to the area. "The good shots are what bring you back, and we built Olde Oaks so that players can have a reasonable expectation of making pars and a few birdies," adds Sutton.

Although windswept and watery, his initial design effort affords generous playing corridors and straightforward greens. It's the type of course that allows the occasional less-than-ideal shot to stay in play.

Black Bear Golf Club sprawls over 300 acres tranquil acres in the tiny town of Delhi, in the north central area of the state, not far from the city of Monroe.

Influenced by the Bogzag and Cypress Creeks that bisect the property, Black Bear is riddled with wetland features. Approach shots must carry the creeks on several occasions, and many holes are routed through heavily treed corridors. The varied topography weaves from tree-lined holes to open holes and back again.

Lake Charles is in the state's southwest, where the land flattens, and broad stretches of salt marsh and tidal creeks become part of the landscape. Gray Plantation reflects this topographical ideal, a broad shouldered, mostly level piece of parkland property close by the Calcasieu River.

The course sits on 270 acres, almost twice the size of a normal golf parcel. Formerly a pine forest, there are still great stretches of ivy and kudzu covered hardwoods lining select fairways.

The course features a pair of island green par 3s and two drivable par 4s. The playing reflects the roominess of the landscape, with generally wide fairways, 60 acres of lakes, massive bunkers and generously proportioned greens.

One of the most exciting new venues on the Trail is the TPC Louisiana, a Pete Dye design just 20 minutes from the French Quarter of New Orleans.

It opened in 2004, and then was closed for nearly a year after the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. But it's now refurbished and better than ever, and is the host venue for the PGA Tour's Zurich Classic, Louisiana's only PGA Tour event. Tough par 3s, thousands of gorgeous cypress trees and a vast array of waste and pot bunkers are the hallmarks of this beautifully conditioned golf course.

Golf on the Audubon Trail is extremely affordable. Taking away the $160 premium green fee that out-of-state residents pay for the TPC, the other 11 trail stops average little more than $60 per weekend round, and mid-week rates are even less.

Until now it's been the food, music and good times that have been Louisiana's main attractions. But now the burgeoning golf scene is just another compelling reason to come and enjoy.

Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

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