OakWing Golf Club gives Alexandria new life

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

ALEXANDRIA, La. - It's been a while since the good folks of Alexandria have had something to cheer about. Over a decade has passed since the closing of England Air Force Base. England was the home of General Claire Chenault's 23rd Fighter Squadron, the flamboyant offspring of the WWII Flying Tigers.

Just as importantly, the base was the economic lifeblood of a town thathasstruggled to find a new identity since that fateful day in 1993.

While a handful of restored fighter planes (replete with Tiger teeth)commemorate the England's halcyon days, many of the barracks, parkinglotsand roads have fallen into the ambivalent disrepair that haunts so manyofAmerica's forlorn military bases.

These hallowing reminders of Department of Defense economics might be too much to bear if not for the recent opening of OakWing Golf Club, one of the latest additions to the Louisiana Audubon Golf Trail.

OakWing opened in the fall of 2002, smack dab in the middle of England,soto speak. Jim Lipe, a Louisiana native and product of Jack Nicklaus'formidable design stable, laid out the course atop an old nine holerthatonce served as the stomping grounds for the men of the 23rd.

Lipe worked for Nicklaus for 20 years, assisting the Golden Bear onprojectsboth home and abroad. Since hanging his own shingle, the 57-year-oldShreveport resident has authored such stunners as the Mayan Palace GolfClubin Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and the chic Club at Carlton Woods inHouston.

Those who know Lipe will tell you he's just as good at the playing part of the game as he is at the designing. Lipe captured back-to-back-to-back Louisiana Senior Amateur titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. And while he's not one of the state's young gun, long knockers, Lipe's overall game is as stout as well-crafted roux.

His penchant as a player shines through at OakWing. Some golfers make the mistake of passing the crusty circuit as a "muni." Over 7,000 yards and a course rating of 73.7 provide evidence to the contrary.

OakWing, despite its crusty exterior, is a player's course at heart. Anumber of holes require shots to be worked left to right or right toleft.Some, like the 363-yard par-4 sixth, call for a little of both. As farasbets, settle them on the par-3 10th - a pitching wedge worthy oneshotterjust outside the clubhouse door.

OakWing's calling card is its linksy back nine. With a stiff Central Louisiana breeze kicking up in the afternoon, the walk in plays a few shots harder than the tree lined front. The best offering is the 585-yard par-5 14th.

This tumultuous three shotter features no less than eight bunkers and a green snuggled up to the tarmac of the Alexandria International Airport (when in doubt, putts break towards the massive white radio tower).

The Verdict

OakWing Golf Club is a people and price golf course. As in, the people treat you like family and the price is always right. If you're looking for something upscale and ornate, you've landed on the wrong part of the Audubon Golf Trail. Eighteen holes with a cart runs just under $40 on the weekends and under $30 on weekdays.

Twilight rates are available and walking is not only permitted, it's encouraged. Word on the street is that PGA Tour player and native son David Toms is part of OakWing's ownership group, so the smart money says the course will only get better with age.

Where to eat

The Bistro on the Bayou at the Park England Hotel and OakWing make for strange bedfellows. That is unless you consider a working man's golf course and a gourmet restaurant a perfectly normal coupling. The menu includes USDA prime beef, lamb and fresh seafood fresh with a Cajun twist (blackened oysters anyone?)

Stay and play

Parc England is a boutique hotel located just two minutes from the airport and OakWing. Bistro on the Bayou is the prime spot for a late supper, and a full service cocktail lounge makes for an inviting 19th hole. Traveling golfers on a tighter budget can ease into the Clarion Hotel off MacArthur Dr. across from the La. Convention Center.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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