TPC of Louisiana: Dye delivers amid great expectations

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

NEW ORLEANS, La. - If golf courses could feel pressure, thenew TPC of Louisiana would be a mess of nerves. The state's upstartAudubonGolf Trail has already tapped the Pete Dye/Steve Elkington/Kelly Gibsoncollaboration as the marquee course on this formidable ensemble of dailyfeecourses stretching from Shreveport to the Crescent City.

Then there's the PGA Tour - you know - that little entity in PonteVedra,Fla. that came up with this whole made for the Tour course concept. TheHPClassic of New Orleans moves to the TPC next year after a successful runatnearby English Turn.

"It will be good for the community," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchemsaid."It will be good for the tournament. The HP Classic will have a greathomehere starting next year, and it will allow the tournament to grow. Itwillbe a good stage for the best players in the world to play. It will haveagreat impact on the state and New Orleans."

As if being the poster boy for the AGT and the Tour's South Coast swingweren't enough, folks around here in the know believe that future SuperBowlprocurements hinge on the TPC's ability to host A-List corporate outingsata moment's notice.

Are these expectations unreasonable?

Not at all.

Not for a course with a $30 million budget designed by perhaps the greatest living golf course architect, and not one, but two player/consultants.Andnot for a facility backed by the financial clout and irreproachable reputation of the PGA Tour. But there's another side of the equation theTPCof Louisiana is harmoniously in tune with - that of the local and traveling golfer.

Long before the first Tour pro tees it up on the welcoming 399-yard,par-4opening hole (dubbed "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler"), thousands of recreational duffers will grind it out on Dye, Elkington, and Gibson's7,500-yard bayou behemoth. In fact, they've already begun. The course held its grand opening April 20th, and player feedback - tracked closely bywayof comment cards - has been overwhelmingly positive.

"The shot-making value is high," Elkington said shortly after the grandopening. "It's got everything out there. I can't think of a course that has come out better in first view than this course."

To truly understand what the TPC of Louisiana is, it helps tohavean understanding of what is was.. A series of framed photos inthe24,000 sq. ft. antebellum clubhouse depict the site, pre golf course.Whatis now lush Tifsport Bermuda grass fairways and true rolling MiniverdeBermuda grass greens was once a 250-acre swath of pure Southern Louisiana swampland.

"If you would have seen this piece of land when we first started, it's absolutely amazing to see what's been produced," Gibson said. "We have one of the best golf courses in the South, period. It's going to put New Orleans on the map as far as golf destinations go."

Gibson, a native of New Orleans, obviously has a rooting interest in his own work, but his assessment of the TPC's place in the Southern golf architectural cannon isn't totally misguided. The hauntingly beautiful layout will undoubtedly become the crown jewel of the Audubon Golf Trail - no small feat considering the wherewithal of some of the AGT's offerings - and it could be mentioned alongside Kiva Dunes and Dancing Rabbit as one the most sought after daily fee rounds in the Southeast.

And hosting a popular PGA Tour event doesn't hurt when it comes to spreading the good word. Tipping out at just over 7,520 from the PGA Tour tees and sporting greens that only average 5,000 sq. ft., the TPC won't buckle faster than a pile of fresh craw fish under pressure from the pros.

"There's already a groundswell on TOUR of the people who have heard how good this course came out," Elkington said. "It has a footprint not much different from the TPC [at Sawgrass] or Hilton Head [Harbour Town GolfLinks]. When you come to a course like this, with that kind of reputation, I think ball striking is going to be a premium here."

The sweet swinging Aussie should know. He and Gibson did more than just show up to smile for pictures at the grand opening. Both players made numerous site visits to test pro-level shot values and to evaluate green contours and potential pin placements. For example, the expanded putting area on the 390-yard par-4 10th is actually a Gibson suggestion that provides an added dimension to an excellent two-shotter.

All of this research and development from three deep thinkers comes at a price. A trip around the TPC's cypress tree laden layout ranges from $115 to $150, depending on the season. Locals can take advantage of a new annual play pass that for $2000 allows them to play to their heart's content for a $22 cart fee.

The Verdict

One thing about the PGA Tour and TPC courses, whether you're a fan of stadium oriented design or not - when they do it, they do it right. The TPC of Louisiana is an amazing specimen if you consider where it came from -a sub sea level swamp. If you don't factor in the labor involved in getting this course built, you might be underwhelmed by the monotony of terrain.

The bottom line is this: if you dig Dye designs, the TPC of Louisiana is a must in your Dye-a-bolical collection. The usual lineup of Dye-isms are present and accounted for: sprawling waste areas, water hazards, and pot bunkers (65 of them). Kudos to Dye for situating his notorious pot bunkers 10 to 20 yards in front of the green edges. This atypical design treatment creates a set of playable surrounds that encourage short game creativity.

Where to eat

Look no further than the TPC kitchen, where Chef Dwight L. Sherman serves up some of the meanest duck and andouille sausage gumbo this side of the French Quarter. Wondering what Sherman's secret recipe is? Just ask him. "Chef," as he's known around the clubhouse, is more than happy to explain the intricacies of making a rich roux or a thick Etouffee.

Stay and play

The TPC may be located in Avondale, but by all means, stay downtown in New Orleans to get the true vibe of the Crescent City. The Hilton New Orleans Riverside is perched along the banks of the mighty Mississippi and is situated just across the street from Harrah's New Orleans. The jazz clubs and blues bars of Bourbon St. are just an octave away.

Fast Fact

The next closest Audubon Golf Trail offering is Carter Plantation in Springfield. The David Toms/Glen Hickey designed track opened just ahead of the TPC and is well-worth the 40-minute drive.

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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