TPC Louisiana in Avondale, LA
Tee Time: September 6, 2015, 10:20, 88 F, partly cloudy
Designer: Pete Dye, 2006
Playing Partners: Jordan Ritenour and Greg Ryan
Tees: Tournament/Players, Par 72 (71.0 rating/133 slope/6,374 yards)
Course Handicap: 8 (7.0 index)
Stats: 85 (45-43); 34 putts; 8/14 fairways; 6/18 greens; 2 penalty strokes
Home to PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic every year, the TPC Louisiana is one of the few premier courses in the New Orleans area, about twenty minutes south of the sights and smells of Bourbon Street. At first appearances, it’s obvious that this course was designed to be spectator friendly. Wide expanses allow of easily moving among the holes routed in a good way to see your favorite golfer or park at one hole and watch players come through. No elevation change whatsoever. On a hot, muggy, post-thunderstorm day with a sparsely populated tee sheet, TPC Louisiana comes across as a benign, pleasant place to play a round. Located in what was a swamp just a few years ago, you’ll still see remnants of that. The bald cypress and their “knees” dot the fairways. The water birds wade along the shores of the ponds and turtles enjoy their pool days. A serene setting even in the oppressive late-summer heat.
But then you might notice that Pete Dye designed this place. I dunno. I’m starting to notice that I don’t like his style at all. He built a great layout here, with short par 4’s, doglegs around water, memorable par 5’s. But then he added sand. More sand than the all the rest of Louisiana has combined. So much sand that TPC Louisiana could sell more sandbags than Home Depot next time the region is at risk of flooding. And it’s not even imaginative sand. In the fairways on half the holes are just big rectangle football fields of sand, often with about one rake. Literally one rake! To cover an acre of sand! Once or twice, fine. But it’s the entire course it seems. Then there’s the dingy mound traps that dot the fairways that Dye has become so famous for. A bulldozer could help that. The last thing I wanted to do was walk 40 paces into the hot sand, but we all made at least three of those wandering trips. One of us took so long to get out of the faux desert at #13 that when he climbed out of it, God had manna rain down from heaven.
Okay I vented. Time to enjoy the TPC Louisiana. The opener is a straight par 4 of 354 yards. There is a long column of fairway sand on the left, but not as intrusive as some of its brethren. The 2nd is the 507-yard par 5 that plays straight, similar to the 1st. If you go for it in two, there is trouble. An olympic swimming pool of sand guards the front right and smaller bunkers and steep little mounds nab misses to the left. The first water in this one-time swamp guards the right side of the 155-yard par-3 3rd. No gator sighting. The par-4 4th is has a lot of trouble waiting for your tee shot, with sand and water bordering a narrow fairway. And since it’s 453 yards, you’ll need the driver.
The 362-yard 5th is a return to the enormous sand features, with a football field left of the fairway and a baseball diamond’s worth to the right closer to the green. The 6th is a sharp dogleg-left par 4 around a large pond. Once again, no gator sighting. It’s a fun, scenic hole though. The 504-yard 7th is a winding par 5 past, you guessed it, a couple large fairway bunkers. The short, 312-yard 8th is one where laying up is still the play. Five little foxhole bunkers dot the area short of the green, and they don’t look like they are easy to escape. The front side closes with a par 3 of 174 yards with a lot of trouble to the left in the form of the pond that butts up against the green. Once again, no gator.
The back nine opens with a short par 4 of 355 yards and a swimming pool of sand guarding the left, complete with a hot tub-sized bunker between that and the green. The 12th is another par 4 of length that winds past a close sand trap and a greenside sand trap. I swear 75% of the par 4’s Pete Dye has ever designed look like this… The 13th is a cool par 4 of 331 yards. It’s a dogleg-left and the biggest sand trap on the course makes cutting the corner risky. You do need to place your tee shot well, since a large cypress can get in the way of the approach shot. And don’t hit it into the tree area, because its “knees” will trap you. The 14th is a straightaway par 3 of 167 yards. The trouble around the green is all set a few yards away from the fringe, so it’s not too dangerous a hole. The 15th plays 388 yards, again with sand near the tee left of the fairway and another trap right, close to the hole.
The 16th is a pretty par 4 of 323 yards. The fairway forms a “C” around a large trap with some grass islands. Water juts in about 100 yards from the green and guards the entire left side. The watery 17th is a par 3 of 153 yards that features Pete Dye’s other favorite design quirk: rail ties. They run along the left side of the green and will feed anything that misses that way down into the water. Once again, no gator. The 18th is a dramatic finishing par 5 of 548 yards that has seen some exciting moments through the years on Tour. Also thrilling were the three bets I won on one hole there over Greg to make up for the ones I lost on the front nine.
In the end, I did enjoy this course. The front nine isn’t really anything special. But the closing 16th, 17th and 18th make for a good finish. And of course, being a TPC facility, there is the pampering. Once again, another post-round shower was required and it was a cold one. The restaurant is pretty nice and the pro shop is chock full of souvenirs and displays of past winners. On it’s own merits, it’s a fun experience. Playing a course you see on TV every year is something and it really is the best place you can find in the immediate New Orleans area. There just isn’t much to choose from. It’s unfair to compare this to Fallen Oak, even if that was still fresh on my mind as I stepped onto the first tee. I’d still recommend it if you’re itching to play on your visit to NOLA and don’t have the time to get to Biloxi. I just wish they didn’t charge that TPC premium and push the fee into triple digits, especially in late summer on punched greens. But, oh well. Halfway done!
#11, Par 5, 530 yards, 12-handicap, My Score: 6
The 11th is a wide, wide open par 5. There’s a lot of sand left of the fairway but it stops about 260 yards short of the hole, so you should be able to steer clear of it. From the landing area, the hole opens way up. The most expansive fairway on the golf course is waiting for you to take a big rip and get home in two. There’s a large sand trap guarding the left of this large green, but that shouldn’t be too much of a concern. By the 11th hole you’ve probably taken at least five shots out of the sand. No, the main concern is the towering bald cypress 100 yards in front of the green, dead center of the fairway and looking like the world’s tallest Christmas tree standing alone. It’s a beautiful tree. The native bald cypress here in Louisiana are some amazing works of art, they’re even more impressive in the swamps.
Layout: B; a ‘C’ for the front, ‘A-‘ for the back and a slight docking for all the damn sand. I guess it’s safer than leaving marshland if you’re gonna have tens of thousands of fans on the grounds. It’d be a harvest for all the creepy crawlies of the swamp.
Amenities: B+; a great locker room, restaurant, grill and warmup areas. BUT! It gets docked a grade because the carts inexplicably did not have a cooler attached to them. My Gatorade evaporated in minutes.
Staff: A; the highlight of the day. Especially since every department joined in the hunt for my wallet after the round… which ended up being left on top of the cart. Oops
Difficulty: B+; trouble can catch up to you quickly if you’re not careful here. The greens aren’t that tough though
Scenery: B+; the remnants of the swamp make for a nice backdrop, especially all the 100-foot bald cypress still hanging around
Value: C-; $129+tax for a late summer, aerated green rate. Even at $79 that’s too much. They saw us coming…
Overall GPA: 3.10 (B)