More than a decade after it was originally proposed, a championship golf course is set to open at City Park next month, a project aimed not only at offering higher-level play to the public but also at helping to fund both the park itself and a mixed-income residential community nearby.
The Bayou Oaks South Course will join the shorter North Course, which reopened in 2008, three years after the entire City Park golf complex was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
A grand opening is scheduled for April 21, giving a significant boost to New Orleans' public golf options and giving the city an additional venue to attract championship golf events and tourists.
The South Course was built on parts of the site formerly occupied by City Park's East and West courses. City Park once operated four courses but will have only two moving forward.
The Bayou Oaks complex represents an unusual public-private model for funding both City Park, a state entity whose $16.5 million operating budget is entirely funded through self-generated fees, and the nearby Columbia Parc neighborhood.
The Bayou District Foundation is responsible for developing that mixed-income community on the former site of the St. Bernard public housing complex and the Educare New Orleans Head Start center there.
“This model allows us to be able to generate revenue through golf and put it back into the community,” said Gerard Barousse Jr., chairman of the Bayou District Foundation.
The South Course, designed by noted golf architect Rees Jones, will play to a par 72 and can stretch between 5,054 and 7,302 yards, depending on the tee locations for each hole.
Jones, who has designed or redesigned more than 170 courses worldwide (including a redesign of Baton Rouge Country Club in 2007), retained only one hole from the original East and West courses but uses some routings from those courses through the park. The South Course boasts 46 bunkers, over 300 oak trees and water hazards on all but four holes.
A February article on Forbes.com called Bayou Oaks' South Course one of the nation's nine most eagerly awaited new courses of 2017.
Officials were contemplating a major overhaul of the golf courses at City Park even before Katrina, but the damage caused by the storm delayed those plans, City Park CEO Bob Becker said.
While the North Course was reopened in 2008, the park was left trying to find money to reopen any of its other courses. “We didn’t have enough money to do all we wanted to do,” Becker said.
Enter the Bayou District Foundation.
The developers, inspired by the East Lake Development in Atlanta that used a golf club to help fund community redevelopment in a nearby neighborhood, kicked in funding for the new course, with a promise that a share of its revenue would go back to the foundation. (East Lake Golf Club now hosts the annual Tour Championship, the season-ending event on the PGA Tour.)
The $26 million course was paid for with about $9.9 million from the state, $7.1 million from FEMA and $8.9 million from the Bayou District Foundation.
The foundation’s contribution will go toward a new clubhouse for the park — which has been without one since the storm — as well as maintenance facilities, an enhanced practice facility and other buildings on the site.
After its first three years, the South Course is expected to bring in about $5 million a year, though much of that will go toward maintaining the course itself. About $800,000 will go to City Park for other purposes, and the Bayou District Foundation is expected to get several hundred thousand dollars.
Fees at the course will range from $59 to $99 a round, including a golf cart and a bucket of balls for the driving range — a significant boost in cost over the North Course, which was available for as little as $12 per round Tuesday.
The South Course will likely provide competition for other public-access courses in the New Orleans area including TPC Louisiana in Avondale, current home of the annual Zurich Classic of New Orleans, and English Turn Golf and Country Club and Lakewood Golf Club in Algiers, both former homes of the city's PGA Tour event.
TPC Louisiana is charging as little as $44 for greens fees this week for Louisiana residents, but its rates go up to $229 in summer. Lakewood is charging $53 this week for Louisiana residents, with tee times available to be booked only through Sunday. Fees at both courses include golf carts.
Between 35,000 and 50,000 rounds of golf are played each year on City Park's North Course, bringing in about $1 million a year; about $100,000 to $200,000 of that goes toward other aspects of the park's operation.
Columbia Parc has about 685 households, divided equally among public housing, low-income units and market-rate rentals. The Bayou District Foundation also runs an early childhood education program it is working to expand, Barousse said. All of the properties in the development are occupied, and there is a waiting list for each group.
The golf course project was not without controversy. When construction started two years ago, groups seeking to protect the site from redevelopment formed the City Park for Everyone Coalition and organized on social media under the hashtag WildIsFree.
A few people tried to block the project by climbing into trees that were slated to be taken down to make way for the course. One, Jonathan “Lloyd” Boover, had to receive medical attention after falling from a tree that he had occupied for almost two weeks.
Boover pleaded guilty to criminal trespass and resisting arrest and was ordered to do 100 hours of community service.
Officials point out that with two courses, rather than the original four, only about 316 acres of the park are now dedicated to golf, compared with about 508 acres before the storm. And about 300 oaks remain on the new course.
Becker and Mike Rodrigue, the latter a member of the Fore!Kids Foundation which runs the Zurich Classic, said there is no plan to move the annual event from TPC Louisiana, where it was first played in 2005.
City Park hosted the Greater New Orleans Open, a forerunner of the Zurich Classic, from 1938-48 and again from 1958-62 before it moved to Lakewood.
The South Course could be used to attract various championship tournaments, such as those run by the United States Golf Association, the Louisiana Golf Association or the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, Becker said.
“This is going to prove to be one of the best courses in the city and state,” Barousse said.