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Average Joe not part of City Park golf plan
Peter Finney

What's not to like about the Bayou District Foundation working to create "a new mixed income community, complete with schools and recreation facilities, in the old St. Bernard housing community?"

What's not to like about the Bayou District using golf as "an organizing theme as well as an ongoing funding source for special programs designed to revitalize the distressed public housing community, " all of it aimed at "allowing low-income families of the neighborhood to work their way out of poverty?"

Nothing whatsoever.

However, when it comes to the role golf, and City Park, are being asked to play in this laudable venture, I have a problem.

Here's my problem: Why do we need construction of a new "championship" course, proposed as the flagship of a $24.5 million first phase in what is scheduled to be a $45 million golf complex?

Why do we have to turn City Park, the longtime home of the low-income, high-handicap golfer, into a version of what would be a City Park golfing resort?

At a public hearing Tuesday, I was amused by the comments of the anti-golf folks, one suggesting there are "better ways to spend all that money."

The facts suggest otherwise.

Of course, it all comes down to how much you spend, and how wisely.

There was a time greens fees paid by the City Park public golfer, many of whom could not break 100, were responsible for an annual gross revenue of $3 million, representing a cash cow for a piece of real estate covering 1,300 acres.

There was a time golf generated as much as 85 percent of the park's revenue in daily, monthly and yearly greens fees, cart fees, and swinging at buckets of balls at the driving range.

There was a time City Park was home to four 18-hole courses.

There was a time City Park golfers learned what greens fees would be in 2004:

West Course: $16 for a New Orleans resident, $18 for a non-resident, on weekdays.

North and East courses: $10 for a resident, $13 for a non-resident, on weekdays.

South Course: $8 for a resident, $10 for a non-resident, on weekdays.

Discounts for police, firemen, military, seniors and students ranged from $1 to $2.

Golf carts: $20 for two riders. Pull carts: $2.50.

Would you believe these rates existed five years ago?

Yes, it's an era gone with the wind, leading to a new era when the low-income, high-handicap golfer is asking himself: How much can I pay to embarrass myself? What price can I put on all those bogeys, and perhaps an occasional birdie?

These are the people who once were the "cash cows" of City Park, whose bogeys helped fund some of the beauties in all that green space.

And that's pretty much my problem with this proposal of a "championship" course, 7,540 yards, par 72, with lots and lots and lots of water.

There're planning to call it City Park No. 1.

I'm trying to picture the look on the face of the public golfer, having saved up $75 for a greens fee (that's a guess), trying to figure not how many balls he'd lose, but if he could play 18 holes in less than six hours.

How times change.

I remember the long-ago City Park No. 1 hosting the New Orleans Open in the 1930s and '40s. I remember Sam Snead in a red sweater, Ben Hogan in dark blue, Byron Nelson in white, making birdie after birdie.

Later, I remember, at City Park, on a public course, Jack Nicklaus shooting 80, and going over every stroke with the media.

I repeat: How times change.

Here's my point: Today, in this corporate-barren market, City Park and the Bayou District Foundation would do better with two 18-hole courses designed to accommodate the public golfer. We'd be better off without a "championship" course whose main purpose is to lure a national event and function like a country club the rest of the year.

It's nostalgic to think of City Park as the four-days-a-year home of Hogan, Snead, Nelson and Nicklaus.

It's more realistic to think of City Park as what it should be over 52 weeks for golfers of all ages.

And that's to be as close to an affordable golfing home as the market allows.

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