Ten years ago Louisiana golf was in desperate shape. Millions of people came from around the world every year to Louisiana’s coastal area. But they didn’t come to Louisiana golf, they came for the food, festivals and culture. In an attempt to lengthen the stays of visitors, Louisiana’s State Parks Department took a page from of neighboring Alabama and built the Audubon Golf Trail. Louisiana’s answer to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the Audubon Golf Trail seamlessly blends championship golf with coastal scenery and Cajun culture. While still overshadowed by Alabama’s massive undertaking, the Audubon Golf Trail has reversed Louisiana’s golf fortunes and provides the best of the state’s 160 affordable golf options.
The Gray Plantation Golf Club in Lake Charles is one of the newest courses built to be part of the Audubon Trail. Built in 1999, Rocky Roquemore’s design stretches to 6,946 yards and has four of the best par-3s in the state. Roquemore takes advantage of the tract’s setting. Built along the Calcasieu River, Gray Plantation features two island greens and 60 acres of water coming into play on 12 holes. Tall pine trees adorned with moss abound and are as strategically placed as the 94 bunkers. Nearby you can gamble at area casinos or drive the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana's only National Scenic Byway.
The Bluffs on Thompson Creek is more than the Audubon Trail’s best golf course. It is a testament to the man whom the trail is named after. Both John James Audubon and Arnold Palmer found inspiration in the cliffs. Audubon painted more than 80 of his Birds of America series here during the 1820s. Palmer made sure The Bluffs looked like it was designed by a naturalist. Beginning and ending high above Thompson Creek, a round at The Bluffs takes golfers through the rolling Feliciana countryside. But don’t mistake this course for a pushover. From the championship tees, The Bluffs has a 150 slope rating and a 140 slope rating from the women’s tees. Built in 1988, The Bluffs is 7,151 yards and swiftly changes elevations. No. 17 boasts a peninsular green and 50 feet of elevation change, making it one of the most dramatic holes in Louisiana.
Though not part of the Audubon Trail, The Golf Club of New Orleans at Eastover is home to one of the most talked-about courses in the state. The Teeth of the Gator is Joe Lee and Rocky Roquemore’s monster located in the state’s most popular city. Water comes into play on 12 holes and 64 bunkers are where you least want to see them. The Gator must have a lot of teeth on No. 8 because it might be the most difficult hole in Louisiana. This 465-yard, par-4 puts water everywhere your drive should be and the sloping green won’t hold anything above an 8-iron.
Along with Alabama, Louisiana is one of the most up and coming golf destinations in the country. And there is even more to look forward to. The TPC of Louisiana at Fairfield is set to open in April 2004. This 7,300-yard, par-72 Pete Dye-design will be an immediate member of the Audubon Golf Trail. PGA Tour player Steve Elkington and Louisiana native Kelly Gibson are consulting on the design.