I'm astonished at how many "New Orleans" questions continually come my way - and happy that folks are spending some coin in a place that certainly still deserves it six years after Hurricane Katrina.
The devil-may-care vibe of Bourbon Street is in full force these days, and the party goes on year-round. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a.k.a. Jazz Fest, is a 10-day event that started in 1970 and continues to serve up outstanding music (and food, of course) at the Fair Grounds Race Course every April. They're also still baking beignets at Cafe du Monde on Decatur Street in the heart of Jackson Square, and the char-grilled oysters at Drago's in Matairie remains a must stop on the way into town from the airport.
As for golf, the marquee public-access layout in New Orleans without question is the TPC of Louisiana at Fairfield, (504-436-8953; tpc.com) a flat but fun-filled 7,520-yard Pete Dye creation opened in 2004 and played host to the PGA Tour in 2005. Tim Petrovic outdueled James Driscoll and Chris DiMarco to claim his first PGA Tour win. The layout was battered by Katrina, suffering major damage that rendered it unable to host the PGA Tour event a year later (but has again since 2007).
Fortunately, an old friend stepped in to accommodate the pros in 2006: English Turn Golf & Country Club (504-392-200; englishturn.com). Host to the PGA Tour from 1989 through 2004, English Turn has witnessed some memorable finishes it its day, due in part to its reachable-in-two, island-green, par-5 15th and the rugged in any weather 471-yard, par-4 18th, which ranked as the PGA Tour's toughest hole at least once. Water and sand run the entire length of the hole on the left side. When the wind is up, one of the toughest approach shots in the game awaits, over a huge bunker to a large green set on a diagonal to the line of play. David Toms rolled in an unlikely lengthy birdie putt here to fend off Phil Mickelson in 2001, but unquestionably, the most memorable moment at English Turn took place in 1990, when David Frost holed a bunker shot to edge Mr. Snake-bit himself, Greg Norman by a shot. English Turn is the Jack Nicklaus-designed centerpiece of a residential community and is a private club for the most part, but there is limited public play accepted on a space available basis. Your hotel concierge can help arrange a game here as well.
There's a bit of a fall-off after the TPC and English Turn where championship tracks are concerned, but there's a handful of courses in the vicinity that are no less delightful. Lakewood Country Club (504-373-5926; lakewoodgolf.com)celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and has undergone a much needed and well-received renovation by Ron Garl.
I've had several recommendations (though I haven't seen it myself) for La Tour Golf Club (985-532-7111, latourgolfclub.com) in Matthews, a David Toms/Ken Morgan design that's 45 minutes from downtown. If the reports are true about a superb collection of par 3s, firm and fast conditions and hearty Cajun fare in the temporary clubhouse, La Tour would definitely qualify as a hidden gem.
Perhaps my favorite place to play in New Orleans, however, is the Golf Club at Audubon Park (504-212-5290; auduboninstitute.org/visit/golf), principally because there's no course in town that embodies the spirit of the city so well. Straddling St. Charles Avenue, Audubon Park is likely the nation's only course accessible by streetcar. The layout dates to 1898, which means it's loaded with enormous, moss-drenched oaks. Architect Denis Griffiths re-contoured the course in 2002, reducing its length to the "executive' category, at 4,220 yards, par 62, yet it's a complete test in its own way, with plenty of bunkers, lagoons and contoured greens to spice the play. The 148-yard, par-3 13th hole is particularly evocative, with its backdrop of the Holy Name of Jesus Church and buildings from Tulane and Loyola Universities, plus marvelous specimens of gnarled oaks.
Best of all, Audubon Park looks and acts like a park should. The park was the site of the World's Fair in 1884 and the renowned Audubon Park Zoo is located across the street. You cross a wide park path to get to the 190-yard, par-3 15th, and the well-bunkered hole plays parallel, alongside families en marche, with strollers, roller blades and balloons in tow.
Hey, it's not for everybody, but it's reminiscent of some of Scotland's best center-of-town golf experiences. I love the hole because ultimately, New Orleans is about its people, and simply having a good time.
If you've got some extra spending money, stay at the Windsor Court hotel, one short, but quiet block away from the raucous French Quarter. Sample the Blackened Redfish at K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, Paul Prudhomme's restaurant that helped kick start the Cajun craze nearly 30 years ago. Try to get a downstairs table at Galatoire's, where all of Old New Orleans seems to meet and greet and go with shrimp remoulade, followed by Trout Meuniere Almondine. An unforgettable sharp, peppery bloody mary wakes you up at the Sunday Jazz Brunch at Commander's Palace. Ya gotta try Emeril's barbecued shrimp with rosemary biscuits - I mean, whatever you think of his ubiquitous celebrity, you have to admit he can really cook.
This isn't a trip where you're going to lose a lot of weight. Anywhere you go, try a cup of gumbo, a bowl of jambalaya and a plate of shrimp etouffee, followed by a vat of bread pudding. Quaff a beverage on Bourbon Street. Play another round of golf. Go to New Orleans.