Ask Travelin' Joe: Links golf in the U.S., New Orleans and Fort Lauderdale
If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dear Joe, A group of us is heading down to New Orleans for the first time. So far we have the TPC as a site. Any other recommendations for places to play? Kevin C. Rochester, N.Y. I'm astonished at how many "New Orleans" questions come my way — and happy that folks are spending some coin in a place that deserves it. Aside from the Char-grilled Oysters at Drago's on the way into town from the airport, my other Big Easy favorites are Audubon Park ($30-$40; 504-212-5290, auduboninstitute.org), a short but incredibly atmospheric layout that's accessible by streetcar, and the semi-private English Turn ($155; 504-391-8018, englishturn.com), a Jack Nicklaus creation that played host to the PGA Tour from 1989 through 2004, and again in 2006.
I've had several recommendations (though I haven't seen it myself) for La Tour Golf Club ($49-$69; 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. Hey Joe, I'm planning a golf trip for my dad and two brothers. We want to play some links courses in the U.S. but need some nightlife, and possibly a casino, nearby to keep our nights busy. Any suggestions? Patrick Flanagan Charleston, S.C. Sorry to break it to you, but there's little authentic links golf in the U.S., let alone a combo of links and nightlife. The closest facsimile is Oregon's Bandon Dunes ($75-$275; 888-345-6008, bandondunesgolf) with its four firm, fast-running, wind-blown, oceanside layouts. I wouldn't call it library quiet at night — there is a pool table downstairs at the Bunker Bar — but you certainly won't mistake it for Vegas. Yes, the Mill Casino is 23 miles away (the casino will provide a free shuttle) in Coos Bay, but most find that after walking 36 holes and battling the elements, you're left with only enough energy to down a dinner, quaff a beverage and find your way back to your room.
Your hometown, Charleston, has wonderful seaside golf — if not true links — and terrific nightlife, so a stay at Kiawah might be a way to beat back gas prices and air fares. My only other suggestion: Fly to Vegas, play Royal Links ($125-$250; 888-427-6678, royallinksgolfclub.com), with holes that pay homage to those found on British Open courses and after golf party to your heart's content. Dear Joe, I travel to Fort Lauderdale every March for an annual family vacation. For the last three years my brother-in-law and I saddle up for a day of golf and travel (within reason) to a course that we both decide we like. Spending money on the greens is not really an issue, we just want to play courses that challenge us and maybe have a little PGA history with them. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Gary M. Boston, Mass. You've probably played here, but for your criteria, it's worth mentioning Heron Bay ($85-$105; 954-796-2000, heronbaygolfclub.net) in Coral Springs, which played host to the PGA Tour's Honda Classic from 1996 to 2002, when it was part of the TPC network. Winners included Mark Calcavecchia, Vijay Singh, Stuart Appleby, Jesper Parnevik and Matt Kuchar, so as far as famous footsteps go, you're set. That said, I found it to be an exhausting sand-filled slog, with gigantic greens and even larger bunkers — everywhere. However, facilities and conditioning are invariably superb, so if you don't mind a workout with your sand wedge, you'll likely find Heron Bay to be a solid value.
Another affordable option nearby is Inverrary Country Club ($35-$70; 954-733-7550, inverrarygolf.com) in Lauderhill. Its recently renovated East course is a 1970 Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that played host to the Honda's forerunner, the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic, from 1972 to 1983. Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller and Hale Irwin were among the victors here. But there was no greater champion than Jack Nicklaus, who won back-to-back in '77-'78, the latter in one of the greatest finishes in Tour history, when he birdied the final five holes, including a chip-in, to nip Grier Jones by one. The course itself isn't hauntingly memorable, but delivers good bang for the buck.
(Photo: TPC Louisiana)