Plan your next trip with our new Dream Weekend series, combining expert picks from GOLF.com’s Joe Passov and the travel gurus at Travel & Leisure. We’re bringing you the best recommendations for golf courses, hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing–so you can focus on your round instead of your itinerary. Now on the tee: New Orleans.
Under any circumstances, a visit to New Orleans’ French Quarter, Garden District and beyond is a recipe for a good time. There’s no better time than the final week in April, however, to visit the Big Easy. Not only is the Crescent City home this particular week to the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic, but also to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a.k.a. Jazz Fest, a 10-day celebration of music, food and crafts. For a taste of NOLA cuisine, culture and golf, here are my picks for a perfect New Orleans weekend.
Schedule a mid-morning arrival into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, then head east on Interstate 10 in your rental car—with a crucial lunch stop before you hit town. Your destination is Drago’s in Metairie, where you’ll feast on a dozen char-broiled oysters. A sauce of garlic, butter and herbs pairs with a sprinkling of Parmesan and Romano cheeses and then the whole oyster, shell and all, finds a hot grill. It’s the perfect introduction to the New Orleans food scene.
After lunch, we’re teeing it up at English Turn ($120-$145) in the Algiers/Westbank neighborhood. Host to the PGA Tour from 1989 through 2004 and again in 2006, this semi-private Jack Nicklaus product witnessed some memorable finishes in its day, due in part to its reachable, island-green, par-5 15th and the rugged 471-yard, par-4 18th, which has ranked as the PGA Tour’s toughest hole at least once, thanks to sand and water lining the entire left side.
It’s time now to check in at Omni Royal Orleans (April rates from $219) at the intersection of St. Louis and Royal Streets in the heart of the French Quarter. Known for its wrought-iron balconies and Rib Room restaurant, the Omni Royal Orleans was built on the site of the legendary St. Louis hotel that dated to the early 1800s.
As for the first dinner in the city? Let’s go quintessential N’awlins—Galatoire’s—a local institution since 1905. Try to get a downstairs table, where all of Old New Orleans seems to meet and greet. Start with Shrimp Remoulade and follow it up with the Trout Meuniere Amandine. And yes, spring for the Bread Pudding dessert with Banana Praline Sauce.
Travel & Leisure Tip: New Orleans is a relatively small urban center, but is surrounded by the swamp lands of southern Louisiana. It’s possible to drive out and feel fairly remote within an hour or so, and taking a swamp tour to see the local wildlife (including alligators) is a popular day trip for visitors. The Bayou and Lake Pontchartrain are both great options for exploring the waterways around the city, as is a steamboat trip along the Mississippi River.
We have to sample an authentic, only-in-New Orleans breakfast, so we’re doing the granddaddy of them all, Café Du Monde on Decatur Street in the French Market. Located across the street from Jackson Square, where the portrait painters hold court, Café Du Monde serves up their legendary beignets (a square piece of fried dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar) and their equally renowned Chicory Coffee. Try the java the traditional way, Au Lait, mixed half and half with hot milk. Now, we’re ready to play golf.
Our first round of the day is the brand new, very old City Park layout called Bayou Oaks ($179). Re-opened (and re-imagined) in April 2017, Bayou Oaks’ South course is a sturdy, strategy-laced Rees Jones design stretching 7,350 yards that combines remnants of the facility’s old East and West courses, in a park-like setting that dates to 1902. Hall-of-Famers Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret and Billy Casper all captured PGA Tour events at City Park. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, only one of the park’s four courses had reopened—the North—until Bayou Oaks South burst on the scene. Massive, ancient oaks, handsome, if lethal lagoons and Jones’ characteristically well-placed bunkers are frequent accompaniments during the round. If you’re watching your pennies, the sibling North course, at par-68, 5,737 yards, costs $28 on weekends.
Once you’re done dueling with New Orleans’ newest, brawniest championship test, you’re going to need comfort food. There’s nothing that satisfies quite as well as a Po’ Boy sandwich at Mother’s. I’m a fan of their Famous Ferdi Special, which is a Po’ Boy stuffed with baked ham (Mother’s claims their baked ham is the “world best.” It is awfully tasty.), roast beef and the “original Debris” (the roast beef that drops into the au jus gravy in the pan while roasting in the oven). Get it served “dressed” (shredded cabbage, pickles, mayo) on New Orleans French Bread and you won’t be hungry again for a good while.
If the weather holds up, golf in the late afternoon takes place uptown at Audubon Park ($28-$58) in the Garden District. 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-worked the course in 2002, transforming it into a 4,220-yard, par-62; while it’s of executive length, it’s got plenty of lagoons and bunkers to spice the play. There’s no golf course in town that embodies the spirit of the city so well. The 148-yard, par-3 13th is particularly evocative, with its backdrop of the Holy Names 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.
Hopefully, you walked Audubon Park, if only to work up an appetite for more outstanding Creole cooking. The meal options in New Orleans are off the charts for quantity and quality, but since we have to pick one, let’s go with K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. The late chef Paul Prudhomme helped kick start the Cajun/Blackened Redfish craze nearly 40 years ago. Start with a cup of the Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo—incredible flavors—and keep going with the jambalaya. For those in search of Southern treats, the Fried Green Tomatoes and Turtle Soup starters are must-trys as well. For the entrée, you can certainly pay your respects by ordering the Blackened fresh Louisiana Drum fish, but I’m a sucker for the Crawfish Etouffee with its irresistible, highly-seasoned brown gravy.
As much as it pains me, skip dessert, as we’ve got imbibing to do. OK, we’ll share our cocktailing with a live music adventure, starting with classic jazz, a NOLA staple, at its most famous shrine, Preservation Hall. Inside, it’s dark and cramped, with limited seating, but the traditional jazz is a pure as it gets. For more musical variety and ambience, check out the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street. A live performance institution since 1974, “the Leaf” features artists that play Zydeco, rock, blues and funk, as well as jazz.
For a classy, upscale nightcap spot, stop into French 75 at Arnaud’s, one of the city’s most venerable dining establishments. The dark wood bar and bar back date to the 1800s and the cocktails and wait staff are equally top-drawer. For post-musical set beverages, you have to sample one Hurricane (a sugary Rum concoction guaranteed to supply a hangover) at raucous Pat O’Briens (patobriens.com) just to say you did it. Then stumble over to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street, America’s oldest bar. Dating to the early 1700s, it’s on the quiet side—sometimes too quiet—as it’s reputed to be haunted by the ghosts of pirates that once controlled the city from within the confines of these stone walls. The only spirits I’ve seen there came in a glass, but I’m not done trying. The Frozen VooDoo Daquiri, a.k.a., “the Purple Drank,” is the beverage of choice.
Travel & Leisure Tip: Perhaps one of the city’s best kept secrets, the Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum is above the French 75 Bar, so you can order a cocktail first. Ask the bartender to show you the staircase up to this small but wondrous free museum. Germaine Cazenave was a glamorous socialite who graced many a Mardi Gras and high society ball throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In glass cases above this dining institution is a collection of her most fabulous costumes, all draped on mannequins to show you how they looked the day they were worn. There are a dozen displays to impress and delight.
After a bit of a sleep-in, it’s feeding time again. We’re headed to my favorite restaurant in town, Commander’s Palace in the Garden District for the 10:00 a.m. seating of the Sunday Jazz Brunch. You start with a sharp, peppery Bloody Mary and finish with the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle. The Turtle Soup and Sugarcane Lacquered South Texas Quail in between are mighty tasty as well. All the while, Joe Simon’s Trio serenades with some stellar jazz.
Now we cross the Mississippi River to Avondale for the final round of the trip, at the TPC Louisiana ($161-$229)–except for the last week in April, when the PGA Tour presides. Home to the Zurich Classic since 2007, this 13-year-old Pete Dye creation is a flat but fearsome 7,400-yard layout seasoned with giant par-4s, 13 acres of waste bunkers and thickets of wetlands and cypress trees. It’s not Dye’s most dramatic design, but its firm, fast conditions and risk/reward par-5 closer are highlights.
We’ve got an early evening flight out, so there’s no time for one last dinner, but if you can somehow get to Central Grocery & Deli by the time they close at 5 p.m., you can get a Muffuletta to go, from the place they were invented. A NOLA favorite since 1906, we’re talking sliced meats, locally baked handmade bread and the family’s Italian Olive Salad as a condiment spread. Trust me, your fellow air passengers will be very, very jealous. New Orleans, that was one delicious weekend.
Travel & Leisure Tip: The local geology means that in New Orleans, people are mostly laid to rest above ground level, resulting in the vast number of large, ornate tombs that populate the city’s many cemeteries. Although some cemeteries allow people to engage in self-directed tours, some insist on an official guide and in any case, it’s safer and more interesting to have someone lead you around these graveyards—some of which date to the 18th century. The two most famous are St. Louis Cemetery #1 and Lafayette Cemetery. The former houses the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau; the latter is a popular location for movies that have been filmed in New Orleans.