A Diamond in the Rough

By Rex HoggardApril 21, 2010, 11:41 pm

On a warm fall morning a few years back it was the menu at Bayou Oaks’ well-worn grill room that was the most telling sign that this place was a little different. For under $7 lunch included a roast beef po’ boy, bag of Zapp’s crawtator chips and a Barq’s root beer. Not Commander’s Palace, but not bad.

At the time the throwback clubhouse at Bayou Oaks, the official name for what locals simply call City Park, was underused, understated and underestimated as a historical focal point. The kind of place where Stanley Kowalski of “A Streetcar Named Desire” fame would have pinched 5 cent skins off his buddies and two blocks from where Mike Rodrigue grew up.

Less than 12 months later that clubhouse and every inch of swampy turf that made up City Park was, like much of New Orleans, underwater, the victim of inadequate levies and a storm named Katrina. Yet unlike the bleak picture that has faced the rest of the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a storm that, in many circles, is still not referred to by name, the loss of City Park presented a unique opportunity for Rodrigue and his group of golf visionaries.

For Rodrigue – whose duties as chairman of the Fore!Kids Foundation, the nonprofit organization that runs New Orleans’ PGA Tour stop, had taken him to Atlanta’s famed East Lake on numerous occasions – the vision started when Charlie Yates Jr., an executive with Zurich, which sponsors the New Orleans event, invited him to visit East Lake.

Yates introduced Rodrigue to Tom Cousins, who transformed East Lake from a dangerous inner-city neighborhood into a Tour model, a mixture of high- and low-income housing built around a centerpiece golf course.

“I never realized the true meaning of East Lake until after the storm,” Rodrigue said. “That phone call from Charlie Yates, it was as if the stars were aligned.”

In short Rodrigue hopes to adapt the East Lake model to City Park, complete with a high-end golf course, a layout famed architect Rees Jones has already started routing, and a revival of the neighborhoods around the park.

But if all life is political, then life in New Orleans is about political deadlock. Particularly post-Katrina politics.

The process has been slow and contentious. Rodrigue’s Fore!Kids Foundation recently was picked to spearhead the project and he says the next step is the “due diligence” phase. He also sounds a tad optimistic when he says he hopes to break ground on the new championship course in January which would set the table for an opening in the fall of 2013.

“When you’re dealing with a public-private partnership it takes some time,” Rodrigue admits. “But we know that whatever we do there it will last for generations.”

The two current proposals on the board call for a 36-hole complex, the 18-hole, high-end Jones design (which would likely be built on the land that used to be the site of the old East and West courses) along with a more moderately-priced course; and a 45-hole facility which would include a nine-hole par-3 course.

Rodrigue estimates the project will cost about $24.5 million, of which $15.5 million would come from a City Park fund and the remainder would be raised by his foundation via donations and the like.

The golf, however, is just a part of the puzzle. On Wednesday Rodrigue took a tour of one of the neighborhoods surrounding City Park with Joe Ogilvie, a member of the Fore!Kids advisory board and a current member of the Tour’s Player Advisory Council who has become an outspoken advocate of the project.

“It’s so much bigger than golf,” Rodrigue said. “We’re dealing with early education. There is a perception that, ‘What is golf doing in this picture?’ But it’s allowing us to bring resources to the neighborhood.”

Along with Rodrigue’s push to revitalize City Park in the East Lake image is the notion that a championship-quality course closer to the city center would be an attractive fit for New Orleans’ Tour stop, which is currently played on an unpopular TPC course on the wrong side of the Mississippi River.

“Our home is TPC Louisiana,” Rodrigue said flatly. “We’re just building a quality golf course that can host a championship event, whether that’s a professional event or an amateur event.”

Perhaps, but know this, there is nothing wrong with the Zurich Classic – which has one of the weakest fields on the FedEx Cup schedule – that a better course and more appealing zip code can’t fix. Players want the Big Easy, not the Big Avondale.

For a city that cherishes its history as much as New Orleans, holding a Tour event in Avondale is akin to dinning at Popeye’s because Galatoire’s is too far of a drive, bunking at the Best Western because parking for the Hotel Monteleone is a nightmare, calling it an early night because Preservation Hall is too hard to find.

You get the idea. And Rodrigue has the right recipe, the byproduct of one too many roast beef po’ boys in the old Bayou Oaks clubhouse one would expect.

“I’ve never seen a collection of oak trees like we have at City Park,” Rodrigue said. “It’s a diamond in the rough.”

Thanks to Rodrigue & Co., it’s a diamond that has the potential to shine like few others.

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After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

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Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

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Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”