Course of Action TOUR Returns to TPC Louisiana

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2007 Zurich ClassicAVONDALE, La. -- Bill Murray ate a char-broiled Louisiana oyster as he walked toward the 18th green, then hurled the shell into a water hazard, shouting, 'Now go and grow others!'
 
He flexed his biceps after his chip up a steep embankment landed on the green, then pointed at the sky after a two-putt, his typically goofy antics amusing the gallery at a charity pro-am event preceding the PGA TOUR's latest stop at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
 
It was more than a trivial moment of levity for course officials at the TPC Louisiana, where there wasn't much to laugh about after Hurricane Katrina tore through here 19 months ago.
 
This was supposed to be the course that would secure New Orleans' spot on the PGA TOUR calendar. Instead, it hosted only one Zurich Classic before Katrina toppled about 2,000 trees along the fairways, scattered drain-clogging debris and left numerous fairways under water.
 
The public course was closed for 10 months, forcing the PGA TOUR to go back to English Turn so a rebuilding New Orleans could keep its economically vital TOUR dates in 2006. After about $2 million in repairs, even a few improvements, the pros have returned to the distinctive TPC Louisiana, a Pete Dye-designed course carved out of cypress swamp.
 
'Obviously there was some devastation here and there was a lot of money spent to get this golf course up to speed,' David Toms, a Louisiana native and 2001 winner in New Orleans, said after a practice round. 'It's very important for the whole country not to forget this city.'
 
A number of players were eager to forget this place after it hosted its first PGA TOUR event in the spring of 2005. At about 7,600 yards, the course plays long, yet presents an array of steep 'pot' bunkers and other fairway obstacles that leave little margin for error on drives.
 
'I can remember a couple of drives that I hit that I thought were decent shots ... and getting into spots where all I could do was chip out of the bunker sideways,' Toms recalled of his 2005 appearance here, when he missed the cut.
 
At the very least, it's now easier to play a shot out of the woods, which were thinned out by Katrina, and the canopy along the edges of the fairways is less likely to interrupt the flight of the ball.
 
Yet other changes have made some holes even tougher. When toppled cypress trees were hauled away, course officials saved the lumber, embedding vertical planks into what look like green and tan striped bulkheads rising from water hazards near the ninth and 17th greens. They also used the salvaged wood for new tee signs and yardage markers.
 
On the par-3 No. 9, the bulkhead replaced a bunker that had surrounded the left side of the green. So those who fall short on their 200-yard tee shots this year will likely hear the sound of the ball knocking on cypress, followed by a splash.
 
'Either you hit it where you want to hit it or the bail out on the right over there,' said Boo Weekley, last weekend's winner at Hilton Head, S.C., who arrived here tired after a spike in media appearances following his first PGA TOUR triumph.
 
The victory by Weekley, whose down-home Southern speaking style and self-effacing humor have made him an increasingly popular character on tour, was a timely one for organizers of this tournament. Some of the bigger names in golf won't be here for Thursday's opening round. No Tiger Woods. No Phil Mickelson.
 
Toms, an LSU graduate whose presence always seems to inspire shouts of 'Go Tigers' by local fans, may be the most popular player, followed perhaps by Weekley, who grew up about a three-hour drive away in the Florida panhandle. He expected about 50 friends and relatives to be in New Orleans to watch him play.
 
'I've been here a few times growing up. I love New Orleans,' Weekley said.
 
Then there's last year's winner, Chris Couch, who wasn't sure whether to consider himself the defending champion because he won on a different course. Tim Petrovic is the only player to win a TOUR event at the TPC Louisiana, and he's back in the field this year.
 
'Tim is a good buddy of mine,' Couch said. 'I told him, 'I don't know who the defending champion is this week. I think it's more you than me.''
 
In New Orleans, who makes up the field is of less interest than the fact that normalcy seems to have reclaimed yet another part of this area's storm-ravaged landscape for an event that brings worldwide attention to rebuilding efforts.
 
About 30 acres of dead turf have been nurtured back to a lush, healthy green. About 300 new trees -- 12 feet to 18 feet high now -- have been strategically planted to help restore some of the course's pre-Katrina character. The clubhouse, largely spared by the storm save a few roof leaks, has been spruced up.
 
And the local club professional, New Orleans-native Luke Farabaugh, is back to helping people enjoy the golf instead of filling out insurance documents and dealing with contract debris-removal workers.
 
'The world of golf is looking at us today, saying, 'Man, remember what happened to them 19 months ago? And look at them today,' Farabaugh said. 'It's a great sense of pride we all take.'
 
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