A Matter of Course


Glynn Wilson by the mythical “meterote” on Audubon Golf Course in New Orleans. It’s really a chunk of iron ore from Alabama, most likely Birmingham’s Red Mountain.

by Glynn Wilson

This may come as a surprise to some, but the so-called meteorite near the No. 8 green at Audubon Park is a chunk of iron ore from Alabama, most likely Birmingham’s Red Mountain. It didn’t drop in from space. It was dropped there by a fool public relations man, and sat there too heavy to move after the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition ended in 1885.

It’s an apt symbol of what is perhaps the least expensive but most fun and scenic golf in America. At Audubon, no one says a thing if you decide to play around a couple of kids or hackers by skipping a hole or two. Just watch out for the monster limbs of the massive live oaks and the waiting swamp beneath.
But such nonsense as playing out of order, taking mulligans and improving your lie will be less likely in a couple of years, when the Audubon Institute finally opens the new executive course in place of one of the oldest golf courses in America, first played in 1898.

The new course is a clear sign of the times. Growth, opportunity and progress are coming to Audubon Golf Course, and many golfers are looking forward to the amenities a $5 million renovation can bring. Bids on the repaving of the 2.2 mile running track were opened Tuesday, June 5, so that 30-day job will start soon. Bids on the course work came in June 12. So by mid-July or August, someone will play the final round on the old course.

But an anticipated 18-month closing until changes are completed is a sad thing for old timers who play almost every day. Like Cornelius Edinburgh, 83, who has hung around Audubon since he was a 13-year-old back during the Great Depression.

His friends call him Ed, and he’s a fixture on the course. If they would have improved on the golf course rather than chop it up, that would have been better, he says. It’s one of the oldest golf courses in the country, so I don’t see how they let ’em chop it up like that.

The plan grew from $3.5 million to $5 million with a $1.5 million helping hand from City Hall and New Orleans voters in November. There’s money for elevated tee boxes and greens, more flowers and trees, a new pro shop, an irrigation system and a series of lagoons. Most of the ancient oaks will remain unscathed, along with many of the cypress, willow, mimosa and palm trees, some inhabited by a flock of wild parrots.

The $5 million question is: Will local professionals pay $25 or more to play a 62-par course with only two par-5 holes, four par-4s, and 12 par-3s? (Most courses are par 72.) Or will tourists take over the place?

Club pro Stan Stopa says more tourists will play the course, but he expects more Uptown players too, members of country clubs like English Turn who might come out and play the shorter, faster course before or after work. Once the word gets out that it’s fast play, in excellent condition, it’s fun and a challenge, we’ll get more play than we can handle, he predicts. The old course generates 32,000 to 33,000 golf rounds a year now, Stopa says, close to half a million dollars in annual revenue. With equal or even less play along with higher green fees, the revenue could double.

Stopa, who actually knew the real story on the hunk of iron, says it should be left in place on the new course, but he claims it has been shrinking. “A meteorologist may tell me I’m crazy, but I’ve been here 18 years, and it has shrunk,” he says. “It’s a piece of history for the course.”

Bob Becker, managing director of the zoo and the park, says the new course should be open by the fall of 2002. In the meantime, he says, “I would not be totally surprised (at opposition) from the regular players. Most or some of the regular players don’t like the idea of not having a course to play for awhile.”

He says the planners considered closing only nine holes at a time, but that was not the architect’s recommendation. “So we ultimately decided it was better for all to close the course, renovate it, and reopen in the shortest possible period.”

Charles Mart, president of the club for two years, hesitates only a little before endorsing the design. “It’s not going to be a tremendously easy course,” he says. “I don’t think it’s going to be a bad course, and I play a hell of a lot of golf.”

By the way, for the record, it was a group of journalists, a raucous crew from the Times-Picayune, who started the meteorite hoax on April Fool’s Day, 1891. Somehow it seems fitting that the hoax die in the New Orleans press just as the old course dies, under new sand and sod.

This story was first published in Gambit Weekly in New Orleans on June 26, 2001, but due to power and computer server failures in the flood in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, that archive no longer exists.