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Garl on the Gulf Coast: Inspections of Katrina's damage mostly encouraging

By Ron Garl, Special Contributer

Based in Lakeland, Fla., Ron Garl has won national and international awards, from Golf Digest, the Audubon Society, Golf Magazine, Links Magazine and Southern Living, among others. He was named "Golf Designer of the Year" by International Network of Golf in 1996.

I have just returned from New Orleans where there are now only about 60,000 full-time residents. Before Hurricane Katrina there were almost half a million residents.

There is a lot of good news - the most famous city in the world for food has 1,000 restaurants open! I celebrated my birthday in New Orleans at Brennan's on Bourbon, another fine eating establishment from the Brennan family.

The day before I had the honor of being the guest speaker at a meeting of the Gulf States PGA Section. It was quite an honor for me as the governor of Mississippi had been their guest speaker the previous year.

The meeting was held at Carter Plantation in Springfield, about 40 miles northwest of New Orleans. Fortunately the golf course incurred only minor damage from Hurricane Katrina and they were back playing golf in less that a week. The golf course was designed by David Toms - well done, David!

The next morning I went over to Abita Springs, La., to survey the damage at our Money Hill Golf & Country Club course. Fortunately, most of the damage was downed pine trees, and the beautiful old oaks survived. Thank heaven. We were in love with those big pines and probably left too many during construction of the course. Katrina did a heck of a job thinning them for us.

Tim Hogan, director of golf, said that membership has increased since the hurricane and that the course is in tip-top shape. Being only an hour north of the French Quarter it is well worth the drive. (Since 1999, Golf Digest has chosen Money Hill five times as the No. 1 golf course in Louisiana and it was just voted one of "America's Best Residential Golf Courses" in the U.S.)

That afternoon I went into the city to tour Lakewood Golf & Country Club, which we are renovating. It is one of the great old classic golf courses of Louisiana. Lakewood was host to Louisiana's first PGA Tour event and hosted 26 PGA Tour stops. Many a legend has walked these fairways.

Katrina had done heavy damage to the golf course and clubhouse. The cleanup has gone well - a testament to the firemen of New Orleans who own the golf course. We had spent more than a year planning Lakewood's revival/renovation. Then, one week before putting the job out to bid, Hurricane Katrina hit. The good news is Lakewood Golf & Country Club was not in the part of New Orleans that flooded and renovation should start early next year.

The golf courses that suffered the most damage from Hurricane Katrina were east of New Orleans from Slidell to Biloxi, Miss. The new TPC of New Orleans has announced that it could be closed up to a year and has moved next year's tournament to English Turn. If the renovations at Lakewood had already been completed, it would the ideal venue for the tournament - it would have been like turning back the hands of time.

Wilma's Florida wrath

Then Hurricane Wilma hit south Florida. I flew my plane down to the area to look at several of our courses which were in the path of the storm. Luckily only minor damage occurred on most of our courses.

A few years ago we did some renovation to the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club and we are now in the process of forming a new renovation plan. Fortunately this grand old hotel and golf course was spared major damage and had no flooding as Wilma veered to the south of Naples.

We are working closely with the Watkins family to carry on the flavor and traditions of this natural south Florida golf club.

There is good news, hurricane season is officially over (for this year), New Orleans announced that Mardi Gras is on, and so is golf in Florida and Louisiana!

Ron GarlRon Garl, Special Contributer

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