That is, especially as it applies to the Audubon Golf Trail, which offers a wide variety of challenging tracks where the good times and good putts always roll. The proximity of many of the nine member courses alllows for a relaxing weekend getaway at such courses as OakWing Golf Club in Alexandria and the Tamahka Trails Golf Course in nearby Marksville.
Cut out of Avoyelles Parish’s gently rolling countryside by Steve Smyers, who is best described as an architect devoted to “minimalism” in his projects, Tamahka Trails is an exceptional and stunningly natural layout. Simply put, his courses are built to mirror the natural characteristics the land offers.
That’s exactly what Smyers has done splendidly at Tamahka Trails, which features four sets of tees and a high-quality range. Yet there is one aspect of the course where Smyers strays to the maximum side of design. That would be in the bunkering, all 77 of them.
Early on, the mammoth fairway traps were a turn-off. The good news? The-powers-that-be at Tamahka Trails recently decided to soften the punch by placing sod on the bunker walls, making them much more user-friendly. “The bunkering just wasn’t feasible because the sand would wash out after heavy rains,’’ says Director of Golf, Mike Goldsmith. “So we cut back the tops and sodded. Golfers have responded positively. Balls now kick to the bottom of the bunkers rather than plug in the sides. That makes escape possible.’’
Tamahka also provides a plethora of blind tee shots, but not necessarily tricky ones, provided a player selects the proper target (each hole has its own character). The best string on the course, between the 11th and 17th, requires proper club selection and precise shot-making.
Not only does the track ask a golfer to be very accurate on a number of drives but also on demanding approaches, to easy-to-putt, but hard-to-decipher greens. If ever a course was made where a golfer must trust the GPS system in his cart, Tamahka is it. The good news is that Tamahkas’ carts are state-of-the-art.
The course, with its well-kept Bermuda 419 fairways and TifEagle greens, will celebrate a seventh anniversary in June and the tributes, in the form of important events, keep rolling in and give a ringing endorsement to the test the course provides. On June 13th and 14th, The Louisiana Amateur Golf Tour held its Players Championship here, and the inaugural Louisiana Golf Foundation Tournament with a $26,000 purse for Louisiana professionals will take place Oct. 5th to the 7th.
The whole idea, Smyers says, is to make players think their way around the entire golf course, a form of mental gymnastics that doesn’t come easy for the recreational player. But the rewards for a golfer wending his or her way around Tamahka Trails are there no matter what it might say on the scorecard.
Looking for accommodations? The adjacent Paragon Casino Resort is the best bet for those who like a little action. It offers four restaurants and packages designed specifically for visiting golfers. There are several bed and breakfast establishments in and around Marksville for those who prefer more relaxing lodging. Located downtown, the Maisonette Dupuy B&B is a charming, beautifully restored 107-year-old home with two bedrooms and baths.
Many restaurants are nearby. Two popular favorites are the Red River Grill and Rudy’s Restaurant, Bar and Grill, both in the downtown area. Fresh Catch is another great hangout, and if anyone in the group has an aversion to seafood, Fernando’s Mexican Grill and Cantina, with its authentic cuisine, is a good alternative.
The challenge Louisiana architect Jim Lipe had at OakWing was to construct a course in and around the former England Air Force Base, the former home of The Flying Tigers (shuttered in 1992). Part of the England Air Park redevelopment, the five-year-old course looks and feels like it has been there much longer.
Given the different wind conditions, different sets of tees and pin placements on the greens, a player can get a very different look at the course each and every day. Director of Golf Craig Campo was spot on when he described OakWing as, “a course that can change on a daily basis.’’
Five sets of tees allow all levels of golfers to leave the course without the feeling of having been beaten up. But choose carefully because OakWing can be an awfully demanding track, especially on approach shots to the greens, where trouble usually lurks either directly in front and/or on one side.
“You have to pay attention,’’ Campo said. Water hazards will beckon stray shots on 10 of the 18 holes, although more prominently than others on a course that starts gently and then picks up steam when a player walks directly into a slew of holes. This being said, there are also rewards for the risk takers who properly position tee shots.
The third, a par 4 that doglegs hard left around a lake, and the long, par-3 fourth holes are challenging on the front side. But the real bite comes on the sixth and seventh holes. The par-4 sixth demands precise placement on the drive as well as a second that is played with five airplanes from England, that seem to hove over the green when a player hits an uphill approach to the putting surface. The seventh provides the most intimidating approach on the course. It's a shot across a pond. Thankfully there is a generous bail-out area to the right on the best hole on the course.
While the approach shot on the par-4 11th is far shorter than the one faced on seven, it still will make a player extremely wary with the creek that guards the entrance to the green. Ditto the 13th where another tough approach awaits with a small pond on the right. Holes 14, 15 and 16 are memorable links holes.
The generous, gently undulating putting surface keeps getting better with a little age. It offers a wide variety of pin placements, with each green broken down into six sections. Campo summed up the maturity level of his young course best when he says, “It’s definitely headed in the right direction.’’ Only the foolhardy would disagree.
Where to stay when not on the green? The best bet is the Parc England - A Boutique Hotel, where you can practically fall out of bed and onto the first tee at OakWing. Alexandria is also blessed with at least three quaint bed and breakfast establishments. Susan’s Cottages goes above and beyond with amenities. The Palimore and Home on the Bricks are two other choices to consider.
If you are looking for dining options, the wise thing to do in Louisiana is to eat where the locals congregate for victuals. Fine dining comparable to many of New Orleans’ best restaurants can be had at Bistro on the Bayou, which is affiliated with the Parc England. Bellino’s serves up sumptuous Italian cuisine and features a cigar menu for those who choose to indulge in an after-dinner smoke. Sale Sushi Japanese Restaurant, Eddie’s BBQ and the Suburban Garden offer alternatives for those who like to explore.