The Friday before Christmas I went to play golf at Audubon Park with my neighbor Rimas and his father-in-law. It was a crisp cool day with a beautiful blue sky punctuated by a few wispy clouds. This was only the third time I have played Audubon Golf Course, even though it’s within walking distance of my house. The course used to be what avid golfers might call ‘a goat ranch’ because it was in deplorable condition, sort of like New Orleans is now. But, with some thoughtful planning and a commitment to make it better, the course is now a wonderful place to spend the afternoon. Of course, when the Audubon management group first proposed redoing the course there was a big brouhaha about how to redo the course.
Everyone seemingly had a different view. The joggers and bicyclists who circumnavigated the golf course didn’t want a course to be rebuilt; they wanted the course eliminated. After all, golf is an elitist sport that celebrates the waste of prime real estate, land that could be put to better use in an environmentally optimal way. And, of course, there were many stray golf balls flinging through the walkway as hackers duffed their way around the course.
The golfers, of course, had a different perspective. Most of the golfers wanted a much better course, even though that would mean that the course would be shut down for a year or so while it was rebuilt. And, once it was rebuilt, they would have to pay more to play on there.
Architects were brought in to propose a suitable redesign, one that would accomodate golfers and pedestrians who passed nearby. The redesign was carried out and now it’s hard to understand why anyone was complaining. The course is a top-notch course and the greens fees have been raised to reflect that. Now that the course is a nice course and able to charge more, it attracts better golfers. Better golfers tend not to hit so many stray balls, but even when they do the newly redesigned course has made it very unlikely for a mishit golf ball to hit a rollerblader or jogger.
Toward the end of the round, as we were waiting for the backlog of golfers ahead of us to clear out, me and my friends were talking on the tee box and looking out at the path that ringed the course. We spied some young dude with a mop of surfer hair and a colorful shirt and a nice sized backpack. He was on a skateboard moving steadily along the bike path. As we looked closer we could see that he was being pulled by a dog.
There were several amazing things about this: first, the dog was staying in the bike lane and not straying into the runner’s path. Second, the dog was not diverting to chase squirrels. I don’t know why, but that moment struck me as being a quintessential New Orleans moment.
I hope that in a couple of years I will have a similar experience about the city as a whole. We have an ecletic group of people here in New Orleans and I’m pretty sure that we can live in harmony. But we just have to get through this divisive urban planning stage. Then we will be able to relax and enjoy a city with a better design, one optimized for a simpler but richer life.