Mini golf makes return to City Park

Generations of New Orleanians have fond memories of playing miniature golf at City Park.

On Friday, after decades of absence, the beloved sport made its return with the opening of City Putt, the latest project completed as part of the City Park 2018 Master Plan.

Before the doors had opened, about 100 people were already in line to enter, munching complimentary popcorn and cooling off with canned Arnold Palmers as the temperature climbed toward 90.

An hour later, 97 groups had paid for a tee time, many including three or more people.

While City Park has hosted two mini-golf courses in its 160-year history, the entire region has been without the sport for years, and most of the youngest kids whacking balls at Friday’s opening had never played.

Kim Scioneaux said she took a vacation day from work to come play with her daughter and sister-in-law from Reserve, because they don’t have a course anywhere near their home. She said she remembers playing at City Park as a child.

It was her 7-year-old daughter Haley’s first time playing, Scioneaux said, noting dryly that Haley was using her T-ball skills in sending a golf ball flying over the course’s chain link fence.

A few holes in, Haley said she was getting the hang of it.

Construction began in September on the 2-acre footprint, which includes side-by-side 18-hole golf courses. City Putt is part of the Tri-Centennial Place, next to the Goldring/Woldenberg Great Lawn.

One of the courses is devoted to different locations across the state of Louisiana, while the other has a New Orleans theme, with lessons tied to 18 different streets.

At the Shreveport hole, one learns that the city was the state capital from 1863 to 1865. The Poverty Point hole notes that the site that was originally built by Native Americans 3,500 years ago. The Rayne hole is accompanied by a frog fountain and the story of the Parisian brothers who exported the tasty amphibians from the small town to the rest of the world.

On the New Orleans course, there’s a statue of Louis Armstrong, a crawfish pot, and Mr. Bingle. At the Calliope Street hole, the visitor’s typical pronunciation is contrasted with the local one. The Gen. de Gaulle Drive hole gives a lesson on the World War II leader, and the Canal Street hole tells the story of “America’s widest street.”

“We tried to interject some education when the children are perhaps not looking,” said John Hopper, chief development officer for the park.

The plaques give people something to read while they are waiting on the group ahead of them, and “I bet more than one adult will learn something,” he said.

“We didn’t want it to look like Myrtle Beach,” Hopper said. “There aren’t any volcanoes, because we don’t have volcanoes in New Orleans.”

Hopper said one thing that pleased him the most was seeing three generations of family playing together. He said he anticipated many memories being made on the new course, including first dates, with the park open as late as 10 p.m.

Dan McGrath was one of the first people to play on the New Orleans course. A teacher who finished school on Wednesday, McGrath said the grand opening was the perfect way to celebrate the arrival of summer.

“It’s something I did as a kid and can still do as an adult — and it’s just as fun,” he said.

Chrissy Rockefeller played with her mother and two kids. She attributed the wide appeal to the flexibility of competitiveness. She said her group wasn’t keeping score.

“It makes grown-ups feel like kids, and it makes kids feel like they are playing golf like dad,” she said.

Hopper said the more than $2 million project relied heavily on fundraising, with each one of the 36 holes sponsored by a different organization. Two main sponsors are tied to each course: First NBC at the Louisiana course and Stanley Ray Civic and Philanthropic Trust at the New Orleans course.

Other recently completed projects in the park include the 50-acre Festival Grounds and the opening of the Morning Call Restaurant.

In March 2005, City Park’s board of commissioners presented a new master plan for the park, with the goal of completing all the proposed projects, including a miniature golf course, by the year 2018, the city’s 300th anniversary.

Five months later, “We had a plan, but we didn’t have much of a park.”

But having the plan helped immensely in the park’s recovery, he said, in that it was much easier to show potential donors specific, well thought-out projects.

The area where City Putt is located had about 2.5 feet of water following Hurricane Katrina, which was easy to measure by the yard sticks at the nearby amusement park, which dictate how tall youngsters need to be for the rides, Hopper noted. About 95 percent of the 1,300-acre park was underwater.

Hopper said the cost of the plan has risen a few times, and is currently budgeted at $153 million. With $108 million invested thus far, “The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter,” Hopper said. “It’s not glaring, but it’s more than a peephole.”

Hopper noted proudly that 2,000 trees were lost in Hurricane Katrina, but 6,000 new ones have since been planted.

“We’re not just repairing the park damaged by the hurricane, we are building a world-class park,” he said.

Council member Susan Guidry said the park continues to become a “crowning asset of the city.” She also lauded the mini-golf course for being compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, to be enjoyed by everyone.

Next up on the master plan list is City Splash, a water park scheduled to open in 2014, and a $26 million championship golf course projected to open in 2015.

Admission for a single round at City Putt is $8 for adult and $6 for children. Children under 3 play free. The course is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays, and from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Normally the course will be closed on Mondays, but it will be open May 27 for Memorial Day.