Saints say camp move won’t cut off fans’ access

A day after the owner of a luxury golf resort in West Virginia told reporters that his place was going to host Saints training camp for a few weeks this summer and that the team would return for some preseason practices through at least 2016, the team Friday released a few more details about the arrangement.

Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said the team would be at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., for the “later” portion of this upcoming training camp. Though the team has not finalized its camp dates, Bensel said it would have more than two weeks’ worth of practice that will be open to fans at the team’s facilities in Metairie, which they’ve done each year since 2009.

Two of those open practices are supposed to be in the evening, Bensel said.

Billionaire Jim Justice, The Greenbrier’s owner, was quoted in an Associated Press story Thursday. He said he expected the Saints to be there from about July 18 to Aug. 16 — approximately four weeks — and that they’d return for at least two more camps.

A message for Justice went unreturned.

Asked whether the Saints intended to hold portions of the camp there in 2015 and 2016, Bensel said terms of the contract with The Greenbrier — where Payton caddied for pro golfer Ryan Palmer during a PGA event last summer — were “unavailable.”

Football coaches often cite the benefits of their players getting away and having an opportunity to bond in a place that’s isolated from the distractions that NFL cities offer; 13 clubs went away from their facilities for training camp in 2013. And the temperature in West Virginia is milder in July and August than it is in Metairie — the team’s announcement Thursday of its arrangement played that up.

A survey of reactions to the news in social media and in state government seemed to indicate folks here were OK with the Saints spending part of their preseason out of town. Many echoed the conventional thinking of banding together in less-than-familiar surroundings and said they didn’t care where training camp was as long as the Saints kept reaching the postseason.

“The Louisiana taxpayer would prefer the Saints to stay here,” said State Rep. Cameron Henry, a Republican from New Orleans. “(However), big picture-wise, if it benefits the team, I’ll give up the tax revenue.”

From New Hampshire, Gov. Bobby Jindal said: “We love the Saints and trust the coaching staff to make the best decisions for the team so that they can bring home another championship.”

As the team often points out, since winning Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints have been to the playoffs each of the three seasons Payton has coached and advanced to the divisional round in two of those campaigns.

Another segment that was vocal on the matter was comprised of Saints fans in or near West Virginia who were excited about their chance to see the team close to home. Among them was Andrew Juge, a native of Metairie who resides in Charlottesville, Va., and publishes the blog The Greenbrier is a two-hour drive from his home, and he’s already planning a vacation to take in some practices with his wife, Elizabeth, and their 4-year-old son, Cullen.

“I could see why they would want to go there,” 33-year-old Juge said about The Greenbrier, a National Historic Landmark that boasts it has received 26 U.S. presidents as guests. He said he has gone there on occasion for business.

“I recommend any Saints fan make the trip,” Juge said. “It’d be a neat place to go regardless of the Saints team being there. But this way, you can benefit from both.”

Under Payton, the Saints had training camps in Jackson, Miss., from 2006-08. They reached the first NFC Championship Game in franchise history at the end of the 2006 season.

The Saints have been in Metairie for training camps since 2009 but also have intermittently spent time in Houston, New England and Oxnard, Calif.

Michelle Millhollon contributed to this report.