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Zurich Classic has been driving force in New Orleans for two decades

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Course has bounced back time and again after storms, much like New Orleans itself



    Written by Michael LoRé

    Both the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and TPC Louisiana are celebrating milestones this year. The tournament, and the course that has hosted it for the past 20 years, exemplify the same resilience that their host city has shown over the past two decades. And both have been a driving force in New Orleans' revitalization.

    TPC Louisiana celebrated its 20th anniversary this past weekend, reaching that milestone after surviving its share of hardships. And just like New Orleans, TPC Louisiana continues to proudly display resilience and tenacity after getting knocked down time and time again. The tournament that is played annually at TPC Louisiana, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, has played a big role in the city's recovery, which is being celebrated this week, as well. This is the 20th anniversary of Zurich becoming the tournament's title sponsor.

    Designed by Pete Dye in consultation with PGA TOUR pros Steve Elkington and New Orleans native Kelly Gibson, TPC Louisiana opened in 2004. Critics lauded their work, which stretches over 250 acres of wetlands along the Mississippi River Delta, the 7,425-yard course featuring 100 bunkers and five ponds among cypress and oak trees. But barely a year after opening, TPC Louisiana – and the City of New Orleans – faced its toughest test: Hurricane Katrina.

    “I’m a native of New Orleans and I moved back here to open this club,” TPC Louisiana general manager Luke Farabaugh told PGATOUR.COM. “We had been open just over a year – 16 months, actually. Hurricane Katrina is the first hurricane I ever evacuated for.

    “It was pretty devastating. No question, the club did suffer significant damage.”

    While New Orleans avoided direct contact with the Category 5 storm in late August 2005, the levee system that held back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne became overwhelmed by 10 inches of rainfall coupled with Katrina’s storm surge. In anticipation of severe flooding, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city as an estimated 1.2 million people – including Farabaugh – sought safety elsewhere.

    By the afternoon of Aug. 29, approximately 20 percent of the city was flooded. A day later, nearly 80 percent of New Orleans was underwater as first responders and local agencies not only battled to mitigate the flooding, but also to support and rescue tens of thousands of stranded residents.

    At TPC Louisiana, located in the New Orleans suburb of Avondale, most of the damage from Hurricane Katrina was due to winds that exceeded 170 mph, toppling more than 2,000 trees on the property.

    “It was almost like toothpicks you spilled on the ground,” Farabaugh recalled. “They were all over the place.”

    Wind-driven debris also covered up some of the drain lines, resulting in water accumulation and turf damage that wasn’t able to be dealt with for 30 days.

    Nearly 20 years later, Hurricane Katrina remains one of the deadliest storms in U.S. history, resulting in approximately 1,200 reported deaths, including 1,000 in Louisiana. The devastation and destruction also caused a record $191.3 billion in damage, making it the costliest storm in U.S. history.


    How TPC Louisiana recovered from Hurricane Ida


    As the city began its lengthy and costly recovery, TPC Louisiana reopened its doors 10 months later. While the 2006 Zurich Classic of New Orleans – the first professional sporting event in the city after Katrina – would be played at English Turn Golf & Country Club, also the host from 1989-2004, the tournament has been a mainstay at TPC Louisiana ever since.

    Hurricane Gustav (2008), Hurricane Isaac (2012) and Hurricane Ida (2021) have since forced more course closures, but TPC Louisiana and the City of New Orleans have persevered.

    “This city has come a long way,” Farabaugh said. “A lot of those areas that were damaged have come back, downtown is better than ever, and tourism has returned. The city has no question gotten back on its feet and is thriving again.

    “It’s great to be part of that rebirth.”

    A vital economic force

    TPC Louisiana and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans have served as more than reminders of the city’s resilience and perseverance; they’ve been integral factors in the city’s rebirth, time and again.

    Since Zurich Insurance Group became the title sponsor in 2005, the tournament has generated more than $645 million in economic activity for the New Orleans community.

    Working in conjunction with the Fore!Kids Foundation, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans has raised more than $30 million for charitable organizations. It supports 200,000 children in need annually, and over the past two decades has raised nearly $2 million in support of St. Michael Special School and nearly $600,000 for Blessings in a Backpack.

    Last year, the tournament set a record with more than $2.8 million in charitable donations.


    TPC Louisiana’s commitment to sustainability




    “There’s a direct impact through the charitable organization, Fore!Kids Foundation, and then there’s the broader contribution to the local economic environment,” said Alban Laloum, Zurich North America chief customer officer. “We’re proud of that. We’re proud not only because the numbers are big, but because we can see the impact that our donations have made over the years.”

    Founded in 1958, the Fore!Kids Foundation has raised more than $45 million to fund children’s service organizations through golf events including the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Golf Ball Gala, a kids’ summer junior tour, and several other charitable golf tournaments.

    “Our members and our volunteers put in a lot of time and effort to be part of this tournament knowing it’s going to raise money for needy children,” said Steve Worthy, Fore!Kids Foundation CEO. “Our tournament and our members take pride in the fact that we know we’re having an impact and making our area a better place to live. For that reason, they’re willing to put in all they do to ensure we’re successful.”

    Fortifying the future

    While the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and tournament partners Zurich and Fore!Kids Foundation are supporting the New Orleans of today and tomorrow, Farabaugh and his team are focused on fortifying TPC Louisiana for the next natural disaster. With an estimated 32,000 rounds played at the course annually, locals accounting for approximately 65 percent of that, they keep the course in top condition regardless of whatever Mother Nature sends their way.

    Focusing on several agronomic aspects from slowing the growth pattern of turf grass to first-in-class dewatering stations with backup power generators, TPC Louisiana is positioning itself to better handle any natural disaster. Focusing on the wooded areas could be the key to success. That means getting rid of invasive species, including the tallow trees, which snap easily and aren’t resilient to high winds.


    Agronomy and weather maintenance at TPC Louisiana


    “We’ve been going in and clearing those invasive trees out and replanting them with native cypress trees that once they mature, are capable of withstanding the high winds from a storm, so therefore we won’t have as significant tree damage going forward,” Farabaugh said. “That’s one big measure we’re doing to reinforce the facility back to its original state as well as to make it more sustainable for future storms.”

    Teamwork makes the dream work

    In the fall of 2016, Zurich and the PGA TOUR announced a new two-man team format for the tournament. As the first team event on the PGA TOUR since 1981, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans features two rounds of Foursome (also known as alternate shot) and two rounds of Four-ball competition.

    This format not only gives fans the opportunity to see their favorite TOUR players playing in pairs, but it also gives the players an opportunity to team up with their friends, countrymen and relatives.

    This year’s tournament, April 25-28, features at least four of the top 10 players in the world for the sixth time in seven seasons since introducing the team format. There are also three pairs of siblings: Matt and Alex Fitzpatrick, Parker and Pierceson Coody, and Rasmus and Nicolai Højgaard. Three-time FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy is also making his tournament debut, playing alongside Irishman Shane Lowry.

    Like the residents of New Orleans banding together in the face of adversity, PGA TOUR players team up for success this week at TPC Louisiana.

    “It’s a team event so it adds a different note in terms of engagement and having fun,” Laloum said. “Golf is still very much an individual sport, but if there’s one event over the course of the year that you can team up with one of your buddies and win a tournament, I think that’s a double win for these guys.

    “Teamwork is something we can all relate to at Zurich. We like to think we’re a team-oriented organization and that we make decisions as a team, so the format of this event also reflects that.”

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