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Golf: How one south Louisiana man conquered Golf Magazine’s top 100 US courses + UL Golf Tournaments

Dan McDonald, The Daily Advertiser, Sept. 19, 2018

How much did Paul Jones want to finish his golfing quest, one that began way back in 2001?

In order to play the final course on his journey to tee it up on each of Golf Magazine’s top 100 U.S. courses, he postponed hernia surgery last week.

Instead of recovering from that procedure, the New Iberia native was sore and stretched out in a Montana hotel room Sunday evening after playing the Rock Creek Cattle Company course in Deer Lodge, Montana.

“I was wondering if it was worth it,” Jones said.

Traveling to Montana to play the country’s 61st-ranked course was worth the discomfort. Playing 18 holes at the Rock Creek Cattle Company Course signified not only the last course on Golf Magazine’s current rankings of golf nirvana, it meant that Jones has now played every course listed on the publication’s U.S. list since 2007.

“I promised my wife Dawn that I was going to stop chasing the carrot with this one,” Jones said. “She’s been so supportive of me the last 18 years.”

That’s when Jones took a golfing trip to California with his uncle Teddy Sliman and cousin Theo Sliman. The former had served as Ragin’ Cajun golf coach for a short stretch, and cousin Theo has served in that role for the past 11 seasons, but in between their trip took them to several of Northern California’s premier courses. Four of those — Cypress Point (No. 2), Pebble Beach (No. 5), San Francisco Golf Club (No. 16) and Olympic (No. 33) — are in Golf Magazine’s current top 40.

“That kind of opened my eyes,” Jones said. “I said that this was really different than the courses I’ve been playing in Louisiana. I started looking at and trying to play at a lot of different places instead of just around here.”

The quest got a major boost a few years later when Jones went to work for Microsoft as a technical resource director working in financial services for customers across the country. The extensive travel allowed him to come into close proximity with a number of courses on the ever-changing list.

Jones has served as a panelist for GolfWeek magazine for 14 years and on Golf Digest’s panel for two years, as part of the selection group that ranks courses for those publications. Ironically, he’s not on Golf Magazine’s panel, but he said the lists are remarkably similar, especially at the top.

“The top 50 really don’t change across the board on any of the lists,” he said of the biennial rankings. “The problem with the 50 to 200 (the magazine also has a “second” 100 list) is that there’s very little separation between the numbers. After that top group, the rest are really bunched up.

“Besides, you can’t just call Augusta, Cypress Point, Shinnecock, and tell them you’re a panelist. They don’t care.”

Jones has a spreadsheet listing every course he’s ever played, one that includes its year of construction or renovation and the architect. The sheet includes each of Golf Magazine’s top 100 lists since 2007, and Jones finally completed the first two of those lists for 2007 and 2009 three years ago when he played Augusta National.

To make that happen, Jones was finally accepted as a volunteer during The Masters, which allowed him the opportunity to play the course following the tournament.

Other courses on the list presented more challenges to get a tee time. The relatively new Alotian course near Little Rock, which cracked the 2011 list, was very restricted as a privately owned layout. Fisher’s Island (No. 11) in New York requires a boat trip to reach the course. The Nanea course, Charles Schwab’s private course on Hawaii’s big island, required serious networking. And Chicago Golf Club (No. 17) may have been the toughest to wrangle.

“They only have 125 members, and you have to play with a member,” Jones said. “That took some effort. Once you get close, it’s about networking and meeting people. Sometimes it requires a significant charity donation at an auction or something like that.

“There’s so many people in Lafayette that helped me get on some courses: Herb Schilling, Mark Tolson, Cliff Wagner, Uncle Teddy and Theo, they’ve all helped me over the years to get on some courses.”

Getting on the Alotian course, and this weekend’s play at Rock Creek, completed the 2015 and 2017 list (Rock Creek first appeared on the ranking in 2015). Jones said the combined lists include 134 courses, but there was no question when asked about his favorite.

“Cypress Point,” he said of the California layout that was among his first to play. “It’s just the variety. You start playing in the dunes, you go into the woods and you finish on Carmel Bay. They’ve got some of the greatest holes in the world.”

“The world” is significant, since the magazine also has a World Top 100 list that is also updated every two years. Jones has played 86 of the current top 100, but has no plans to chase that goal. “Some of those change at the bottom of that list,” he said, “and I don’t want to go to the trouble of going to play some of those, that are in far-flung places, and risk not even liking it.”

There is one attainable quest left. Jones has played golf in 46 different states, and needs to play courses in Maine, Vermont, Wyoming and Alaska to finish off the 50 states, and he says that’s a goal he wants to reach, although it’s not with the zeal of completing the top 100.

“I’m to the point that now I’m more interested in going to play with friends, getting good experiences and playing my favorites again,” he said.

Chip Shots  – Bill Bass Open

It’s been around for more years than most can remember, and the Bill Bass Open has had its share of ups and downs.

But the mission of UL’s annual golf tournament remains the same, just as it was many years ago when it was called by other names … to support the university and provide its supporters with an afternoon of fun and fellowship during the activities of Homecoming week.

In recent years, it’s also become a vehicle to generate at least some support for the Ragin’ Cajun golf team. We’ll stop short of calling it a “fund-raiser” since tournament organizers have attempted to keep entry fees low for many years to foster participation and to keep the event within financial reach of all Cajun fans.

But after all the bills are paid, whatever is left goes directly to the UL golf team and the Bill Bass Scholarship Fund, which aids the Cajun program in providing financial assistance.

This year’s tournament is Oct. 12 at its traditional Les Vieux Chenes home, one day before the Cajun football team celebrates Homecoming on Oct. 13 against New Mexico State. Registration and lunch begin at 10:30 a.m. with a noon shotgun start, and entries for the tournament are now available — and maybe more important than ever.

Like many other area tournaments, which have been hit by the economic downturn in the Acadiana area, the Bill Bass Open’s entries have declined over the past few years. That’s not good for anyone, most of all the Cajun golf team that receives those proceeds.

“We have several events during the year that help us raise funds,” said Cajun coach Theo Sliman, “and the Bill Bass is one of the many that we count on. But it’s important to us for a lot of other reasons … it’s a tradition, it’s a chance to spend time with some of our supporters, and it honors a man and a family that has made Cajun golf what it is today.”

The four-person scramble is one of the major events of Homecoming week and draws both golfers and Cajun fans to Les Vieux Chenes for a Friday of golf and socializing. Some come for the golf, some come because it’s a university event, and some just come because it provides a chance to connect with other Cajun fans — which is what Homecoming should be all about.

But the tournament is open to all golfers, not just Ragin’ Cajun fans, and players may assemble their own four-person team or may enter as individuals to be placed onto teams. A handicap index will be used to insure that all teams and players will have equal opportunity to win the prizes that will go to the top three teams.

Prizes will also be awarded for closest to the hole on two par-threes and a long-drive on the 18th hole, and a putting contest will also include a Cajun-themed prize. Drinks and snacks will be available on the course, courtesy of Acadiana Bottling Co. and Schilling Distributing, and each player will receive a full packet of tournament gifts courtesy of Golfballs.com.

The Cajun team is also heavily involved. All squad members will be on hand and will be hitting shots with each team either on par-threes or par-fives, giving each team that extra advantage on those holes.

The tournament honors the late Bill Bass, whose contributions to Acadiana-area golf and to the university are well-documented. Bass left the insurance business in 1965 to serve as the school’s first full-time alumni director, and the former letterman in football and boxing also served two different stints in two different decades as Cajun golf coach.

Bass also helped supervise the construction of the Oakbourne Country Club course in the mid-1950s and helped develop that into one of the state’s top layouts — one that hosted a PGA Tour event for nearly a decade and where the newly constructed UL golf facility is located. Bass also designed and was one of the driving forces behind the old Acadian Hills Golf Club.

He remained involved in university activities and the local golf scene up until his passing in 1987. Shortly after that, the Alumni Association began a scholarship in his honor and teamed with his son Bob Bass — himself UL’s golf coach for nearly two decades and honored as the top coach in the Sun Belt Conference’s first 30 years — to found the Homecoming tournament that now bears his name.

“We always talk to our players about how important family and tradition are,” said Sliman, who is the son of a former Cajun golf coach. “This is a perfect example of that.”

Players may enter the tournament in a variety of ways, along with an entry fee of $150 per player or $600 per four-player team. RCAF members and Vermilion Links Club members get a $25 discount from those entry fees. Entry forms are available at all local golf courses and golf outlets, an online entry form is available at ragincajuns.com/BillBassOpen, or entries may be emailed to danmcdonald@cox.net or phoned in to (337) 857-8754.

Handicaps should be included with all entries, and more information is available by calling the number above.

MORE UL GOLF: Ragin’ Cajun athletic fans who also happen to be golfers will have plenty of opportunities during the fall to support the program and particular teams.

Including the aforementioned Bill Bass Open, there are five — count ‘em, five — different golf events revolving around UL athletics scheduled in the area over the next six weeks, with tournaments benefiting the men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and softball teams.

The Cajun-specific events:

» First up, the women’s basketball team hosts the Assist Club Open next Monday with a noon shotgun start at Le Triomphe. The four-person scramble raises money for the Cajun women’s squad, and the $600 team entry fee includes all fees plus Adidas golf apparel and door prizes. Sponsorship are also available from $100 to $5,000. Information is available from director of basketball operations M.C. Vogt at mcvogt@louisiana.edu or at (337) 482-9012, and an online registration form is at ragincajuns.com/ACopenreg

» The next event is the baseball team’s annual fundraiser, set for Sept. 24 at Oakbourne. The four-person scramble sponsored by HomeBank and Wells Fargo Advisors has a noon registration and a 1 p.m. shogtun start. The $250 individual fee includes Adidas apparel, a Cajun hat and shirt, food and beverages, prizes on all par-threes and prizes to the top three teams A team entry of $1,000 includes mulligans, and sponsorships are available from $200 to $3,500. Registration deadline is Sept. 19, and more information is available from Danny Jones at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open at (337) 593-8000 or at djones@laopen.com.

» The Wetlands will host two Cajun events in one week, with the softball program holding its fundraiser on Oct. 15. That four-person scramble has a 1 p.m. shotgun start, with prizes going to the top three teams and individual prizes for closest to the hole on all par-threes and a long drive contest. Entry fee is $125 per player or $500 per team that includes food and drink in the clubhouse and on the course. Registration forms are available online at ragincajuns.com/SBgolf, by e-mailing softball@louisiana.edu or by calling the softball office at (337) 851-6238.

» The Cajun men’s basketball program will hold its inaugural Tip-Off Classic on Oct. 19, with a 1 p.m. shotgun start at The Wetlands. The four-person scramble tournament is sponsored by NSI Nursing Specialties and has a $125 entry fee ($500 per team) that includes prizes on the course and to the top team finishers. Sponsorship opportunities are available from $150 to $1,500, with the top sponsorship level including a team entry, membership in the Rebounders Club and a social at coach Bob Marlin’s home. Information is available online at ragincajuns.com on the men’s basketball page.

“Making the Turn” appears Wednesday in the Daily Advertiser. Clubs, courses and individuals with information about local golf events may email Dan McDonald, editorial director at Golfballs.com, at danmcdonald@cox.net, FAX to (337) 857-8763 or call (337) 857-8754 and leave a message with phone number.