Wide Open

by Dan McDonald

The Chitimacha Louisiana golf tournament spreads the wealth to all the right places.

The Chitimacha Louisiana golf tournament spreads the wealth to all the right places. By Dan McDonald

Friday, March 1, 2013

There are a lot of Acadiana-area sports fans and civic-minded individuals who have never been to the Chitimacha Louisiana Open, and that's a shame. They don't know what they're missing.

For those who follow sports, the area's premier professional sports event provides the chance to see the highest level of golf that most will ever view in person. The tournament is the first U.S. stop on the PGA Tour's Tour, which was known as the Nationwide Tour until last summer, and it's no coincidence that three out of four PGA Tour members have roots on the Tour. Former Tour players have won 345 times on the PGA Tour.

For those who take pride in the area, the Louisiana Open is one of only two events staged by the PGA Tour in Louisiana. The other is the annual Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

For those who revel in dollars, the Open's $550,000 purse - tying its largest in history - makes it the state's richest professional sports event outside of New Orleans.

And for those who like their dollars to do good in their community, the Open should be among your favorite events of the year, and not just among sporting events.

Those in charge of the Louisiana Open have long taken pride in the funds the tournament raises for local charities. In its 21 years, more than $4 million has been doled out to hundreds of different groups, most of them youth-related.

Former longtime tournament Chairman Dr. John Hendry was the standard bearer in making the event charitably significant through its first decade as part of a national tour. Chairman Harry Patin and Open Executive Director Danny Jones have continued those efforts, with more than $1.9 million in actual dollars going to local and regional charitable causes in the past nine years.

Patin has since stepped back from day-to-day tournament operations, leaving it in the capable hands of Chairman Will Arledge, but Patin still serves as chairman emeritus - and still gets choked up when he talks about the Open's mission.

"I tell people all the time we're not in the golf tournament business," he says. "We're in the business of raising money for the charities and for the kids. When you know there's a kid somewhere that is safe tonight, that has a roof over his head and has a hot meal, and some of that is due to this tournament, it reminds you that what we're doing is important."

From the Boys and Girls Clubs of Acadiana to the Children's Shelter of Acadiana Youth, from Make-a-Wish to the Animal Rescue Foundation, and from high school bands to golf-promotion organizations, the list of benefitting charities and groups is a long one.

But for most, it's not just a matter of accepting a check. Many of those groups are actively involved in staging the tournament. In large part, the Open helps those who help themselves.

"Most of the charities that receive funds are out here working," Patin says. "They're driving shuttle vans, picking up trash, selling T-shirts. I'd guess 98 percent of the money that goes to charity goes to ones that do something to help the tournament.

"They're not looking for a handout, just a hand up. It's an unusual model for the Tour, but it works for us."

Dozens of tournament sponsors help provide that charity money, but the two mainstays locally remain Le Triomphe Golf & Country Club and the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana.

Le Triomphe will again host the Open from March 21-24 (pre-tournament activities actually begin at the course on Sunday, March 17), just as it has for the previous 21 years. Club owner Mike Maraist pumped nearly $4 million into a total course renovation nine years ago to bring Le Triomphe up to Tour standards, and he and its members will again graciously give up their course for a week so that the 144 pros can shoot for their share of history.

The Chitimacha Tribe has been involved as a tournament sponsor since its early days and has been the title sponsor for over a decade, pumping significant revenue from Cypress Bayou Casino & Hotel into the tournament each year to support the Open's mission. This year, with the tribe still hurting from January's tragic shooting death of Tribal Police Sergeant Rick Riggenbach, it's even more special for the Chitimacha's contributions to the Open and its charities to be celebrated.

Community pride and benefits aside, it's a fun week, and you can't beat the golf. You won't see this year's world top 20 players here, but you'll see some who have been there and others who will be in the not-too-distant future. 2011 winner Brett Wetterich - the only player ever to win twice here - played on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Last year's champ Casey Wittenberg is a PGA Tour regular now. Masters champ Bubba Watson played here not too many years ago. So did PGA champion Keegan Bradley and reigning Tour champion and FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker.

They're also among the most approachable of athletes. Walk with them during practice rounds and the pro-ams and the pros will probably strike up a conversation, ask you about your own game or ask about the best places in town to catch dinner. During tournament play, there are always spots right on the gallery ropes, in the middle of the action. After each round, the players will shake hands and sign autographs for the kids as long as someone's there.

You don't have to be a golfer to appreciate a nice walk in a pastoral setting. It's a great way to spend a few hours, or even four full days, and unlike walking the mall or your neighborhood, all of Acadiana benefits. It's a win-win for all of us - not just the fortunate player who will hold up the $99,000 first-place check after Sunday's final round.

22nd Annual Chitimacha Louisiana Open
Competition Dates: Thursday-Sunday, March 21-24
Site: Le Triomphe Golf & Country Club (7,069 yards, par 71), Broussard
Purse: $550,000
Winner's Share: $99,000
Tickets: $10 daily, four-day clubhouse passes $40, four-day Skybox passes $65, tickets available on site or by calling the Chitimacha Louisiana Open office at (337) 593-8000
Parking: On site, requested $5 donation to Civitan Club (NOTE: Parking location changes this year from the back lot to the front field near the main Le Triomphe entrance)
Sunday, March 17
Cypress Bayou Casino & Hotel $1 Million Hole-in-One Shootout, 3:30 p.m., Le Triomphe 8th hole

Monday, March 18
Dwight Andrus Insurance Pro-Am, 9 a.m., Le Triomphe
Cypress Bayou Casino & Hotel Pro-Am & Player Party, 7 p.m., Cypress Bayou Casino

Tuesday, March 19
Player practice rounds, all day, Le Triomphe
Capital One Bank Taste of Acadiana Party, 7 p.m., Parc International downtown

Wednesday, March 20
Nacher Corporation Pro-Am, 8 a.m., Le Triomphe
Knight Oil Tools Boy Scout Pro-Am, 1:15 p.m., Le Triomphe

Thursday, March 21
First Round, approximately 7:30 a.m., Le Triomphe

Friday, March 22
Second Round, approximately 7:30 a.m., Le Triomphe (field cut to top 60 and ties)

Saturday, March 23
Third Round, approximately 8 a.m., Le Triomphe

Sunday, March 24
Final Round, approximately 8 a.m., final groups finish approximately 5 p.m., Le Triomphe
Presentation of Champion, following play, Le Triomphe 18th green

Who Wants to Win $1 Million?

The kickoff event for the Chitimacha Louisiana Open has the biggest monetary payout - but only if one lucky golfer gets a hole-in-one at the right time.

The Cypress Bayou Casino & Hotel $1 Million Hole-in-One Shootout stages its finals on Sunday, March 17, at 3:30 p.m. at Le Triomphe's 8th hole. That day, if one of the approximately 50 qualifiers holes out on the 180-yard hole, he'll walk away with a $1 million prize. It's never been given away in the tournament's history, but the closest three shots in the final still share $1,500 in cash and prizes.

Qualifying for those finals spots is staged during the three weeks prior to the Open, mostly at area golf courses, with the five closest shots each day earning a chance for the big payout.

The Open's traditional first event benefits the Animal Rescue Foundation of Louisiana, an all-volunteer nonprofit animal rescue and adoption group headed by Nancy Tabb Marcantel and dedicated to improving the lives and welfare of homeless dogs. Information on ARF is available at

QUALIFYING DATES (all day unless otherwise indicated)
Friday, March 1 Hebert Municipal, hole #10
Saturday, March 2 Farm d'Allie Golf Club, hole #7
Friday, March 8 Oakbourne Country Club (members only), hole #9
Saturday, March 9 Les Vieux Chenes, hole #3
Sunday, March 10 The Wetlands, hole #8
Wednesday-Thursday, March 13-14 The Golf Connection (indoors on PGA Tour Simulator), 4-6 p.m.
Friday, March 15 Le Triomphe (front field), 2-6 p.m.
Saturday, March 16 Le Triomphe, front field noon-6 p.m. and all day on hole #8
FINALS Sunday, March 17, 3:30 p.m., Le Triomphe, hole #8