2004: Destination - Authentic Cajun

If you want more authentic Cajun jokes, folklore and recipes, the best bet is to buy the book “Boudreau & Tibodeau” from Cajun Folklore Enterprizes in Abbeville, La. It is a homespun look into a culture that is . . . well, let’s just say it is a bit different from the rest of America.

For those who want a closer look at the real Cajun way of life, hop aboard a plane to Shreveport and get ready for a spicy tour around western Louisiana. Of course, for our purposes, that tour was taken along Louisiana’s Audubon Golf Trail.

The trail was created in 2001 with six inaugural courses spanning the state from the northwest corner to its south-central region. A seventh course, Calvert Crossing, joined the fold last year. The Audubon Trail is part of the state’s initiative to promote tourism through golf, a previously foreign concept. Now, Louisiana’s golf promotional efforts include a $1.2 million annual advertising and public relations campaign, a centralized reservation system for booking tee times and increased exposure through a golf packaging partner, Fairways Golf Travel.

Those marketing efforts are commonplace in established golf destinations, but they are new to Louisiana. The result was an increase in rounds played of more than 9 percent for Audubon Trail courses in the first year. At the same time, national rounds were down 10 percent.

The marketing minds behind the Audubon Trail were quick to seize on the area’s culture. The strategy for the trail touts, “Great Golf, Among Other Things.” The theory is to encourage visitors who want to sample Louisiana golf, but also to enjoy the unique food, music and other cultural elements of the state.

The interesting part about a tour around western Louisiana is that there is a decent amount of golf – in a state that is not necessarily known for its golf heritage. The Cajun thing, well, you probably surmised there would be plenty of that culture during the trip. What was a bit of an eye-opener was that this part of the state specializes in “real Cajun.”

The folks in Louisiana’s western parishes turn up their noses at the pasteurized, touristy type of Cajun that is offered in New Orleans. The reaction is similar to the way Philadelphians scoff at other cities’ attempts to create a cheesesteak, or the way Latinos laugh when gringos attempt salsa dancing. There is no substitute for the real thing. Only the uneducated fall for weak imitations.

Therefore, let us educate you about golf, Cajun style. Fasten your seatbelts, warm up your taste buds and throw that latest edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary out the window. Proper English and grammar are not necessary tools along Louisiana’s Audubon Trail.

Tibodeau sees a sign in a window advertising “Pilots Wanted” and immediately goes inside and tells the manager he is a pilot with 20 years experience. He is given the job on the spot.

When Boudreau hears about his friend’s fortune, he also applies for a job. The manager asks, “Are you a pilot, just like Tibodeau?”

“No. I shovel horse manure,” replies Boudreau.”

“I can’t use you,” explains the manager.

“I can only use someone who is an experienced pilot like Tibodeau.”

“I got you on dis one here,” says Boudreau. “Me and ol’ Tibodeau work as a team. He pile it and I shovel it.”

The first stop along the Trail was Olde Oaks Golf Club in Haughton, a suburb of Shreveport. This 27-hole layout graces 340 acres of rolling hills in a relaxed, natural setting.

The course, although only 12 years old, is undergoing a bit of a facelift under the watchful eye of current owner Hal Sutton. At least he provides a watchful eye as much as possible between duties on the PGA Tour and captaining Ryder Cup teams.

Sutton happened to be on the property the day we visited his course and he was quick to display Southern hospitality, Louisiana style. “Welcome to Olde Oaks, boys,” drawled Sutton. “The only rules here are that you have a good time. That’s what this place is all about.”

Regardless of Sutton’s greeting, his course is not a walk in the park. Although five sets of tees help to soften the blow at Olde Oaks, it must be noted that plenty of challenge exists. No matter what combination of nines – Meadow, Oak or Cypress – the rating from the tips is 75.0 or higher.

After our round, Dwight Landreneau, assistant secretary of the department of culture, recreation and tourism, was waiting in a grove of live oak trees near the clubhouse. When told that a state official awaited us, we cringed at the thought of a political speech. Instead, Landreneau was waiting with cooking spoon and ladle in hand.

In his “other life,” Landreneau is an acclaimed and authentic Cajun cook. He travels with a van full of pots, cooking utensils and (of course) spices. In front of our disbelieving eyes and watering mouths, he prepared a casual, outdoor feast that rivaled what could be found in the finest restaurants.

Explaining each step and identifying each seasoning, he prepared his versions of shrimp étoufféeand seafood gumbo with effortless expertise.

“The biggest misconception is that Cajun food has to be very spicy,” explained Landreneau. “The important thing is that it is flavorful. You can make it spicy, if you want, but the mixture of vivid flavors is the key.”

Don’t let the rustic, greenside picnic dinner throw you off. There was no need to pitch a tent for the night. Evening accommodations were of the highest quality, thanks to the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier.

Oh, we forgot to mention. Louisiana’s Audubon Trail also could be called Casino Trail. A variety of casinos, from all levels of quality, are spread throughout the state. The Horseshoe Casino proved to be one of the best.

Boudreau and Tibodeau decided that they finally wanted to try duck hunting. They asked an expert what they would need and they were told the two most important things were a good boat and a good bird dog.

They purchased both and ventured out on the lake early one morning. At daylight, the ducks started flying overhead by the hundreds. However, after a few hours they still didn’t have a single duck in the boat.

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” said Boudreau. “We got dis here boat and we got dis here dog.”

“Let’s keep trying,” replied Tibodeau. “Maybe we’re not throwing the dog high enough.”

The second stop along Louisiana’s Audubon Trail required a drive into the northwestern corner of the state. Not far from the Arkansas border, some of the scenery evoked thoughts of the theme from the movie, “Deliverance.” Then, just about the time one was sure that golf was an unheard of activity, we came across a modern oasis. Cypress Bend is a modern golf resort and conference center situated on one of the most pristine lakes in the South.

Until a few years ago Toledo Bend Lake was just a home for big, fat fish. It represents 186,000 acres of fresh water that stretches for 83 miles along the Louisiana-Texas border. It was just about the only reason people came to the inappropriately named location of Many, La., in the state’s sparsely populated Sabine Parish.

Now, they come to vacation or spend an executive retreat at this natural haven in the woods. Fishing by day and excellent dining and accommodations by night have made Cypress Bend an increasingly popular spot. The conference center is built to accommodate any business need. The ultramodern spa is designed to whisk away any post-meeting stress.

And, of course, there is golf. The course, which opened in 1996, tumbles majestically from the hilltop clubhouse down to the shores of Toledo Bend Lake. In true resort fashion, the course is eminently playable, with manicured fairways and spectacular vistas taking precedence over back-breaking challenges.

“We want everyone who comes here to have an enjoyable, relaxing visit,” said general manager Marshall Tullos. “That includes the golf. We keep the rough down and the greens at a reasonable speed. The natural elevation changes and the distractions provided by the incredible scenery bring enough of a challenge to the golf course.”

Boudreau and Tibodeau bought two mules at auction. Upon returning to Tibodeau’s farm, they marked them in the common way, with a slash or two on the ear in order to identify them. They then retired for the night, Boudreau planning to continue the trip to his farm in the morning.

They were shocked in the morning to discover that the mules had fought and chewed off the ears that were marked.

“Should we mark de other ear,” asked Tibodeau.

“Nah,” said Boudreau. “I’m afraid they might fight again and chew off de other ear.”

“How we gonna tell dem apart,” asked Tibodeau.

“You jus’ take the black one and I’m gonna take the white one,” answered Boudreau.

After a relaxing and restful stay at Cypress Bend, it was time to head south toward Lake Charles. This town on the western border of Louisiana is home to Gray Plantation, the best layout we saw on our tour of the Audubon Trail.

Designed by veteran architect Rocky Roquemore, the 7,000-yard course is a picturesque tour through Louisiana’s bayou country. Situated along the Calcasieu River, the course takes advantage of the area’s natural surroundings with 60 acres of lakes coming into play on 12 holes. There also are 94 bunkers and towering pines to add to the challenge of this truly championship layout. Particularly impressive are the course’s four dynamic par 3s, two of which feature island greens.

The first-class surroundings don’t stop when the round is over. Southern hospitality is the order of the day in the raised plantation house, surrounded by scenic marshland.

The back porch was the scene for our post-round meal – and one of the highlights of the tour. We all took part in an authentic Louisiana crawfish boil, the perfect accompaniment to a steamy day of golf. The back porch was lined with tables, the beer was cold and the crawfish were hot. Large, insulated cooler chests were filled with hundreds of the bright red, succulent, spicy critters. Attending a crawfish boil is as much of a social occasion as it is a gastronomic feast.

It takes hours to do justice to the crawfish. For the most part, they serve to tantalize the taste buds. The accompanying corn on the cob and spicy rice serve to fill the stomach. After a full day, a peaceful hotel room seemed to be in order. However, we were staying at the Lake Charles Harrah’s, and a night of entertainment in the casino was impossible to pass up.

The next morning we said goodbye to Louisiana and headed for Houston and the flight home. The memories were vivid, filled with the unique tastes, smells and sounds of Cajun Country. It certainly was not the typical golf trip.

“We don’t try to do the usual thing,” said Eric Kaspar, administrator of the Audubon Golf Trail. “We want this to be a very different experience. We want people to come back from here talking about the great golf, the great food and the friendly people.”

And they might even mention Boudreau and Tibodeau.

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