Joe Bartholomew

Golf
Contributor

Inducted: 1972

Joseph M. Bartholomew was born on August 1, 1885. He was an African-American golfer who specialized in designing golf courses.

Joe Bartholomew was born in New Orleans, and was a seven-year-old caddie at nearby Audubon Golf Course. Bartholomew copied the swings of the golfers for whom he caddied, taught himself the game's touch, and quickly became skilled enough to instruct others. He became such a good player--he once shot 62 at Audubon--that club members backed him in arranged matches.

Several years later, he took his talents across town to Metairie Golf Club. A wealthy club member named H. T. Cottam persuaded the club to send Bartholomew to New York to obtain knowledge and experience in golf course architecture. Early in 1922, Bartholomew returned to New Orleans and began construction of Metairie's new course. So covetous of his design was he that he often worked through the night to protect the project from those who might steal his ideas. That practice also perturbed some of the Metairie membership, who wanted proof that their money was being well spent. One morning Bartholomew loaded his doubters into wagons and showed them his progress. They were astounded.

After months of physical labor and mental anguish brought the project to fruition, Bartholomew wasn't allowed to hit one golf ball on the greenery that his mind and hands had shaped.

Over the next decade, Bartholomew built a number of courses in Louisiana, including City Park No. 1, City Park No. 2, and Pontchartrain Park in New Orleans. The public courses, like the city park playgrounds, were segregated. Joe had built them too, but could not play them. He received little if any salary for several of the courses he built. His biggest payoff came from seven holes he built primarily for his friends on property he owned in the New Orleans suburb of Harahan.

Bartholomew later started a construction company and expanded his business into other areas, including landscaping. As the years went by, his wealth grew, derived from successful real estate investments and diversified assets. His contributions to Dillard and Xavier Universities endeared him to the academic community. Joe Bartholomew never strayed far from his first love, though. He was a fixture at Pontchartrain Park well into his 70s. Even in declining health, his eyes would light up at the mention of the game of golf. In 1971, Bartholomew had a stroke and on Oct. 12 of that year, he died.

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Times-Picayune - 175th Anniversary Story
by Doug Tatum

Golf-course designer Joe Bartholomew, the first African-American inducted to the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, left a significant imprint on fairways and greens throughout the area. He built courses in an era when few African-Americans played golf.

Because of segregation, few courses allowed black people to play. Bartholomew wasn’t allowed to play at some local courses that he designed.

But his expertise as a designer is still evident.

Consider Joe Bartholomew Golf Course, a course that he built in the 1950s and opened as Pontchartrain Park. Staying true to the design of Bartholomew, who died in 1971 at age 81, was the basis for the plan to renovate the city-owned course. Bartholomew had donated the venue to the city with the stipulation that it remain public.

After being closed for more than six years, the course re-opened in November. It had been devastated by floodwaters when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

“I think what I’m most proud of is maintaining the integrity of the original Bartholomew design,” course architect Garrett Gill said as the renovation moved toward completion in the fall of 2010. “Think of it as a skeleton. The way these holes were put together was almost perfect.”

Bartholomew started in golf as a 7-year-old caddie at Audubon Golf Course. He learned the game and worked his way up, eventually becoming a teaching pro.

In 1922, some club members, concerned that Audubon was about to become public, sent Bartholomew to the Northeast to study golf architecture so that he would be able to build a course for them. He met golf architect Seth Raynor in New York. When Bartholomew returned to New Orleans, he went to work building the Metairie Country Club course. The club’s website describes the course as Seth Raynor-designed, but a report in The Times-Picayune in 1999 makes the case that Bartholomew did most of the work. He was the first pro at the course, which opened in 1925.

Later, Bartholomew designed two courses in City Park. In the 1940s, before desegregation, he built a seven-hole course for African-Americans on property he owned in Harahan.

The Pontchartrain Park course unofficially opened for African-Americans on April 29, 1956. It was renamed in 1979.