In 1979, the Pontchartrain Park golf course was renamed the Joseph M. Bartholomew, Sr. Municipal Golf Course by the City of New Orleans. While perhaps not the ‘catchiest’ of title changes, the event was a posthumous chapter in the legacy of one of the most celebrated golf course architects of his time. Joseph Bartholomew (1888-1971) began life as an African-American in racially-segregated Louisiana only 23 years after the end of the American Civil War; fought in large part over the legality of African American slavery. But his life, chronicled in the latest New York Times’ Overlooked series, would see him reach the pinnacles of golf course architecture, and design nationally-celebrated landscapes that Bartholomew, because of his race, was himself not allowed to play on.
With his inclusion in The New York Times’ Overlooked series, which remembers the many remarkable women and African Americans who did not receive obituaries in The New York Times at the time of their passing, Bartholomew joins other inspirational architecture figures such as Julia Morgan, the first woman to earn an architect’s license in California, and designer of over 700 buildings. Like Morgan, Bartholomew’s career saw an exceptional architectural talent conquer the disruptive societal and political forces of discrimination and prejudice, marking his place in architectural history.
Bartholomew’s relationship with golf began at an early age when he caddied at the whites-only Audubon Park Club in New Orleans. Following an encounter with United States Open champion Freddie McLeod, who employed the young caddie as his assistant, Bartholomew’s knowledge of the sport grew rapidly. In the early 1920s, while working as a groundskeeper at Audubon, a course he was barred from playing on, Bartholomew was sent by club members to study golf architecture in Long Island, New York, where he studied with acclaimed golf course architect Seth Raynor.
Upon his return, Bartholomew was commissioned to design and build the Metairie Golf Club on the outskirts of New Orleans in 1922. Constructing small-scale models of the course, and often working late at night to avoid the intruding eyes of potential competitors, Bartholomew oversaw the project to such a standard that, upon its completion, he was named the club’s first professional. While this permitted Bartholomew to visit the club and give lessons, he was not allowed to play a round of golf there.
Throughout the coming decades, Bartholomew would design celebrated golf courses around Louisiana and several more in neighboring Mississippi. However, as a black architect in the Jim Crow South, Bartholomew could design, build, visit, and teach, but not play. Disgusted but undeterred, Bartholomew established a seven-hole course on property he owned in Harahan, Louisiana, as well as designing and building Pontchartrain Park in New Orleans, the State’s first municipal golf course for African Americans.
Upon his death in 1971, aged 83, Bartholomew had been acclaimed in Sports Illustrated for his work as a golf course architect, and in 1972 became the first black man to be inducted into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. In 1979, the Pontchartrain Park golf course he shaped was renamed the Joseph M. Bartholomew, Sr. Municipal Golf Course. Today, at the course, Bartholomew’s statue surveys the progressive architectural, social, and political landscape he helped to build.