For Immediate Release
DUININCK GOLF REVIVES HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS COURSE SWAMPED BY HURRICANE KATRINA
Revamped course in Pontchartrain Park reopened to public acclaim in 2011
NEW ORLEANS, LA – Things haven’t been easy in the Big Easy in the years since Hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana coast in 2005, but Duininck Golf has done its share to rebuild the most historically significant course in New Orleans.
The golf construction company, with offices in Minnesota and Texas, teamed with course architect Garrett Gill and Kelly Gibson, a PGA Tour member and New Orleans native who committed himself to the city’s recovery.
The layout, known as the Joe M. Bartholomew Sr. Municipal Golf Course, is located within Pontchartrain Park, a suburban-style neighborhood that was one of the first areas in New Orleans to provide home ownership to middle- and upper-income African Americans. The tree-lined course occupies the northern portion of the subdivision across from Southern University at New Orleans.
The golf course takes its name from Joseph M. Bartholomew, Sr., who was born in New Orleans in 1881 and later became one of the city’s most successful African Americans. He learned to play golf at the turn of the last century as a caddie at Audubon Golf Course. He once shot a 62 at Audubon and competed against the likes of Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen. Demonstrating a talent for course maintenance, he was later made keeper of the greens at Audubon.
After being sent to New York by a group of wealthy private club members to study golf course architecture under the tutelage of Seth Raynor in the 1920s, Bartholomew returned to build several courses in and around New Orleans, including Lake Pontchartrain, a nine-hole course expanded to 18 holes in 1957. The layout is acknowledged as the first course designed by an African American architect in the U.S. During the segregation era in New Orleans, this course was the only one in the city available to African Americans. In 1979, the layout was renovated and renamed the Joe M. Bartholomew Sr. Municipal Golf Course in honor of its designer, builder and first pro.
The rehabilitation project was Duininck Golf’s second go-round at the city’s best-known public facility. The firm, which has a long-established track record in New Orleans, previously reconstructed Stonebridge Golf Club, a 27-hole semi-private club in nearby Gretna. “We had previously worked on the golf course in 2005,” said Judd Duininck, a principal in Duininck Golf. “In fact, we were completing construction shortly before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Louisiana coast on August 29, 2005. We had renovated tees, regraded fairways, improved irrigation and had also made driving range improvements before the storm hit. The golf course never reopened due to the extensive damage incurred, but the city of New Orleans wanted us to be part of a $7.5 million rehabilitation project that entailed a complete makeover of the layout.
“Anytime you work in New Orleans it’s a challenge because of the soft soils, especially when you’re working on a site so close to the water,” Duininck explained. He noted that the layout, surrounded by canals, is a stone’s throw from Lake Pontchartrain. “We’ve had experience working in the swampy lowlands of New Orleans, but from a construction point of view, this project was the ultimate challenge because we couldn’t move the waterlogged dirt with traditional earth-moving methods.” Nevertheless, Duininck Golf met the city’s tight deadline and projected course opening date. “We’ve had roughly 390 days to get the job done, but even with the heavy soils, we completed the job on time,” Duininck said.
Peter Carew, long-time superintendent for the city’s two golf courses, was one of the few golf employees to ride out the storm. He was on hand to assess the damage to the Bartholomew course after the hurricane blew through.
“The middle of the golf course was under 22 feet of water for over eight weeks,” he said, adding that he measured the salt line on trees at 22 feet. “The golf clubhouse was under approximately eight feet of water.” He added that redfish and other native aquatic species were observed in the vicinity of the clubhouse.
Dave Munkvold, vice president of Duininck Golf, flew to New Orleans shortly after the hurricane to review course damage and assist the city’s golf officials in preparing a damage claim package for FEMA. “Without Duininck Golf’s help in creating spread sheets and cataloging the destruction, we’d have been out of luck,” Carew said. “They really came to our rescue.”
Garrett Gill, the Wisconsin-based golf architect hired to rebuild the course, has successfully collaborated with Duininck Golf on several projects. He said the Joe M. Bartholomew Sr. Municipal Golf Course was originally developed as the core of a ‘New Age’ residential community. While noting that Bartholomew only built a handful of courses, Gill said his work, influenced by Raynor, is a byproduct of the Golden Age of golf design and therefore classic.
“We were sensitive to the look and strength of the golf course,” Gill said. “There’s good structure to the course, from its orientation and general configuration of the holes to the distribution of par. Bartholomew laid a great foundation for this golf course. The city of New Orleans was looking to preserve that.”
According to Gill, “We’ve known Duininck Golf for a long time, and we’ve successfully collaborated on several projects. There’s no doubt they’re a professional company. Duininck Golf is very thorough. They do their homework. They also made us look good on this project, because their project supervisors and construction managers got to know what we want. They know what design elements we believe are important, and they know what we like to see.”
In addition to putting holes back to where Bartholomew had intended them to go, Duininck Golf built new tees, dredged existing lagoons and added new ponds. One of the biggest projects entailed raising the fairways to increase surface slope or topographical relief on the site. In addition to laying new cart paths, the construction firm installed a new irrigation system and pump station at the course.
On the technical side, Gill said the soil needed to be de-watered so that the construction crews didn’t sink a backhoe or bulldozer. “Duininck Golf dug ditches to direct water to the low point of the golf course and pump it out during the construction process and then put the water back in ponds,” he said. “Clearly the company had the technical expertise to do this. This project was a good fit for Duininck—they’ve had experience working in coastal Louisiana.”
Another key player in the makeover of the Joe M. Bartholomew Sr. Municipal Golf Course was Kelly Gibson, a fifth-generation New Orleans native who served as the project’s professional design consultant. “We had a unique opportunity to take something historic in nature and bring it back to its full glory,” said Gibson, who assisted Pete Dye on the design of the nearby Tournament Players Club of Louisiana. “I leveraged my PGA Tour experience to help bring the best available talent to New Orleans to fix up its damaged golf courses.”
Gibson, who took time off from competing on the PGA Tour to help rebuild his beloved home town, said, “I’ve been working on this project for over a year. It’s a very intricate process, what with the engineering and other technical considerations for a golf course situated below sea level. We haven’t changed the layout. We took what was here and made it better because the people of New Orleans deserve nothing less.
“This was a perfect fit for me,” Gibson related. “I’m not an architect, but I definitely had some influence in the field. I worked with Garrett Gill and Duininck Golf on the playability of the holes and the sightlines. We had open discussions and worked together as a team to achieve our goal of creating a modern facility that everybody can be proud of.
”It was important to us that this course be playable for the 18-handicapper,” Gibson continued. “I wanted the course to be enjoyable by golfers at all skill levels. Aesthetically, it’s pleasing to the eye, is easy to maintain, and is being offered at an affordable dollar figure.
“Hurricane Katrina was a defining moment for New Orleans,” he said. “Let’s face it, we were hit by the greatest natural disaster in the nation’s history. Out of the devastation, we have seized a very special opportunity at this golf course. Now that it’s completed, the Joe M. Bartholomew Sr. Municipal Golf Course is a ‘hidden gem’ for both residents and visitors seeking affordable golf. This course is beautiful and a lot of fun to play.” As before, breezes off Lake Pontchartrain create the challenge, as do the well-placed water hazards and large, subtly contoured greens.
Gill cited the revival of the Joe M. Bartholomew Sr. Municipal Golf Course as “a very interesting project from a historical perspective. It’s also been an important way to improve morale among the city’s residents. From the beginning, the idea was to bring back this key recreational outlet and make people feel proud again about their community.”
Following a groundbreaking event on July 4, 2009 attended by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and other city dignitaries, Gill said the grassing of the course was completed in time to meet the scheduled opening date of Dec. 2, 2011.
Will all 18 holes at the venerable course completely redone, “the Joe M. Bartholomew Sr. Municipal Golf Course is essentially be a new course,” Gill concluded. One with a storied and stormy past, he might have added.