[PHOTOS: MEL JOHNSON]
The 50th Anniversary of the Par-Tee Golf Club Tournament was held at Brookwood Golf Course, 10304 Bluffton Road, a business, like many other businesses, that once barred African-Americans entry.
In the early 1960s, African-American golfers could only ply their hobby on one public golf course, Foster Park, and not at any of the private courses like Fairview and Lakeside. Someone from the group of black golfers suggested they play at an all-black tournament in Battle Creek, Michigan.
“Wow man, those brothers had it together,” Louis Dinwiddie said. Dinwiddie, about to be 83 years old in a month, was “so happy” with his third place/third flight, “bottom of the totem pole,” finish. It was his first golf trophy.
Back home, living that public course life, Dinwiddie concluded: “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t play on [every] course in Fort Wayne.” So Dinwiddie and the group set up a meeting with all of the private-course owners at Brookwood Golf Course, over by the airport, on a rainy Sunday night in October. They pulled up in black cars, “like a mafia meeting.”
Brookwood’s new owner, Jim Kelly, left early in the meeting, leaving the decision up to the remaining owners, whose main concern, according to Dinwiddie, was the possibility of black men abusing sold at the clubs.
A grounds keeper who three houses down from Brookwood, from North Carolina with “a heavy Southern drawl,” started off with the never not ominous, “we don’t have anything against you people,” Dinwiddie said. “[The grounds keeper] said, ‘a black woman raised me.’ Well, we got something in common,” Dinwiddie, “a black woman raised me too.”
The owners were told the group would picket and protest the entrances if the courses were not soon integrated. “That was our bargaining chip,” Dinwiddie said. It may have been a bluff, who knows? Two weeks later, the group was told they could play wherever they wanted; they played at Foster Park for another two years. “The idea was we could play [those other courses] if we wanted too.”
The day-one mission statement for the Fort Wayne Par-Tee Golf Club has evolved the idea of access in 2018. Instead of breaking race barriers, the group comes together annually to raise money for scholarships for higher education-bound students. The club has raised over $250,000 for scholarships, with the help of corporate sponsors.
The group, with less than 10 golfers at the start, has evolved to a nationally-known golf tournament with around 144 participants in its 50th year. “It’s one of the biggest black golf tournaments in the Midwest,” Dinwiddie said. The 2018 tournament was sold out, with participants from Las Vegas, New Orleans, Florida, and Kansas.
Dinwiddie served as Par-Tee’s president for about 12 years. Carlton Mable served for three years. 6th District Councilman Glynn Hines served for about ten years, “because nobody wanted to take it,” said current Par-Tee president Dwight Thomas, “because he was running it so efficiently, I think.”
According to Thomas, this year, the tournament raised about $15,000 for scholarships, up from $10,500 raised last year, which, once distributed, will award a total of 21 five-hundred-dollar scholarships.