Arts Recreation

Artists Making News: Paul Bonesteel

Carl Seldon at Skyview

Carl Seldon tees off at Skyview, 1970

By Emma Castleberry

Director and filmmaker Paul Bonesteel grew up in Hendersonville and started recording the world around him in 8mm film when he was 10 years old. “It’s grown from there,” he says of his love for film, which took him to NC State University and then to Atlanta before he landed in Asheville in 1997. “While I’ve done many types of projects, documentary films have been my passion and art since my first one in 1990.”

Paul Bonesteel

Bonesteel started playing golf at the Asheville Municipal Golf Course, known affectionately as “Muni,” in 1997. “I saw the diverse and fun-loving golfers who play there, including some wise old Black men who I wanted to know more about,” he says. “I’m a curious guy and had a sense that there were great stories there and over time I started to have conversations with them.” He built fast friendships with fellow golfers Dwight Bryson, Cortez Baxter and Billy Gardenhight. “What I learned in those conversations was that layered under their love of the game was the story of the Skyview Golf Tournament and how they learned the game as caddies while not actually being allowed to play because of the Jim Crow laws,” says Bonesteel.

Asheville Muni was the first municipally-owned golf course in NC to become desegregated. It is also home to the Skyview Golf Tournament, a significant event established in the 1960s that showcases some of the nation’s best Black golfers. Bonesteel knew he had stumbled upon a good story, but wasn’t sure if he was the person to tell it. “As a white male who grew up with easy access to a golf course, I wasn’t sure it was a story that I could or should tell,” he says. “So I asked those guys and others that had lived the story how they felt about that, and they encouraged me to make the film. As a filmmaker, that was empowering.” Bonesteel’s documentary about the history of the golf course, Muni, was released in 2020 and was recently screened at the Tryon Film Festival.

Bobby Mays, Jimmy Walker, Chink Stewart, 1968

Matthew Bacoate, Jr., an advisor to the Skyview Golf Association who is featured in Muni, has been involved with the tournament since the inaugural event in 1960. He recorded scores for the first Skyview Golf Tournament and placed signs throughout Asheville’s Black neighborhoods, encouraging participation in the tournament. Bacoate compares Bonesteel’s making of this film to the earliest version of the tournament. “Paul envisioned his business of filmmaking and incorporated it with today’s efforts to bring about tolerance and a better understanding between Blacks and whites,” Bacoate says. “Just as Skyview did with its second annual golf tournament, when two white doctors were invited in and played with the Black golfers. Muni is displaying a time when Black people had to endure much mental, and at times physical, abuse. This strengthened those of us who had to fight for the right for a full place in sports. Muni allows for truth telling, and there are times when the truth hurts.”

Billy Gardenhight & friends (1970s)

Bonesteel grappled with his privilege and racial identity while making the film, but ultimately felt compelled to follow through with the documentary. “I sincerely believe that we as white folks need to really listen to our Black friends and understand their experience as personally as we can,” Bonesteel says. “We’ve all been guilty in various ways of sweeping some horrible history under the rug and my intention with this film was to not let that happen anymore.”

Bonesteel describes Muni as a love letter to the game of golf. “I want people to know how important affordable public golf is to communities,” he says. “Golf has been and still remains an amazing activity that brings all of us together for a hell of a game and a chance to get to know each other better.”

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