January 25, 2022 at 10:02 AM
By Mike D., Titleist Staff
Mike D., Titleist StaffAshland, MA
Article By: Jim McCabe
It is fitting that they came into this world in the same year, 1946, and that the symmetry to their stories is so complete.
Inseparable, they are.
Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio, was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Renee Powell has been a national treasurer for decades.
You cannot note the significance of one or the richness of the other without a nod of respect to the man who rose above social injustice to make this all possible.
“Memories of my dad are constant when I’m here,” said Powell, who owns and operates Clearview GC, the monument her father, Bill, built for the golf world. It is still the only golf course in the country designed, constructed, owned, and operated by an African American.
“I grew up watching him here. He devoted his life to this golf course, to making it open to all. This is where he first put a golf club in my hand when I was 3 years old. Golf is all I know.”
In Bill Powell, who died in 2009 at 93, Renee had a role model of epic proportions. A grandson of Alabama slaves who grew up in Ohio where he played golf in high school and college, Bill Powell was deployed in England during his stint in the U.S. Army during WW II. There, he said he often played on local golf courses, so imagine his dismay when upon returning from the war, Bill Powell discovered that as a Black man he was not allowed to play the game he loved at local courses.
“My father despised segregation and racism,” said Renee. “So, when he decided to build Clearview, it wasn’t going to be the first golf course for ‘Black’ golfers, he wanted it be the first integrated golf course. He wanted juniors, he wanted people who had different religions.
“He was going to build a golf course for everyone.”
As faithfully as Renee and others have maintained Bill Powell’s vision of Clearview, as caretakers they accept an obligation to make this forever. In 2001, the Clearview Legacy Foundation was formed with a focus on three missions: Education, preservation, and turfgrass research.
“We want to carry on the legacy my father envisioned for Clearview,” said Renee, who welcomed CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz to the club earlier this summer as part of a fund-raising campaign that is already paying dividends.
“We have put in an irrigation system for the first time at Clearview and our goal is to build an educational center,” she said.
At the root of the education mission is something that would please Bill Powell – beyond the quest to help youths, minorities and those with physical challenges, Clearview has embraced women military veterans.
“We have always supported veterans, but it was pointed out to me that specifically, no club has ever addressed women veterans. We do,” said Renee, who added that as many as 50 women veterans come to Clearview.
“They come for the camaraderie. They come to feel safe and (golf) is something they now realize they can do. I’m pretty proud that we’ve made this progress.”
It would undoubtedly thrill Bill Powell, whose legend has been chronicled in many places (he worked eight hours a day as a security guard at Timken Bearing and Steel, then eight hours a day for two years to complete his nine-hole golf course on 78 acres). But Renee suggests there is always room for more and she points to an historical timeline.
“He (started) Clearview before Jackie Robinson (broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947) and before Marion Motley (in 1946 he and Bill Willis helped break the barrier in the NFL),” she said.
“But even I didn’t appreciate the sacrifices he made till I was older. When I look back at it, I am still in awe. ‘How did he do this?’ ”
In part, because Bill Powell was immersed in character and his daughter is equally so. Her determination and courage enabled Renee to blaze her own path in the quest for racial equality and while humility is a strong suit, the highlights to this 75-year life are plentiful.
Consider that Renee Powell joined the LPGA Tour in 1967, just the second woman of color, following in the footsteps of onetime tennis champion Althea Gibson who switched to golf at the age of 37.
Mention the name and Renee Powell will smile and speak warmly. “I met Althea for the first time in 1961 at the United Golf Association Championship” and the locale is cemented in her memory. “It was at Ponkapoag (in Canton, Mass.) and I was so young.”
The Boston Globe covered that tournament for African American golfers. “Renee Powell, 15, Amazing Golfer,” was the headline over a story of this young girl from Ohio who had been winning junior tournaments for a few years.
Segregated golf tours, segregated hotels, segregated restaurants. Throw in harsh treatment from fans and Renee Powell will tell you how difficult it was.
Only she knew that Gibson, and her father, and so many others African Americans experienced similar hatred and it only made Renee Powell more determined. She played professionally in Great Britain, won her biggest pro tournament in Australia, and was so respected within the industry that honors and awards have flowed her way.
In 2008, the University of St. Andrews in Scotland bestowed upon her a Doctor of Laws Degree. She returned there seven years later for a historic occasion – Renee Powell was among the first group of women members voted into the R&A.
“Anybody who is a golfer knows it is the most prestigious golf club in the world, so there are hardly words to express what that is like,” said Powell.
The 2008 ceremony was especially memorable because her father, who was then 92, made the trip. “It was his first time in Scotland and he loved seeing the Old Course.”
A few months before his death in December of 2009, Bill Powell received the PGA Distinguished Service Award presented by PGA of America, and the accolades will continue for this decorated family in March at the World Golf Hall of Fame when Renee Powell receives the first annual Charlie Sifford Award.
(Sifford, who died in 2015 at the age of 92, was the first African American to become a member of the PGA Tour, in 1961.)
“That will be an honor. I knew him well. I knew his whole family,” said Renee, who is still the head professional at Clearview alongside her brother, Larry, who is the superintendent.
A family business rooted in their father’s most noble quest.
“My father felt everyone should be able to play this game,” said Renee. “His goal was to create an opportunity to correct an injustice. He never would have thought he’d be famous or known worldwide.”
The Clearview Legacy Foundation for Education, Preservation, and Turfgrass Research is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable foundation established in 2001 to preserve the Clearview legacy and facilities for future generations. To learn more and help support the mission of the Clearview Legacy Foundation, please visit: https://www.clearviewgolfclub.com/clearviewlegacyfoundation
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About the author: Jim McCabe has been a longtime golf writer with the Boston Globe, Golfweek magazine and pgatour.com. He now produces a weekly digital golf newsletter that can be found at powerfades.com
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