PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- You can call her Dr. Renee Powell now.
PGA Professional Renee Powell of East Canton, Ohio, the 2003 PGA First Lady of Golf, marked another historic chapter in her career Wednesday, becoming the first female golfer and ninth overall professional in history to be conferred with an honorary doctor of laws (LLD) degree from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
The PGA head professional at Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio, Powell was honored before an audience at St. Andrews' Younger Hall that included PGA of America President Brian Whitcomb and LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens. Powell, 62, holds dual membership in The PGA of America and LPGA and was the second of three African-American to compete on the LPGA Tour.
"This is a historic day for golf, and I am honored to be among those who can pay tribute to Renee Powell and her impact upon the game," said Whitcomb. "The R&A opened their doors to honor Renee, and it couldn't have been any better. It was truly special in all respects and the game of golf hit on all the high notes today."
Prior to Powell's being conferred with her degree, a choir sang "Straight Down the Middle," a song popularized by the late Bing Crosby, whose love of golf was legendary. Powell was introduced by Professor Alan Cairns, who paid homage to Powell's life work of building diversity in the game and her personal struggle early in her playing career to achieve human rights.
"Renee has received many honors from the world of golf, too many to list here, but amongst the most notable is her First Lady of Golf award by The Professional Golfers Association of America in 2003," said Cairns. "Situated as it is, it is natural for the University of St Andrews to confer honors on eminent golfers from time to time. However, in Renee Powell we honor someone whose achievements transcend the world of golf and move into much broader issues of human rights, racial equality and the treatment of disadvantaged members of society."
Joining in the celebration was Renee's father, William Powell, 91, a PGA Life Member and who remains the only African-American to own, operate and build a golf course in the United States.
"It was a wonderful day, and to have my father with me made that much better," said Renee. "This is such a major highlight of my life, and it keeps getting better and better. St. Andrews does things in an extra special way. To have had Brian Whitcomb and Carolyn Bivens be here to represent the organizations of which I am a member has made this an extraordinary experience."
Powell's degree follows, in order, the following professional golfers to be honored at St. Andrews: Charlie Sifford, Peter Alliss, Nick Faldo, Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Colin Montgomerie and Seve Ballesteros. Nicklaus sent a congratulatory letter to Powell, which was received at the ceremony.
"I know how honored and proud you must feel to not only receive this very special recognition, but to be the first female golfer and only the third American golfer (coincidentally all Buckeyes!) to do so," Nicklaus wrote. "Renee, you are an inspiration to all who know you. Your lifetime commitment to the game and contributions as a player, teacher and ambassador are well known. You should be proud of the manner in which you have given back to the game over the years."
Powell began playing golf at the age of three through her father, William, began playing competitive golf at age 12. After becoming a champion at national junior level, she turned professional in 1967. During her 13-year professional career, she competed in more than 250 tournaments worldwide.
Since 1980, Powell has been a PGA Teaching Professional in the U.S., and has extended her skills as golf's unofficial international ambassador for more than 40 years. In 1979, Powell became the first female head professional in the United Kingdom, a post that came after she had traveled for years promoting golf and goodwill. In 1971, she was a member of a month-long USO Tour to greet the U.S. troops near the battlefront in Vietnam. By her count, Powell has made 25 trips to Africa, where she has taught both heads of state and juniors to enjoy the game of golf.
Returning home to Clearview Golf Club in 1988, Powell guides a course her father, a U.S. Army veteran, built in 1946. Powell's youngest brother, Larry, is course superintendent and a long-time member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.
In 2001, Clearview Golf Club earned a berth in the National Register of Historic Places and an Ohio Historical Marker rests on the first tee.
The ceremony is the first of two visits that Powell will make this summer to St. Andrews. She will return in August as part of the "New Links St Andrews" initiative connecting youth to St Andrews and with scholarships to the university. Powell will be accompanied by four youngsters from her LPGA girls program at Clearview Golf Club.
Powell was elected to PGA membership in 1996, a year after she established the Renee Powell Youth Golf Camp Cadre Program. A member of the Ohio Golf Hall of Fame and the Stark County Women's Hall of Fame, she also was named in 1999 as an honorary member of the LPGA Teaching & Club Professional Division.
She has served as development and programming consultant for The First Tee Program and in 2000, began the LPGA Girls Golf Club in East Canton.
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