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William Powell
Bill Powell's Clearview Golf Club is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo: The PGA of America)

Distinguished Gentleman

A pioneer on behalf of diversifying golf, PGA Life Member William Powell receives the 2009 PGA Distinguished Service Award.

By Bob Denney, Contributor

William J. (Bill) Powell of East Canton, Ohio, who overcame racial barriers to become the only African-American to design, build, own and operate a golf course while pioneering diversity in golf, has been named the recipient of the 2009 PGA Distinguished Service Award.

Powell, 92, and a PGA Life Member, will be honored this week in a ceremony in conjunction with the 91st PGA Championship. The PGA of America’s highest annual honor, the PGA Distinguished Service Award, inaugurated in 1988, honors outstanding individuals who display leadership and humanitarian qualities, including integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf.

“William Powell’s dream to build a golf course where players regardless of the color of their skin would be welcome was a task that he met under great duress, hardship and personal sacrifice,” says PGA President Jim Remy. “Yet, Mr. Powell displayed exceptional courage, grace and the finest character while persevering toward his goal of opening Clearview Golf Club in East
Canton, Ohio.

“He and his family represent the best in our sport and what it means to treat one’s
neighbor with dignity and respect.”

Powell is the father of PGA and LPGA Professional Renee Powell, the 2003 PGA First Lady of Golf and the second African-American to compete on the LPGA Tour. Renee is the PGA Head Professional at Clearview Golf Club, where she is joined by her brother, Larry, a member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

In September 1946, while denied a G.I. Loan despite serving honorably in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Bill Powell received the financial backing of two black physicians in nearby Canton and Massillon, Ohio, to begin building a public golf course. Powell added his own part of the necessary capital after his brother, Berry, took out a loan on his home.

Powell’s dream took fruit in April 1948, with nine holes opening for play on the former dairy farmland. A decade later, Powell bought out his partners and added an additional 52 acres for a second nine holes. The complete 18-hole layout was opened for play in 1978. Today, Clearview Golf Club is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“This is quite an honor, and it is something I savor due to so many good people in The PGA that made it happen,” says Powell. “I am so humbled to have people think this way of me. I have had so many special things happen to me, I believe, because golf sees no color.”

Born Nov. 22, 1916, in Butler County, Greenville, Ala., Powell was the third child of six children of Berry and Massaleaner Powell. As the post-World War I economy shifted, the Powell family moved to Minerva, Ohio.

Powell discovered a love for golf at age 9 by playing and caddieing at Edgewater Golf Course. As his own game developed, Powell became a multi-sport athlete at Minerva High School. He later attended Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio, and was a member of the school’s golf team.

Powell met Marcella Oliver (now deceased) and they were married on Nov. 22, 1940, Powell’s birthday. Powell went on to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps through the end of World War II.

Editor's Note: This story appears courtesy of the 91st PGA Championship Journal.

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