WILLIAM “BILL” POWELL, PGA
William J. “Bill” Powell was the leader of a resolute campaign to make the game of golf “color blind” by building Clearview Golf Club of East Canton, Ohio. He remains the only African-American to build, own and operate a golf course in the United States.
In 1945, following his return from serving in World War II, Powell was denied access to local golf clubs due to the color of his skin. In 1946, Powell began breaking down barriers by building Clearview. Now listed among the National Register of Historic Places, Clearview opened with programs that are mainstream today, including women’s leagues, junior tournaments, adult after-work leagues, and group lessons.
Powell was 83 when he was granted PGA Life Member status, retroactive to 1962, a year when The PGA of America dismantled another social barrier, the “Caucasian clause” in its by-laws.
Born Nov. 22, 1916, the grandson of Alabama slaves and in the birth year of The PGA of America, Powell’s life journey began as his family moved to Minerva, Ohio, when he was 3. Powell discovered a love for golf at age 9, by playing and caddying at Edgewater Golf Course. He became a multi-sport athlete at Minerva High School.
At age 16, Powell hitchhiked 42 miles round trip to compete in a junior event at Orchard Hills Country Club (now Arrowhead Country Club) in north Canton. Though initially denied entry, he waited two hours before officials granted him access. He went on to finish third in the tournament.
Powell attended Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio, where in 1937 the school’s men's golf team traveled to face Ohio Northern University at Lost Creek Country Club in Lima, Ohio. It was the first inter-racial collegiate golf match in American history. Wilberforce returned home triumphant and captured the rematch. Sixty-five years later, the two schools gathered for another match, this time at Clearview Golf Club.
Powell served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, attaining the rank of Tech Sergeant. Returning home after the war, Powell found clubhouse doors were not open to him. Powell received the financial support of two black physicians in Canton and Massillon, Ohio, to break ground on a public golf course.
In April 1948, nine holes opened for play on what was once dairy farmland. Powell said of Clearview, “It is where the only color that matters is the color of the greens.”
Powell was the recipient of the 2009 PGA Distinguished Service Award.
In 2001, Clearview Golf Club established the Clearview Legacy Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization for education, preservation, and turfgrass research.
Powell passed away at age 93 on Dec. 31, 2009. He is survived by his daughter, Renee, and a son, Larry. He was preceded in death by his wife, Marcella, and a son, Billy.