Renee Powell continues father's legacy of breaking down barriers in golf

William and Renee Powell
Photo by New Links St. Andrews
Bill Powell, one of golf's most selfless ambassadors, was posthumously inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame in 2013. He was followed into the Hall by his daughter, Renee, on Nov. 3, 2017.
By
Bob Denney
PGA of America

Series: PGA

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 | 4:47 p.m.

William James "Bill" Powell of East Canton, Ohio, the only African American to design, own, build and operate a public golf course in the United States, served for more than 60 years as a living compass. He guided players of all abilities, all color and a sense of history to better understand Clearview Golf Club - a living monument to the game of golf.
 
Though a World War II veteran who served on D-Day, Powell played golf in the United Kingdom but returned home and was denied access to local courses. When he decided to build his own course, local bankers pleaded ignorance of ever hearing of the G.I. Loan. Powell found two African American partners in Northern Ohio for financial support - a physician in Canton who had delivered his three children and a doctor in Massillon.
 
He built Clearview "to provide anyone who wanted to play golf the opportunity to do so and feel welcome. It's an opportunity that was denied me and resulted in my determination to just build my own course and put the 'fair' back in fairway." 
 
By mid-April 1948, Clearview Golf Club opened nine holes. Powell was ahead of the curve, operating junior golf programs, tournaments and women's leagues.
 
In 1978, Powell completed 18 holes on the 130-acre property that was once a dairy farm. Powell proudly called his creation America's Course, "where the only color that matters is the color of the greens." 
 
 
Renee Powell, the lone daughter of William and Marcella Powell, was captain of both Ohio University and The Ohio State University women's golf teams. She spent 13 years as the second African American woman to compete on the LPGA Tour, dealing with her own episodes of racial injustice.
 
But, Renee's destiny would not be competing for weekly purses. Her mission extended beyond the gallery ropes, picking up the torch of her father to improve diversity in the game. 
 
She would take 25 trips to Africa, helping instruct heads of state and their respective citizens. In 1971, as part of a USO Tour under heavy security, Renee visited the troops at the height of the Vietnam War. She also lived in England for a short time, serving as the first woman head professional in the United Kingdom at Silvermere Golf Club outside London. 
 
As a member of the Professional Golfers Association of Great Britain & Ireland, she was the first woman PGA Member in the country to compete in an event from the men's tees. Somehow she also found time to design women's apparel that was displayed at legendary Harrod's.
 
When Powell returned home to Clearview Golf Club in 1980, she would lead her own youth golf camp to benefit inner-city junior high students in greater Cleveland. She was invited to become a member of the PGA of America, but at first declined after witnessing golf had shunned her father.
 
She would ultimately accept the PGA's invitation and earned and was elected to PGA Membership in 1996. Renee also witnessed the wheels of injustice slowly turn around for the family, which was honored by the National Golf Foundation as the 1992 Jack Nicklaus Golf Family of the Year.
 
Former PGA of America Chief Executive Officer Jim Awtrey first met Bill Powell after a difficult chapter in Association history - the tensions arising from membership issues at 1990 PGA Championship host, Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Alabama.
 
 
"I saw him as a teacher, and told him that he taught me about life and what the game should look like," said Awtrey in 2009. "His legacy? You look at the time that he came through and what it has meant to The PGA. He has helped us to remember, helped us to heal and to forgive. I am most touched by the way that he has changed me."
 
In 1996, Powell was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame and in 1997 was presented Honorary PGA membership by the Northern Ohio PGA Section. In 1999, his membership was made retroactive to Jan. 1, 1962, thus making Powell a PGA Life Member.
 
In 2008, he accompanied his daughter to St. Andrews, where she was bestowed a doctoral degree by the University of St. Andrews. 
 
In 2009, the PGA of America presented Bill Powell with the PGA Distinguished Service Award. A month before receiving that honor, Powell looked out on Clearview just before sunset. "The things that motivate me will stop a lot of people," he said softly, and without hesitation.
 
In his 2000 autobiography, "Clearview: America's Course," Powell prefaced his life story: "From the very beginning, I wanted to believe it was possible to feel justice."
 
Powell died on Dec. 31, 2009, at age 93. With his passing, his daughter never slowed down the drive of her father for breaking down social barriers.
 
Renee was named a member of the historic 2015 first class of women Honorary Members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, and proudly can walk to her locker in the 264-year-old clubhouse.
 
 In 2011, Renee founded Clearview HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), a chapter of the national PGA HOPE. Powell's initiative remains the country's sole year-round women veteran's golf rehabilitation program.  
 
In 2009, U.S. Congressman James Clyburn, the former House Majority Whip from South Carolina, offered another perspective about Bill Powell.
 
Clyburn said that Powell's mission to break down barriers is an ongoing example of the difference between "winning" and "victorious."
"You know you can win a golf match because the other guy missed a putt," he said, "but you are victorious in a golf match when you do something that may be against the odds; does something that may overcome the odds . . . I think that Bill Powell decided that he would not be a victim, he would be victorious. That to me is something much, much more laudatory than just winning."
 
Today, Clearview Golf Club is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
 
"It was his will not to allow things to hold him down," says Renee of her father's resiliency. "If you continue always ponder on the negative, you can never get anything positive done. That's one of the positive life lessons he's taught us."
 
Bill Powell, one of golf's most selfless ambassadors, was posthumously inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame in 2013. He was followed into the Hall by his daughter, Renee, on Nov. 3, 2017, the only father-daughter combination to receive the PGA's highest lifetime honor.