Respect: William “Bill” Powell – Golf Course Pioneer

williampowell

 

In 1946 at the age of 28, William (Bill) J Powell became the only (black) American to design, build, own and operate a golf course anywhere in the United States. In 1946, Mr. Powell broke ground in East Canton, Ohio for what is today the Clearview Golf Course. The first 9 holes opened in 1948; his wife Marcella did most of the landscaping by hand! When the second 9 holes were added, Clearview became an 18 hole golf course. In 2001, an Ohio Historical Marker was placed on the first tee and Clearview was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior. Of the over 16,000 golf courses in the United States, there are only 15 listed on the National Register. Also in 2001, the Clearview Legacy Foundation for education, preservation and research (a 501c3 tax exempt charitable foundation) was formed.

He grew up in Minerva, Ohio where his family was the only black family in the small town. At the age of nine, he discovered the game of golf and began playing and caddying at the golf course which was being built in his hometown. He learned to play golf as a caddy, like so many other greats such as Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen; he became very passionate about the game. Bill captained both the golf and football teams at Minerva High School. Although he played golf in high school at various golf courses–both private and public–he found that after graduation he was not welcome at those same area golf courses, simply because of the color of his skin.

In 1937 he formed the first golf team at Wilberforce University along with his older brother Berry. History was made when Wilberforce University and Ohio Northern University played a match against each other. This was the first time in American history that a black college and a white college competed against each other in the sport. In that match and in one later that year, Wilberforce was victorious.

When WWII broke out, Bill was sent to the European theatre. At that time, the US Armed Forces were completely segregated and remained so until President Harry Truman signed an executive order to integrate the US Military. While serving in Scotland and England, Bill was welcomed to play golf during occasional days off. After returning home from the War, he went to play some of the local courses, as he thought segregation and discrimination towards blacks had changed– but found that even as a veteran of WWII he still was not welcomed at local golf courses. He set out to do what he felt was the only thing he could do: to build a golf course that everyone regardless of the color of their hair, skin, nationality, or religion could enjoy without suffering the same indignities that he did in his own country.

In order to build the golf course, he needed land and money. When he went to the bank, he was denied a GI loan, because of the color of his skin. His white counterparts returning home from WWII had no such problems. He became even more determined to make a change-– he taught two black doctors how to play the game and they each put in one-third of the money so that he could buy the plot of land he found for the course. The proposed location was located along the Lincoln Highway-– the first and only coast to coast highway in the US at that time. The land was an old run down dairy farm, but he saw the incredible potential for a beautiful golf course, which he literally began to build the day he moved in with his family. In 1946 while building Clearview, he also held down a full time job in order to support his wife and two children.

Bill Powell became a golf course architect, builder, superintendent, and golf professional at the tender age of 28. No one taught him how to lay out a golf course, and he did not have the equipment to move dirt and build courses as they do today. He did not go to class to learn about agronomy and turfgrass, nor was he able to join the ranks of the PGA-– but he excelled in every aspect of what it took to build a course despite having every obstacle put in front of him, because of the color of his skin. Out of sheer pride, determination and the desire to make a difference, he built Clearview Golf Course over 60 years ago.

Clearview became a family project and business, as he taught each member of his family how to play the game and work the course. In this family, two golf course superintendents, members of the GCSAA, two members of the PGA of America, and one LPGA Tour player were all produced. William Powell has made significant contributions to the game of golf by teaching his family the game.

It was only in the twilight of his years that people began to realize and recognize the incredible contributions and the doors he opened for others. He grew the game of golf and the business of golf, despite the obstacles he faced in a sport that was not welcoming to minorities.

It is important to name some of the honors he has received which include:

  • Induction into the Canton Negro Oldtimers Athletic Association
  • The National Golf Foundation, Jack Nicklaus Golf Family of the Year Award; Cornerstone of Freedom Award from the Dr Martin Luther King Commission.
  • The Metropolitan Golf Writers Association Family of the Year Award
  • Trend Setter in Sports Award
  • Diamond in the Rough Tribute
  • Induction into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame
  • Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Baldwin Wallace College and from Wilberforce University
  • Legends of Golf Award by the Woodholme Foundation
  • Recognition by the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus
  • Induction into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame
  • Resolutions from the Ohio Senate, and the Ohio House of Representatives
  • Recognition Award in conjunction with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
  • Unsung Hero Award from the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses
  • First Tee – Life Skills Scholarships was named in honor of Dr William Powell
  • Recipient of awards from: Ohio & Stark County NAACP
  • Induction into the Ohio Golf Hall of Fame with his daughter, Renee-– the only two people from the same family ever inducted.
  • In December of 2007, Dr Powell received the Professional of the Year Award, the highest award presented by the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation.

He has been featured in print media such as: Golf World, Golf Digest, Sports Illustrated, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The International Herald Tribune, Chicago Tribune, People Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Ebony Magazine, African American Golfer’s Digest, Guidepost and many others.

He has also been featured on electronic media such as: CBS Sunday Morning, MSNBC, The Gordon Elliot Show, CBS Special entitled “Golf Around the Globe-– Family Ties” including The Kuehne Family, The Franco Carlos Family and the Powell Family. He was one of two special guests of the PGA of America during their 90 year celebration recognizing where the original PGA charter was signed.

During the dedication of the WWII Memorial, he was invited by the Smithsonian Institute to be a special guest and attend the National World War II Reunion. While there, he participated in the Wartime Stories Pavilion along with actor Ossie Davis. Their topic was: “The African American Experience During WWII.” As an American and a veteran of WWII, this was one of the proudest highlights of his life.

His life was one of many lifetime achievements.

Clearview Golf Course, PO Box 30196, East Canton, OH 44730 Tel: (330)488-0404

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