Bill Powell: Racial pioneer who built the first open-to-all golf course in the US

Bill Powell was golf-crazy when he returned to Canton, Ohio after the Second World War.

He had played on courses all over England while serving as an Army Air Corps tech sergeant, and dreamed of playing professionally. Back in America, however, the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) was open only to whites, and when he found himself refused admission to a public course in Canton, Powell, who has died aged 93, resolved to build his own course.

The idea seemed so crazy he was refused an ex-servicemen's GI loan, and no bank would touch it. But Powell was undaunted. He got loans from two local black doctors and his brother remortgaged his house, allowing Powell to buy 78 acres of dairy land outside Canton.

While he worked nights as a security guard, he and his wife, Marcella, did most of the work themselves, taking two years before opening, in 1948, Clearview Golf Club, a nine-hole course open to any and all who wanted to play. It was the first black-owned golf course in America, and probably in the world. "Bill Powell will forever be one of golf's most unforgettable heroes," said PGA of America president, Jim Remy. "He was born with a fire within his heart to build on his dream. In the process, he made golf a beacon for people of all colour."

William James Powell was born 22 November 1916 in Greenville, Alabama, the grandson of slaves. His family moved to Minerva, Ohio, outside Canton, where his father, who had run a general store, worked in a pottery factory. Powell began caddying at a whites-only course at the age of nine, and became a good enough player to place third in a junior tournament open to all races. His status as a star on an undefeated Minerva High School gridiron team allowed him to form the school's golf team, and serve as its coach. He starred at all-black Wilberforce College, where he led the golf team to victory in the first interracial collegiate match, against Ohio Northern. Despite his education, when he returned to Canton he was hired as a janitor at a ball-bearing factory, but became the first black man promoted to the security guard job that left his days free for golf.Clearview was a success, and Powell sponsored countless women's and youth leagues to expand the reach of what was still considered an elitist game.

Eventually he bought another 72 acres and in 1978 Clearview expanded to a full 18 holes. Nicknamed "America's Course", it is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Powell passed on his love of the game to his children, starting them on cut-down clubs when they were three years old. The PGA formally integrated in 1961; Bill's daughter, Renee, competed on the Ladies PGA tour from 1967 through to 1980, and later served as the professional at Silvermere in Cobham, Surrey, while playing off the men's tees in tournaments.

In 1995 she returned as head professional to Clearview, where her brother, Larry, is course superintendent.

By then, Powell, and his achievements, had begun to be recognised. In 1992 the National Golf Foundation named the Powells Family of the Year, and he received the Martin Luther King Cornerstone of Freedom award. In 1997 he was made an honorary member of the PGA, and two years later his membership was made retroactive to 1962, making him a life member. During this year's US PGA championships, he received a Distinguished Service Award.

He died in Canton on New Years Eve, after suffering a stroke. He is survived by his son and daughter. Marcella, course manager at Clearview until her death in 1996, and a son, William Jr., predeceased him. "I didn't build this course for any of the recognition," Powell wrote.

"It was a labour of love. Golf is a part of society and I wanted to be included."

Michael Carlson

William James Powell, businessman: born Greenville, Alabama 22 November 1916; married Marcella (died 1996; one son, one daughter and one son deceased); died Canton, Ohio 31 December 2009.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
Voices
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans
voices
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and artistic director Matthew Warchus at the Old Vic party to honour Spacey
theatreStar's successor at Old Vic theatre admits he's 'allergic to hype'
Life and Style
life + healthVirginia Ironside's dilemma, during Depression Awareness Week
Arts and Entertainment
The median income for professional writers is just £10,432, less than the minimum wage
booksSurvey reveals authors' earnings
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders