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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
people
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Supply Chain Manager

Not Specified: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's most progressive and innova...

Senior SAP FICO Consultant, £60,000 - £65,000, Manchester

£55000 - £65000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP FICO Consultant...

Service Desk Analyst - ITIL, Windows, Active Directory

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A world leading brokerage is looking for a...

IT Support Technician - URGENT - Graduate, Windows, MS Office

£30000 per annum: Harrington Starr: My client, a researcher of investment idea...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor