Bill Powell left this realm on New Years Eve with fewer accolades than he deserved, but more than most who share his admirable ideals. On the final day of what he called “the best year of my life,” Powell died at the age of 93 in Canton, Ohio.
Recognition didn’t mean much to the first African American to build, own and operate a golf course, but he understood the importance of the world picking up on the mission of his Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, the centre of his life, along with his family.
BROKE DOWN BARRIERS
Powell opened Clearview despite being refused a GI loan when he returned from World War II. Besides developing women’s and youth programs, Clearview not only welcomed blacks at a time when many golf courses wouldn’t, but also whites with the admirable goal of everybody playing together.
After building began in 1946, the first nine holes at Clearview opened in 1948 and nine more opened in 1978.
“I didn’t build this course for any of the recognition,” he said in his autobiography, Clearview, America’s Course.
“It was a labour of love. Golf is a part of society and I wanted to be included. I want you to be included too,” he said, with a message that is also important in Canada, with our multicultural society.
Most of the honours that went to Powell and his family came in the past 20 years. The year that just past included the Distinguished Service Award from the PGA of America during PGA Championship week in Minnesota.
He was inducted into the Northern Ohio PGA Hall of Fame, was named Person of the Year by the Ohio Golf Course Owners Association, while his family was recognized by the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce.
There is still one glaring omission and there is a movement to have Powell, who did most of his work in anonymity, inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla.
Powell’s legacy continues through his daughter, Renee, the second African American to play on the LPGA Tour. His son, Larry, has been the superintendent at Clearview for more than 30 years.
While continuing that legacy is the ultimate tribute, the gentle but determined style with which Powell operated in the face of prejudice that would inflame most, makes one of the great builders of the game a worthy Hall of Fame candidate.
Induction is not something he craved, but his actions are something that the game badly needed. This is a story that needs to be told in St. Augustine.
Stories to watch for
Will the LPGA be able to survive with just 24 tournaments, 11 of them outside the United States? … Will it still be the CN Canadian Women’s Open after this year’s tournament in Winnipeg? Losing CN as title sponsor would hurt more than a Manitoba mosquito bite since CN has taken the tournament to new heights … In a game regularly slammed for lack of affordability, how will golfers react in July when they start paying the HST in Ontario and British Columbia? … The popular theory about Tiger Woods’ return is that he will wait until the last moment to commit in order to limit press credentials. One popular theory has Woods playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational, just a couple of weeks before the Masters and not far from his Orlando home. Of course, the lords of Augusta won’t exactly be welcoming to the tabloid and gossip media.