CANTON, Ohio – Bill Powell, the first African American to build, own and operate a golf course, died Thursday. He was 93.
The PGA of America said Powell died at Aultman Hospital in Canton following complications from a stroke.
“Bill Powell will forever be one of golf’s most unforgettable American heroes,” PGA of America president Jim Remy said. “Bill made us appreciate the game and each other that much more by his gentle, yet firm example.
“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 color. The PGA of America is better today because of individuals like Bill Powell. We will miss him dearly. We extend our thoughts and prayers to his family as we remember a wonderful man.”
In August, Powell received the PGA Distinguished Service Award, the association’s highest annual honor. In November, he was inducted into the Northern Ohio PGA Hall of Fame and honored as the Person of the Year by the Ohio Golf Course Owners Association.
The Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce also recently presented the Powell family with its Community Salute Award.
“My father made a mark,” said daughter Renee Powell, the second black player to compete on the LPGA Tour. “And, I believe that God wanted people to know the mark that he made on this nation.”
The grandson of Alabama slaves, Powell created Clearview Golf Club after returning home following World War II. While serving in Europe, he earned the rank of Technical Sergeant in the U.S. Eighth Air Force Truck Battalion.
Powell worked 18-hour days to support his family and build Clearview. Denied a GI Loan, he found funding from two African American physicians, and his brother took out a second mortgage on his home.
Powell went on to carve Clearview out of former dairy farmland in 1946, clearing the land himself. In the process, Powell broke down racial barriers without fanfare by developing female and youth golf leagues.
Clearview opened its initial nine holes in 1948. Powell eventually repaid his benefactors to gain full ownership, and nine more holes were completed in 1978. Clearview is on the National Register of Historic Places, and nicknamed “America’s Course.”
“I didn’t build this course for any of the recognition,” Powell said in his 2000 autobiography, “Clearview: America’s Course.” “It was a labor of love. Golf is a part of society and I wanted to be included. I want you to be included, too. I’ve always felt that each individual should leave something behind of meaning. It feels good to know that I have done that with Clearview, at long last.”
In 1992, the Powells were honored by the National Golf Foundation as the Jack Nicklaus Golf Family of the Year. That year, Powell was awarded the “Cornerstone of Freedom Award” from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.
Powell was inducted into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in 1996, and became a PGA Life Member in 1999. Powell also received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from his alma mater, Wilberforce University, and from Baldwin-Wallace College.
Powell also played a role in The First Tee, which has distributed more than 1,100 William J. Powell Scholarships that allow youngsters to attend The First Tee Life Skills and Leadership Academies conducted on college campuses.
Powell was preceded in death by wife Marcella and son William. In addition to daughter Renee, he’s survived by son Larry, who has served for more than 30 years as superintendent at Clearview Golf Club, and twin sisters Mary Alice Walker and Rose Marie Mathews. Funeral arrangements are pending.