William Powell, an African American visionary who designed, built, owned and operated his own golf course, died on Dec. 31 at Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio after suffering complications from a stroke. He was 93.
The grandson of Alabama slaves, Powell was a WWII veteran who served in the U.S. Army Air Corp. He had been a caddy as a boy, was captain and coach of the golf club in his high school, and had played golf internationally while in the service.
But when he returned home to Ohio after the war, he was denied membership to local golf clubs and barred from playing on area courses. Undeterred, Powell worked two jobs, found two business partners, and used money raised from his brother mortgaging his home to turn a 78-acre dairy farm into an 18-hole golf course.
He began building the course, by hand, in 1946 and opened for business with the first nine holes in 1948. He completed the last nine holes 1978. He named the course Clearview Golf Club for the beautiful, panoramic views visible from the highest point on the property. Nicknamed America’s Course, Clearview is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In November of last year, Powell was named Person of the Year by the Ohio Golf Course Owners Association and inducted into the Northern Ohio PGA Hall of Fame. Black Enterprise honored him and his contributions to golf at its 16th annual Golf & Tennis Challenge in September. And in August, the Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) gave him its Distinguished Service Award, the organization’s highest honor. He also recently received the Community Salute Award from the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In his autobiography, Clearview: America’s Course (Foxsong Publishing, 2000), Powell called Clearview a labor of love and said it felt good to have left behind something meaningful as his legacy: “I didn’t build this course for any of the recognition,” he said. “Golf is a part of society and I wanted to be included. I want you to be included, too.”
In 1999, The Congressional Black Caucus awarded him its Unsung Hero Award and the PGA gave him a lifetime membership. He was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 1998 and the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in 1996. In 1992, the National Golf Foundation named the Powell family the Jack Nicklaus Golf Family of the Year. Powell was also bestowed an honorary doctorate from his alma mater Wilberforce University, and from Baldwin-Wallace College. The William J. Powell Scholarship gives young people a chance to attend The First Tee Life Skills and Leadership Academies on college campuses.
Powell leaves behind his daughter Renee Powell, a PGA/LPGA professional and only the second African American to compete in the LPGA Tour, and his youngest son, Larry, who has been the superintendant of Clearview for more than 30 years. Renee and her father were inducted into the Ohio Golf Hall of Fame in 2007. “My father made a mark,” said Renee. “And I believe that God wanted people to know the mark that he made on this nation.”
Donations may be sent to The Clearview Legacy Foundation for Education, Preservation and Research, P.O. Box 30196, East Canton, Ohio 44730, or via www.clearview-gc.com, or by calling 330-488-0404.