News & Tours
August 11, 2009

For Powell, an honor long overdue

CHASKA, Minn. -- One can assume that when Bill Powell set out to build his Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio 63 years ago, he didn't do it with a gala evening in his honor in mind.

Instead, Powell was merely playing the hand he was dealt: denied a G.I. Bill because of his race after serving in World War II, Powell borrowed money from a pair of black physicians, and went on to become the only African-American to design, build, own and operate a golf course. That course, Clearview, now counts itself as one of 15 golf courses on the National Register of Historic Places, and Powell finds himself the recipient of this year's PGA of America Distinguised Service Award.Â

The 92-year-old great-grandson of slaves will be honored tomorrow night at a ceremony at the Pantages Theater in downtown Minneapolis, a scene that will stand in stark contrast to the unfair predicament Powell found himself in after the war.Â

After serving as a tech sergeant in the Air Force in England and Scotland, Powell returned to Ohio, where he was a star athlete in high school, and where he first learned golf as a 9-year-old caddie. None of that mattered when he applied for first the G.I. Bill and then a loan from a local bank. Both were denied, but Powell wasn't content to just fade into the scenery.

"I had just left a country where I was treated like a human being," he told the New York Times' Larry Dorman. "So how was I supposed to be satisfied to be treated like dirt?"

So with the financial backing of two doctors, Powell bought 78 acres of land and crafted the first nine holes of Clearview -- clearing brush, seeding fairways -- mostly on his own. Nine holes became 18 in 1978, and pretty soon, Powell had spawned his own mini-golf empire. His daughter, Renee, became the second African-American to compete on the LPGA Tour, and his son, Larry, is a member of the Golf Course Superintendents of America.

And of course, there is Clearview, where Powell's influence is ever-present, and where his Distinguished Service Award will surely hang in a prominent spot.

-- Sam Weinman