A person holding a golf club

An obligation to move things forward

Trailblazing professional golfer Renee Powell uses the sport she excelled at to uplift women, minorities, young people, veterans and those with mental and physical challenges.

Renee Powell has never shied away from a match. She was only the second Black golfer to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. Along the way, she competed in some 250 tournaments, winning the Kelly-Springfield Open in Australia in 1973. At Ohio University and Ohio State, Powell became the first Black American to captain a major college golf team. 

At 75, Powell is the head pro at Clearview Golf Club, her family’s 75-year-old course in East Canton, Ohio, and director of the foundation dedicated to preserving it. Her aim is to bring the game of golf and its healthful benefits to women, minorities, young people, veterans and those with mental and physical challenges. “We cannot remain stagnant,” she says. “Whenever you can move things forward, I think it is an obligation of us to do so.” Since 2011, she has run Clearview H.O.P.E. (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), a free therapeutic golf program for female veterans. “They say it is such a safe haven,” Powell notes. And in partnership with Bank of America, her Clearview Legacy Foundation is looking for more opportunities to use golf as a tool to help underserved communities.

“There’s so much you can learn from the game of golf, whether it’s resilience or patience,” says Bank of America Chief Administrative Officer Andrea Smith, who serves on the PGA of America board with Powell and is friend of the trailblazing golfer. “The more people we get out there, the better we’re going to be.”

What advice Renee Powell would give her 20-year-old self?

A legacy to uphold

The story of Renee Powell wouldn’t be complete without the story of her late father, Bill Powell, who built Clearview from scratch, creating the first and only golf course designed, built and run by a Black American. A golfer growing up in Northern Ohio, Bill Powell went off to the military to fight in World War II. Based in England, he played some of Great Britain’s famous courses. But when he returned home in 1946, he found that he was still barred from most nearby courses because of the color of his skin. “He felt that as a veteran of the war that things would’ve changed,” Powell says. “But he still wasn’t welcome.”

People holding golf bag with clubs

The Powell family circa 1960: From left, Billy, Marchella, Larry, Bill and Renee

The solution? Bill, along with his wife, Marcella, decided to open their own course. With the financial help of some local Black doctors — he couldn’t get a bank loan — Bill laid out nine holes, moved earth, often by hand, and planted grass, all while working as a security guard at night. By 1948, Clearview Golf Club was open to all.

That’s where Renee got her start. Bill, who died in 2009, put a club in her hands at age three, launching her on a golf career that would take her from the amateur circuit to the rank of professional in 1967. Though fellow players welcomed her, the tour wasn’t always a friendly place. She was often refused service at restaurants. Hotel reservations disappeared when she would check in with the other pros.

None of that stopped her. And she credits her parents for the resiliency to compete on the pro tour for 13 years. Bill and Marcella told her, Powell recalls, “that you can never give up in life, no matter what.” And so she didn’t.

Building progress

As Powell tells Smith in an excerpt from a chat they shared in the video above, she would remind her 20-year-old self that everyone has a responsibility to make the world better. “We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and we need to move forward and continue that same process,” Powell says. Since her retirement from the tour in 1980, Powell has taken that message to heart, devoting her time to philanthropy and running the family course. Notes Smith, “I’m sure your father is looking down thinking how awesome it is that you’re continuing this legacy.”

A woman posing at the camera

Powell receiving an honorary doctorate from St. Andrew’s University in 2008.

In 2001, Powell set up the Clearview Legacy Foundation for Education, Preservation and Turfgrass Research, which aims to make golf available to everyone — from minorities to kids. Recently, Powell has partnered with Bank of America to identify new programs for the foundation and maintain the course as it celebrates its 75th year. “I had that obligation to make sure that the legacy of what my parents created will continue on,” she says. 

Powell has left her mark in other ways. On her more than 25 visits to Africa as a golf ambassador, she has conducted clinics across that continent. She’s an honorary member of legendary Saint Andrews golf club in Scotland and holds an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Andrews, where a building is named after her.

The momentum for making golf more inclusive, in fact, is also building. Earlier this year, golf pro Michelle Wie West joined in. Proceeds from Wie West’s LPGA #HoodieForGolf campaign are now benefiting two of Powell’s organizations: the LPGA Renee Powell Fund, which awards grants to inclusive golf programs for girls, and the Clearview Legacy Foundation.

“We’re really proud at Bank of America to be engaging with Clearview and partnering with Powell,” Smith says. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re making progress. It takes time, but we are continuing to move forward.”