Powell, Renee 1946–
Renee Powell 1946–
Only three African-American women have ever played for the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association since its inception in 1950. Of those three, only Renee Powell was able to become a Professional Class A member of both the LPGA and the PGA of America. Powell played the game of golf during a time period in American history when not only was it difficult for a woman to gain respect in the sport, but also during a time when it was almost impossible for African Americans to even become accepted to a professional golf organization. Powell spent 13 years on the tees and greens gaining the respect of her peers and the sports world with her impressive playing. And while Powell never won an LPGA tour event, she still changed the face of the sport of golf, both on and off the course, promoting the need for diversity in the various professional golf associations as well as women in sports around the world.
Born to Dr. William J. and Marcella Powell on May 4, 1946, Renee Powell was immersed in the game of golf long before she could hold a club. Shortly before Powell was born, her father had already begun to design and build his own course on the dairy farm he owned. William Powell formed the first golf team at historically black college Wilberforce University in 1937 and after college attempted to continue to play the game of golf. However, he found it difficult to gain admittance to golf courses, for most of them had an “all-white” policy. So William Powell decided to design and build his own golf course in East Canton, Ohio, that would be open to all African Americans as well as any other players who wanted to play. This course became the Clearview Golf Club which remains the only African-American designed, constructed and managed golf course in the United States. It is no surprise that with a golf course in the family and a father who loved the sport that Powell would ultimately be drawn to golf.
In 1949 Powell was already being taught how to play the game of golf even though she was only three years old. Powell spent the next nine years playing golf at the Clearview Golf Club, improving her game and slowly growing up. It wasn’t until she was 12 years old that she entered her first tournament, and to the surprise of many in the crowd, she won. By the time she was 15, the crowd was no longer stunned by the amateur Powell, for she had won over thirty trophies in the
At a Glance…
Born May 4, 1946; daughter of Dr. William J. and (the late) Marcella Powell.
Career: Joined PGA in 1967; retired from PGA Tour in 1980; Clearview Golf Club, East Canton, OH., head professional.
Awards: Named honorary member, Executive Committee of the LPGA and Club Professional Division; recipient, Budget Service Award, 1999; designated Professional Class A member of both LPGA and PGA of America; named honorary member of the Executive Committee of the LPGA.
Address: Clearview Golf Club, PO Box 30196, East Canton, OH 44730.
amateur league, and had been featured in magazines such as Ebony and Sports Illustrated. Instead, Powell had a bigger rooting section then merely her parents, who often had to fight to get Powell into different tournaments where she was the only African-American player.
By 1967 Powell had competed in over 100 amateur golf tournaments and she had served as the captain of the Ohio State University Ladies Golf Team. Both she and her parents felt that she was finally ready to go professional. But this was not the easy choice it should have been for a woman of Powell’s talents. Only two African American women had ever played in the LGPA before and the most popular Althea Gibson, had not performed well on the courses comparatively to the other members and had already left the sport by 1967. There was also the issue of sponsorship to contend with, for it was expensive to join the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association as well as maintain all of the fees that went along with membership. Powell didn’t let any of this stop her however, and for the first time April of 1967, Powell stepped onto the tee as a professional golfer.
Powell’s introduction to the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association could not have come in a more hostile environment. Civil rights tensions that had been slowly rising throughout the 1960s were coming to a head and the issues of discrimination and violence against African Americans spread to all facets of life including sports. In an article appearing on www.pgatour.com, Powell remembered, “There were a lot of problems in the country at that time. And here I was a black girl, traveling with a tour, at a time when they were still lynching people in the south. I had had the security blanket of my parents, but when I got out, I didn’t have that anymore. Not when I would go into a restaurant and was refused accommodations. I was a player, but this was something white players didn’t have to go through.
It was hard for Powell to keep her focus during these years on the game of golf. Powell, however, said she kept on playing at a decent level, maintaining that she was in this situation thanks to a higher purpose. In an interview with Contemporary Black Biography, Powell recalled relying upon her faith while traveling in the South. “I remember crossing the Vicksburg Bridge, traveling through Selma, Alabama. I was lucky to be alive. Thinking about those difficult times and the things that could have happened to me while I was traveling. It was the strength of God. I was doing what he wanted me to do. I was there for a reason.” The other thing that kept Powell strong during these moments were her parents and her siblings who tried to attend as many of the events on the tour as they could. Powell’s father especially knew what she was going through and made sure to keep in contact with his daughter whenever possible.
While Powell never won an LPGA tour event during her 13 years on the tour, this did not stop Powell from having a tremendous impact on the game of golf. Merely being on the tour and visible at the tournaments, she continued to break the barrier in the sport that Gibson had broken 18 years earlier. By the time she played her final event, the 1980 Rail Charity Classic, where she recorded a hole-in-one on the second hole, Powell had been one of the top golfers on the tour and had won numerous tournaments outside of the league such as the Kelly Springfield Australian Open. But even though her days playing professional golf were over, Powell was no where near ready to lay down her clubs and leave the course.
After leaving the LPGA in 1980, Powell decided to start traveling. She so loved the game of golf that she wanted to bring it to parts of the world that had never been exposed to the sport or places where very few people had the opportunity to play. When Powell brought golf to Africa in 1981, she did so at her own expense, but brought with her a great amount of enthusiasm and deep professionalism. Her sincerity was clearly recognized by African officials. While there she helped Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda improve his game and also played in a foursome with Gambian president Sir Dawdda Jawara and his two wives. The next year, she was invited back to Africa by the United States Information Agency to teach the game to women.
Over the next fifteen years, Powell would become an even larger name in the sport of golf. She took up broadcasting for ABC and CBS sports, covering different events on both the PGA and LPGA circuits. She would also continue to play in tournaments around the world as well as introduce and teach the game of golf to any country or continent she went to. She returned to Africa several times after 1981, each time conducting more clinics and networking with dignitaries. Her clinics mainly focused in on women golfers, but Powell was happy to share her expertise with any person who was serious about learning how to play the game. Other countries such as Japan, Australia, Morocco, Spain, and England all received visits from Powell and her golf clinics aimed at educating women in the ways of golf.
Another interest of Powell’s during the 1980s was promoting golf at black colleges both in the United States as well as internationally. She would hold many lectures and golf clinics at predominantly black colleges hoping to get older teenagers and young adults interested in the game. She took that same idea and sculpted it into youth golf leagues, open to anyone, but mainly targeted to minority communities where golf had little or no exposure. Knowing that staring the game at an early age helped her, Powell began her own youth clinic. In 1995 the Renee Powell Youth Gold Camp Cadre Program was launched. Powell’s goals with the clinic were to give inner-city junior high school students an opportunity to learn to play the game of golf. Over the years the clinic has opened its doors to children of all backgrounds and nationalities and has become the premier golf camp for youths in the United States.
In the pre-Tiger Woods era, Powell’s efforts were groundbreaking. “What I enjoy most is working with people who want to learn,” Powell said in an article appearing at www.golfweb.com. “My biggest job is to carry on what was has been put before me. I am here to create a level playing field, create opportunities for everyone. I want to grow the game of golf, let people know it’s open to everyone. If I can create opportunities for people to walk through this door, I’ve done my job,” The Renee Powell Youth Gold Camp Cadre Program was so successful, the PGA Foundation used it as a model for other youth golf programs, including The First Tee, program dedicated to creating three-hole playing facilities for junior golfers in Louisville, Kentucky.
Powell has expressed openly that she is happy that she can use her status to promote the game of golf as well as healthy living and good morals. She notes, however, that one not need be famous to offer a helping hand. “Everybody has a reponsibility,” she told CBB. “Everyone can make a contribution to the world, whether it’s with a neighbor, to the church, or even with a younger sibling. You don’t have to be a prominent person to make a contribution. Everyone has an obligation to be a good example.”
For Powell, playing and promoting golf has been her entire life. She has been doing so since she was a child and continued into adulthood. Through her efforts, the game has been shown to a legion of people who otherwise it might not have been exposed to it. And in the process, she never lost her focus. “God has blessed everyone with certain talent and abilities,” she told CBB. “Set goals. Figure out what you want to do. My parents always said to leave the world in better shape than when you found it. Using that talent and those abilities you have to try to do that, make the world a better place.”
Black Enterprise, September, 1995, p. 130.
Golf Magazine, February, 1981, p. 86.
Jet Magazine, March 15, 1982, pg. 51; November 11, 1985, p. 50; October 5, 1992, p. 48.
Additional information for this profile was obtained through a personal interview conducted with Contemporary Black Biography.