Renee Powell's Early Legacy Has Massachusetts Roots - MASSGOLF

Renee Powell Has Long Made Waves For Black Female Golfers

As we celebrate and honor the lives and legacies of Massachusetts golfers during Black History Month, we also celebrate the commencement of these legacies during events that shaped history on the grounds of clubs and courses throughout the commonwealth.

Amidst the history of African American women playing the great game of golf, we always stumble on the name Althea Gibson. A force of nature of her time. First, Gibson took the tennis world by storm as the first African American woman to play, and she wasn’t afraid to do it for the game of golf.

As any other prominent figure in their sport, there was a crowd that looked up to Gibson. Prominent among them at one point was Renee Powell, a junior golfer from Ohio.

In 1961, on the grounds of Ponkapoag Golf Course in Canton, the worlds of these two courageous golfers first collided during that year’s United Golfers Association Championship, and Powell made headlines at just 15 years old. 

It’s worth noting that the existence of the UGA Championship where Gibson and Powell got on the competitive stage together would not have been possible without Mapledale Country Club, home of the very first Negro National Open, later the United Golfers Association Negro National Championship. Mapledale, now Stow Acres, hosted the first national championship for African American golfers on Labor Day weekend 1926. The championship evolved into the United Golfers’ Association Championship, hosted at Ponkapoag, Braintree, Easton, and other Greater Boston courses between 1941 and 1974. 

Powell played well but was defeated in the second round of the 1961 championship by Clara Bigelow of Coonamessett. 

The 1961 championship was headlined in the Boston Globe “Renee Powell, 15 Amazing Golfer; Ohio Girl Crowds Althea for Spotlight at Ponkapoag.”

“Miss Powell is one of those girls with a certain advantage, since she almost literally grew up on a golf course,” read the Globe story written by Tom Fitzgerald.

This “advantage” is the reality that historically Black people did not have access to the amenity that is a golf facility. Renee Powell’s father Bill understood it and built and operated his own golf course in East Canton, Ohio. Clearview Golf Club was a quest to create an opportunity to correct injustice and give everyone a place to play the game.

In 2022 Powell announced the launch of an education center at Clearview Golf Club.

Bill Powell once told Jim McCabe of the Boston Globe, “He never thought he’d be famous or known worldwide,” and yet before his death in 2009, he was bestowed the PGA Distinguished Service Award by the PGA of America in return for his nobility in changing a piece of golf history. Renee Powell lives the legacy that her father built by still operating as Clearview’s head professional. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places more than 20 years ago as the first golf course built, owned, and operated by Black people, Clearview is where Renee Powell learned to play golf.

Renee and her father visited St. Andrews where she was honored with a doctorate degree from the University of St. Andrews.

“My father thought life should be more like golf. The golf ball didn’t know the color of your skin, your race or gender,” Powell shared to the LPGA in her #DriveOn story. 

Just six years following the UGA championship in Massachusetts, Powell became the second woman of color to join the LPGA. Gibson being the first. 

One month following the 1961 United Golf Association Championship at Ponkapoag, the PGA of America would officially strike the “Caucasian Only” clause from its bylaws, a pivotal moment for the game of golf. This bridge for the game of golf seems nearly impossible without the commitments that so many golfers made to the game while directly facing discrimination, and Gibson and Powell were out front making it possible for many minority golfers who later take up the game in decades to come. 

Powell picked up a club for the first time at age 3. She played seriously starting at age 10, and continues today.

Renee is now recognized in 12 Halls of Fames. Her other notable awards include being named PGA of America First Lady of Golf, the LPGA Rolex For the Love of the Game Award, the PGA Tour Card Walker Award, the USGA Ike Grainger Award, the LPGA Pioneer Award, and the inaugural Charlie Sifford Award for advancing diversity in the game of golf.

Powell is still striving to advance the game. From teaching at Clearview in Ohio, she understands the importance of the values the game of golf brings. Aside from teaching, her impact on the advancements of the game stretch through her living legacy. The LPGA*USGA Girls Golf Fund has designed the Renee Powell Grant that is awarded through The LPGA Foundation. Established in 2020, the objective of the Renee Powell Grant is to provide need-based grants to LPGA*USGA Girls Golf programs that are inclusive of Black communities as part of their initiatives. The grants will provide access, instruction, equipment and additional expenses required to be introduced to the game of golf and stay engaged with the sport.

About Mass Golf

Mass Golf is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is dedicated to advancing golf in Massachusetts by building an engaged community around the sport.

With a community made up of over 120,000 golf enthusiasts and over 360 member clubs, Mass Golf is one of the largest state golf associations in the country. Members enjoy the benefits of handicapping, engaging golf content, course rating and scoring services along with the opportunity to compete in an array of events for golfers of all ages and abilities.

At the forefront of junior development, Mass Golf is proud to offer programming to youth in the state through First Tee Massachusetts and subsidized rounds of golf by way of Youth on Course.

For more news about Mass Golf, follow along on FacebookXInstagram, and YouTube.