Thursday, August 13, 2009

Obama should do what Clinton didn't

By DeWayne Wickham

Twelve years ago I urged President Clinton to play a round of golf at William Powell’s golf course. He didn’t, but President Obama should.

Powell got some long overdue recognition Wednesday on the eve of the PGA Championship, one of professional golf’s most prestigious events. The 92-year-old World War II veteran was given the PGA’s 2009 distinguished service award in a ceremony that was largely ignored by the throng of reporters who showed up to cover the golf tournament.

That’s a shame.

Powell is the first black to build, own and operate a golf course in this country. When he was denied a G.I. Bill loan for the project, Powell got two black doctors and his brother to give him the money he needed to start building he course in 1946. Back then there were few places in the United States where blacks could play golf. The color line was drawn at the front door of most country clubs, which only allowed blacks in to carry the bags of golfers, but not play the game.

When Powell’s East Canton, Ohio golf course opened in 1948, the initial 9-hole layout had no racial restrictions. He added another nine holes in 1978. If Powell’s story ended just with the building of his golf course, that could have been enough to earn the recognition the PGA just gave him. But there’s more to his story.

For much of the past 51 years, Powell has struggled to keep his golf club open. During this time precious few golfers, black or white, teed the ball up at Clearview Golf Club, where his son Larry is the course superintendent, and his daughter Renee is the club’s head pro. But Powell persevered in his belief that he could operate a golf course open to all races through ’50 and ’60, a time of great racial turbulence in America.

While building his course, Powell – an accomplished collegiate and amateur golfer – also taught his daughter the game. She eventually became good enough to spend 13 years on the LPGA tour. Renee was the second of just three black women to rise to that height in the history of women’s professional golf.

Since 2001, Powell’s golf course has been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. But his field of dreams continues to struggle to keep its doors open. That’s due in part to its location. East Canton, Ohio is no golf Mecca. It’s not Myrtle Beach, Palm Springs, Orlando or Scottsdale, Ariz.

It also suffers because blacks, who play the game in increasing numbers each year, have not discovered Powell’s course, which is just a short distance from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This has to change.

Clearview is a part of the racial history of this country that should be celebrated. Tiger Woods’ foundation gives a scholarship each year in honor of Powell and his wife, Marcella. But that honor draws scant attention.

“He and his family represent the best in our sport and what it means to treat one’s neighbors with dignity and respect,” the PGA said of Powell in a press release.

He represents more than that. Powell is a pioneer who opened up the game of golf for blacks long before Woods first picked up a golf club. His integrated golf course opened for play just a year after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line. While Robinson’s breakthrough is widely celebrated, Powell’s accomplishment and his course get little notice.

That surely would change if President Obama, no stranger to a history-making effort, would play the Clearview Golf Club.

No comments: