William told his talented daughter that she had everything it took to win. He had taught her to play her best shots under pressure, encouraging her with words of advice about perseverance. “ ‘You never give up until you pull the ball out of the cup on the last hole,’ ” Renee recalls of her father’s guidance. “ ‘You keep working and stay positive.’ ” He also had to counsel her in ways that many of her peers on the LPGA Tour surely never needed. “Never forget who you are and never forget your color,” he would tell her, “because if you do, you will be reminded.”
Renee is one of only four African-American women ever to play in the LPGA. After leaving the tour in 1981, she ran pro shops at various golf courses, designed golf clothes in London, became a television commentator, ran golf clinics and spoke at historically black colleges and universities. She also traveled to African countries where British colonialists had built golf courses. “The people would cry out, ‘Sister! Sister,’ ” Renee remembers of her reception. “They were so proud.”
Now Renee’s life has come full circle at Clearview, bringing together all of her loves in one place. She runs several Clearview programs — including those for women military veterans, the elderly and Special Olympics athletes — to get new players excited about the game. Her brother, Larry, 61, is one of the few African-Americans in the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. “Our family has always been one of pioneers and breaking barriers,” Renee says proudly.
Darrell Crall, the chief operating officer of the PGA, agrees. “Mr. Powell was, without question, a pioneer in diversity in golf,” he says. “He was such an impressive yet humble man. His legacy is a wonderful golf course for anyone to enjoy.”
But those who know the family’s legacy understand that Renee’s talent and tireless dedication have been just as important to the course’s continued success. “Renee is pretty incredible — she has so many stories that people really have not heard yet,” says Hollis Burkes, a Clearview golfer whose family has been longtime friends of the Powell family. “She persevered at a time when she could not rent a hotel room in some cities. She has just lived her life and done these things without expecting or wanting attention.”
Former Cleveland Indians baseball player Andre Thornton, who has known Renee since they were starting their respective athletic careers, has had the chance to get to know the rest of the Powell family from playing in charity events at Clearview. “Mr. Powell’s contribution to the game of golf resonated through his vision, his commitment and his values,” he says. “Many are discovering the contributions of the family through Renee and Larry’s diligence in preserving the legacy of their parents’ courage and perseverance.”
Julie E. Washington writes about homes and gardens for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. She grew up near Clearview Golf Club, and her parents were acquaintances of William Powell.