Clearview Golf Club (1948)

They call it “America’s Course.” It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Yet its creator, Bill Powell, once said about building Clearview Golf Club, “I wouldn't do it again. It took a toll on my family, that's all. It isn't worth it. I could have done anything to take care of my family. I chose this, and I stuck with it, that was all. I'm not a quitter."

William James Powell hailed from Greenville, Alabama where his grandparents had been slaves. His father moved the family to Minerva, Ohio in 1919 when young Bill was three years old to work in a pottery plant. Powell began working as a caddie at age nine at the town’s Edgewater Golf Club. 

Powell served in Europe during World War II, rising to the rank of Technical Sergeant in the U.S. 8th Air Force Truck Battalion. He returned to the Canton, Ohio area in 1946 but when he attempted to rekindle his love affair with golf he discovered he was not welcome at many public courses. So Bill Powell set out to build his own golf course.

He was turned down for a GI loan at his bank but got some money from two local physicians and his brother who took out a second mortgage on his house. Powell bought 78 acres of a dairy farm in East Canton and began clearing pastures and seeding the fairways by hand. At night he worked as a security guard for a ball bearing factory.

After two years of 18-hour days Clearview Golf Club opened its first nine holes in April of 1948 - and players of all races were welcome. Over the years Powell was able to pay back his investors and nine more holes were completed in 1978. By that time his daughter Renee had become the second African-American LPGA Tour member, joining in 1967 when she was 21 years old. She would play in over 250 tournaments, winning the Kelly Springfield Open in Brisbane, Australia in 1973 before returning to East Canton to be head professional at the family course.

Bill Powell continued to work his Clearview course into his 90th year, running the tractor and trimming the fairway grass. He died in late December of 2009, still considered the only African-American to build own and operate a golf course in the United States. Months earlier he had received the PGA Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor the organization bestows. Each August his legacy is remembered at the William Powell Celebrity Golf Tournament. 

 

The Dunes Golf and Beach Club (1949)

There was a golf boom going on in mid-20th century America and it seemed like Robert Trent Jones, the most prolific builder of golf courses in his era, was trying to defuse it. Where most golfer normally hit drives Jones pinched the fairways with grabby bunkers. His favorite hazard was a lake from which there was no recovery. He constructed enormous greens that bred soul-sapping three putts. His oft-stated design philosophy was to create golf holes that yielded “a difficult par but easy bogey.”

No one stewed on a Trent Jones golf course more than touring professionals. Pros believed tournament directors and the golfing public wanted to see low scores, Jones thought otherwise. When the United States Open was played on one of his layouts at Hazeltine National in Minnesota Dave Hill, who had just shot 69, said, “All this place lacks in eighty acres of corn and a few cows.”

Jones was born in Ince-in-Makerfield, England in 1906 but he did not stick around long enough to soak up British golf lore. But his was infected with the golf bug. After his parents moved to upstate New York he began working on golf courses and signed on as the golf professional at Sodus Bay Heights Golf Club. He attended Cornell University which did not have a golf architecture program so he was allowed to cobble together his own curriculum with courses in agronomy, horticulture, hydraulics, surveying, and economics. there was no degree but Jones did design nine holes on the Ithaca campus.

He did not burst onto the golf scene armed with his experience at a propitous time. He hooked up with Stanley Thompson to build courses in Canada but when the Great Depression struck he got by working on WPA projects. And then World War II halted all golf projects.

His big break came in 1948 when he was hired by Bobby Jones (no relation) to help build a golf course in his hometown of Atlanta. At Peachtree Golf Club Trent Jones was able to instigate is heroic vision for the modern golf course for the first time. Massive runway-style tees provided flexibility to accommodate both the expert and handicapper. The large “greens within a green” gave the option of four distinct pin placements for tournament play. And Peachtree was long - over 7,400 yards - since Jones was looking into a future of longer-flying golf balls, improved maintenance and golfers who trained for their sport.

Jones’ work at Peachtree brought him the job at the Dunes Club that same year. Myrtle Beach was not on the golf map in 1948, it was not really on any map. There was the 10,000-acre Brookgreen Gardens created by Archer Huntington, step-son of Collis P. Huntington, one of the builders of the Transcontinental Railroad, out of an old rice plantation as the country’s first public sculpture garden. And there was Myrtle Beach Farms that was created by the heirs of Franklin G. Burroughs who owned most of the land as part of his turpentine empire built in the 1800s. The real estate company formed in 1912 and took its name from the dominant species of tree that grew in the marshlands.

And there was one golf course. Ocean Forest Club (now Pine Lakes Country Club) epitomized Southern charm when it opened in 1927. Members enjoyed relaxing in the clubhouses that harkened back to antebellum days with its parade of two-story white columns. The golf course was designed by Robert White, a native of St. Andrews who came to America at the age of 20 in 1894 to be an agronomist. He drifted into golf and designed many courses around the Mid-Atlantic region, especially Pennsylvania. While serving as pro at the Shawnee Country Club White was elected the first president of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America in 1916.

The idea for a second course in Myrtle Beach was William A. Kimbel who owned the Myrtle Beach News. He believed that with the war over it was time to start attracting vacationers and began actively editorializing in his paper for recreational facilities. His call was heard and the town’s civic base stepped up. The land was supplied by Myrtle Beach Farms and Jones found it, “a lovely piece of land studded with live oaks.” 

Jones thread holes through the Spanish Moss-draped oaks and along the edges of a marshy spigot into the Atlantic Ocean known as the Singleton Swash. But one hole stood out among all others - a 590-yard dogleg right that bends so severely around Lake Singleton that Dan Jenkins one observed, “The only way to reach the green is to charter a boat.” 

Tagged “Waterloo,” the 13th hole at the Dunes Club was the ancestor of what today is known as a “signature hole.” In an era when few golfers knew the names of golf architects Robert Trent Jones, an inveterate self-promoter, made sure that his courses carried his “signature.” There would be 420 of them in 28 countries. He designed a putting green at the White House and a hole at St. David’s with three separate tees. Seventy-nine national championships had been played at Jones courses at the time of his death in 2000 at the age of 93. He boasted, correctly, “that the sun never sets on a Robert Trent Jones Course.” And of all the more than 7,000 holes Jones designed no single one was ever more famous than the 13th at the Dunes Club. 

The 13th, nicknamed "Waterloo," at the Dunes Club became the signature hole of the entire Grand Strand.

With the opening of the Dunes Club Myrtle Beach now had a sensational new golf destination, but no golfers. So in 1954 the club’s first pro, Jimmy D’Angelo, decided to throw a springtime bash for sunshine-starved Northern golf writers who were leaving winter behind to cover the Masters. After the first Dunes golf party in 1954 the Golf Writers Association of America made Myrtle Beach an annual tradition - all the while filing articles raving about the Dunes Club. Publisher Henry Luce dispatched 67 of his writers and editors to Pine Lakes to brainstorm a weekly sports magazine and the ink-stained wretches returned with Sports Illustrated.

The Dunes Golf and Beach Club hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 1962 and the golf world discovered what the golf writers had been scribbling about. The winning score was thirteen over par - the highest in the history of the tournament. The cut line was at +22 and 23-year old Murle Lindstrom, who planning to give up professional golf coming into the tournament after five winless years, made up five strokes in the final round to win with a 301 total. She wound up playing another 22 years.

But Myrtle Beach was still far from the “Golf Capital of the World.” The town was essentially a beach resort and come Labor Day the boardwalks rolled up for the season. In the 1960s there were only seven golf courses and they pooled together $43,000 to start Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday to pitch affordable “shoulder-season” golf directly at the golfers in Washington and Philadelphia and New York who could reach the greens of the Grand Strand in a single day’s drive.

The Myrtle Beach golf package with greens fees, carts, room and buffet breakfast became a staple of the golfing world. By the end of the century there were more than 100 golf courses and “Myrtle Beach” encompassed a 60-mile stretch between Georgetown in the south and Southport, North Carolina to the north. Over four million rounds of golf were being played on the Grand Strand. That is a heap of easy bogies.