Dream Above Par

Twice as Good: The Story of William Powell and Clearview, The Only Golf Course Designed, Built, and Owned by an African American
By Richard Michelson
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
(Sleeping Bear Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2012, $16.95)

At eight, William Powell fell in love with golf. He even ran seven miles to visit the nearest golf course. When he arrived, he asked a golfer to teach him the game. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you your kind is not welcome here?” the man replied.

It was 1924, and golf courses, like so many other American public spaces, were segregated. And in this case, there was no pretense of separate but equal: black golf courses did not exist. The only way young William could study the game or set foot on a golf course was to become a caddy. So he did.

William Powell’s principal told him he would have to be “twice as good” as his white peers to succeed in any endeavor. In Twice as Good, Richard Michelson relates how Powell took that motto to heart, pursuing the game he loved despite the obstacles he encountered at different life stages. Eventually, he purchased farmland and built Clearview Golf Course where all people were welcome. He encouraged his daughter Renée to play golf although, as an African-American girl, she faced both racial and gender barriers. Despite the prejudice Powell encountered, he never stopped playing golf or hoping for a more just world.

Together, Michelson and illustrator Eric Velasquez bring to life some of the most poignant scenes from Powell’s life. Velasquez’s paintings capture the possibility golf courses held for Powell as well as the subtle hurts and humiliations he experienced. Michelson handles the nuances of bigotry deftly: readers meet white townspeople who know and like Powell, but will not cross the color barrier to help him. When a kindhearted white man presents him with a set of golf clubs, they share his astonishment.

Twice as Good’s final illustration shows Powell hugging his teenage daughter, love and pride evident in the smile spreading over his face. Renée Powell eventually became a professional golfer, the first African-American female Class A PGA member. Sometimes, the picture-book biography suggests, working twice as hard and being twice as good aren’t enough to get us where we want to be. But they may help the next generation. It is a hard lesson, and the only thing that makes progress possible.

 Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

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