Larry "Pro" Martin
West Virginia golf lost a titan in 2012 when Larry “Pro” Martin passed away in February at age 58.
Martin was a fixture in West Virginia golf; first at the Parkersburg Country Club and later as founder and director of the now Callaway Junior Tour.
Martin died of a heart attack. He’d been battling health problems for several years, but refused to slow down.
“He was a hard-working son-of-a-gun who wouldn’t take time off for anything,” Dan Wharton Sr. said.
For years Martin carried the bag — and the standard — for junior golf in West Virginia. He founded the Top Flite Junior Tour in 1984 and ran it for more than 20 years. He was a teacher, mentor, father-figure, executive and salesman for the tour and its players. Through his efforts, thousands of kids throughout the state were introduced to the game of golf.
“He had an amazing impact on junior golf,” said Brad Ullman, the director of golf operations for the West Virginia Golf Association.
Martin spent 25 years with the Parkersburg Country Club, 18 as both general manager and head golf professional. In 1976, Martin, 23, was the youngest Class A Golf Professional in the U.S.
Dave Poe, long-time sports editor at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, knew Martin since his days at the country club. Poe said Martin played less golf than any club pro he’d ever met.
“That’s because he spent his time attending to every little detail in order to make sure those who patronized the country club had a first-class experience,” Poe said.
“If something wasn’t right, Larry made it right. He could take a disgruntled customer and make them his friend.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone with more friends than Martin, who was the biggest friend the junior golf community in the Mountain State ever will have.”
Martin was also on top of the game financially. He helped put the Parkersburg Country Club on solid footing when many other private clubs were struggling for survival, Poe said.
Martin left the Parkersburg Country Club in the mid-1990s, taking a job in golf sales with Callaway. Given his business acumen, passionate work ethic and gift for gab, Martin was a natural sales success. He was named Golf World Business Top 25 sales representatives in the country in 2005. In 2008, Callaway Golf named him Salesman of the Year.
Martin continued to work with youth golf and charitable events. He worked tirelessly as a salesman and promoter for golf. In addition to founding the state’s junior tour, Martin spent several years organizing and running the state high school golf championships and other events.
Ullman worked for Martin for close to 20 years. Martin hired Ullman as a bag boy at the Parkersburg Country Club in 1994. He continued to run the junior tour, even after health problems caught up with him and he dealt its operations to the West Virginia Golf Association.
“He was the main guy. The WVGA was just providing support” Ullman said.
Over the years, Martin earned several honors from his peers. He was named WV PGA Golf Professional of the Year 10 times, as well as Merchandiser of the Year. He was tapped as Junior Leader of the Year six times by the PGA of America Tri-State Section. And in 2005 he was awarded with the Bill Strausbaugh Award given for his dedication to golf.
Martin took pride in the kids who graduated from the junior tour and went on to off-the-course success. If a kid became a bank president or a petroleum engineer, Martin would always mention they got their start on the junior tour, Ullman said.
“It was about an affordable golf experience (for kids). It was also about how to say thank you for something and how to treat a person ... He took a lot of pride in that.”
Martin was also patron to a number of area golf programs and charitable events.
“He was best organized, hardest-working guy I ever met,” said Wharton, who worked alongside Martin on the Dave Couch Golf Tournament to Benefit ALS committee. The Couch event has event has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for research, care and comfort for ALS patients and their families.
Martin was also responsible for bringing approximately half a million dollars to Parkersburg area charities through the annual Sour Mash Open, as well as fundraisers for the Bryce/Lietzke/Martin scholarship, which is presented to high school seniors with high academic achievements and a strong interest in golf.
Poe said when the country club would conduct a golf tournament, Martin would serve as the master of ceremonies at the awards banquet. He could say something humorous about every person in the room. If he happened to leave somebody out, they likely were disappointed.
“He’s somebody that nobody else can replace,” said Don Smith.
If you would like to keep the memory of Larry Martin alive, consider donating to the Callaway Junior Tour in Larry's name. Donate online or send checks (payable to the WV Golf Foundation) to:PO BOX 2748
Charleston, WV 25330