“DID YOU KNOW”
In 2021, the Philadelphia PGA’s Marty Lyons was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame!
Lone overdue, Marty Lyons was inducted into the PGA of America’s Hall of Fame in November 2021. Lyons should have been inducted many years ago, but first someone had to nominate him. Deceased since 1968, his accomplishments were nearly forgotten.
Lyons spent all but six of his 55 year golf career at the Llanerch Country Club in Haverford Township, Pennsylvania. In 1913 at the age of 9, Lyons was introduced to golf when he took a six mile trolley ride from his home in West Philadelphia to caddy at Llanerch. Lyons would earn 35 cents for carrying a golf bag around the course, and then had to give the caddy master 10 cents of his earnings. The trolley fare was 5 cents each way, so some days he walked to the golf course and then home.
At age 16 Lyons dropped out of school to become the caddy master at Llanerch. Two years later he was the assistant professional at Llanerch. In 1928 he moved across the Delaware River to southern New Jersey, where he was the head professional at the Spring Hill Country Club for six years.
With his employer struggling with the Great Depression, Lyons returned to Llanerch in 1934 as the assistant to Denny Shute. Having won the British Open in 1933, Shute was away playing in tournaments and exhibitions most of 1934. The next year Shute was off to Chicago for a new head professional position. By popular acclaim of the Llanerch members, Lyons was now the head professional.
At that time the juniors could not play the Llanerch golf course until age 16. As the head professional Lyons changed that and instituted junior golf clinics where he filmed their golf swings. One year five of his junior girls broke 80. His prize pupil, Dorothy Germain, won the 1949 US Women’s Amateur.
The Philadelphia Section hosted the PGA of America’s 25th anniversary at Philadelphia’s Bellevue Stratford Hotel in September 1941. That week, the PGA Tour’s Henry Hurst Invitational was being played in Philadelphia at Torresdale-Frankford CC. The PGA officers, leading players and the national press were among the 800 that attended. Lyons and Jimmy D’Angelo served as co-chairmen.
In October 1941 Lyons was elected president of the Philadelphia PGA, an office he would hold for six years. At the 1943 spring meeting Lyons gave tournament chairman Leo Diegel full authority to use the Section’s tournament schedule to raise money for World War II charities.
Exhibitions were played with local amateurs and nationally known professionals. The Philadelphia PGA was planning to buy an ambulance for the Red Cross but someone from the Red Cross suggested they visit the Valley Forge General Hospital for wounded veterans to see what could be done there. Lyons and Diegel decided to build a nine-hole golf course on the hospital grounds. Every member of the Philadelphia donated either time, equipment or money and many did all three. Before they were done, the Philadelphia pros raised enough money to build two golf courses and three putting courses at veterans’ hospitals in the Delaware Valley. Under the leadership of the Philadelphia PGA every PGA Section in the country instituted rehabilitation programs for the wounded veterans during World War II.
Lyons was elected PGA Secretary at the 1948 national meeting. Even though he was nominated for office again, he chose to serve only one year.
At the PGA’s 1956 annual meeting, Lyons campaigned for his club to host a PGA Championship, and Llanerch was awarded the 1958 championship.
Lyons and some of the Llanerch members attended the 1957 championship in Dayton, Ohio, to learn what they could about hosting a PGA championship. When they returned Lyons wrote a letter to the PGA relating how he had attended a well-run championship that had lost money, and some of the better players had not even entered. He stated that if the format was changed from match play to stroke play, more PGA members could participate. Also with stroke play, a major television company might be interested, as the big name golfers would still be playing on the weekend.
At the 1957 PGA annual meeting, with Lyons selling his format change, the delegates voted to change their PGA Championship to stroke play. Then through the local television affiliate, Lyons sold CBS on televising the tournament.
The 1958 PGA Championship was televised, which was a first for that tournament. CBS broadcast the last three holes of the tournament on Sunday, for a total of two and one half hours. The PGA Championship turned a profit, which it hadn’t for many years. Frank Chirkinian, a young man who was producing the evening news at the CBS affiliate, produced the telecast. He went on to produce the CBS telecast of the Masters Tournament for four decades. Along with that, there was another young sports reporter named Jack Whitaker, who did interviews with the leading golfers for the nightly news at that CBS affiliate.
Lyons mentored two golf professionals, Leo Fraser and Henry Poe, who went on to be presidents of the PGA of America. He hosted the Philadelphia PGA Championship 9 times, 8 on consecutive years.
In 1968 Lyons was back in harness as the PGA Director from District Two. But that same year, at the Philadelphia Section’s spring meeting, he suffered a heart attack and died at the head table. His last words were “With the boys coming back from Vietnam, we need to get the golf course at Valley Forge Hospital going again.”
Great story Pete. Way to go!
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Thanks, Pete. I always enjoy your articles.