The kid had just snuck onto the Llanerch Country Club course when he saw Marty Lyons heading toward him. Maybe he’d just get thrown off, though things could get worse. Perhaps a call to the police—or to his parents. Instead, Lyons exited his car and offered some help: “Let me show you how to get out of a sand trap.”
At the time, Lyons was head golf pro at Llanerch, intent on improving the club’s local profile and also committed to introducing youngsters to the game. He loved golf—and he wanted everybody else to love it, too.
The Philadelphia native spent 33 years as head pro at Llanerch. During that time, he began what would become a robust junior golf program, trained champions and helped convince the PGA to bring its championship to the course in 1958. Lyons was active in helping wounded war veterans gain access to the game, and he served in a variety of capacities with local and national PGA chapters. This past November, he was inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Milwaukee.
“He loved golf and wanted to share it with everybody,” says his grandson, Marty Farrell, who was 2 years old when Lyons died of heart attack in 1968. “I’m sorry I didn’t know him. I wish he was around to give me a lesson.”
Lyons would talk golf with anyone, and he was always happy to share some of his expertise. An evangelist for the game, he believed it should be accessible to more than just the country club set. “He was ahead of his time, in terms of inclusivity,” says his granddaughter, Cathy McGeever. “It didn’t matter to him whether a man, woman or child wanted to play.”
Lyons was a good player, particularly when it came to escaping the sand. But his true joy came in helping others with their game. Lyons never hoisted a trophy for winning a major tournament, though he did qualify once for the PGA championship. But he still had a significant impact on the game. “He knew everybody, and everybody loved him,” says Pete Trenham, historian for the PGA’s Philadelphia chapter.
Whenever a new priest would arrive for a residency at Sacred Heart Church, Father John Hickey, the parish’s founder and first pastor, would send the new conscript across West Chester Pike to see Lyons, who’d set him up with clubs, a bag and shoes. “He taught [the late] Cardinal [John] Krol how to play,” Farrell says. “He’d go to the cardinal’s residence once a week and play cards.”
There was also the time Ed Sullivan visited Llanerch, and Lyons was charged with returning the star to 30th Street Station for his train back to New York. There was some extra time, so Lyons brought Sullivan over to the Sacred Heart convent to meet the nuns. It wasn’t the first time Lyons had hosted big names. In 1943, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope played an exhibition match at Llanerch that sold $5,000 in war bonds.
Lyons’ wife, Catherine, always told her grandchildren that her husband never used any bad language and was always quite refined. There was an occasional exception—like the time a new member went to a sporting goods store to get outfitted, rather than coming to the Llanerch pro shop, where sales yielded a commission for Lyons. “He had some choice words that time,” says Farrell, laughing.
Lyons began his golf journey in 1913 at age 9, walking six miles from his Philadelphia home to Llanerch (then the Athletic Club of Philadelphia) to help the head pro fix golf clubs. At 16, he dropped out of school to become the caddymaster. He became assistant pro two years later.
In 1928, Lyons took the job of head pro at a golf club in New Jersey. He returned to Llanerch in 1934 as assistant pro before taking over the reins the next year. Lyons started the club’s junior golf program, mentoring Dorothy Germain Porter, who won the 1949 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. Another student was Buddy Marucci, the 2008 U.S. Senior Amateur title winner.
Lyons taught golf at five high schools and seven colleges, but his instructional impact wasn’t just on younger golfers. After former Alabama football player Charley Boswell was blinded during World War II, Lyons taught him how to play golf. Boswell went on to win 16 national Blind Golf Association championships and 11 international titles.
Perhaps Lyons’ most impressive feat was bringing the 1958 PGA Championship to Llanerch, convincing CBS to televise it for the first time. John Facenda, the legendary anchor at Philadelphia’s CBS aﬃliate, was a member at Llanerch. Lyons asked Facenda to intercede with the network. He even got the PGA to change the tournament from match play to stroke play, reasoning that TV audiences would enjoy seeing more than just two players competing on the last day. CBS ended up televising two and a half hours of the last round. “Because of that change, the tournament made money for the first time in several years,” Trenham says. “Llanerch made money, too.”
Lyons continued serving Llanerch and the PGA until his death. His last words were, “With the boys coming home from Vietnam, we need to get the golf course in Phoenixville going again,” referring to a course he helped bring to life during WWII.
That summed up Lyons perfectly. When he was inducted posthumously into the PGA Hall of Fame, Llanerch sent a contingent to Wisconsin for the ceremony. It was a fitting tribute to a local legend.
“He was a great promoter of golf,” McGeever says.
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