PGA Professional Lee Martin has made a lasting impact in golf

By Bob Buttitta
Published on

Lee Martin has a small, unassuming office located at the far end of the driving range at River Ridge Golf Course, where he's been a fixture since arriving from Saticoy Country Club in 1999.

Located on the back wall of his tiny space are photos of Martin standing with golf legends like Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Al Geiberger, players who Martin has rubbed shoulders with during his close to 50 years as one of California's preeminent teaching instructors.

Martin has used his immense teaching talents to help former students like Duffy Waldorf, Bobby Clampett, Dan Forsman and Janet Coles make their marks.

By Martin's count, his students have amassed 18 wins on the PGA, Champions and LPGA tours.

Waldorf added to the total in January by winning the Mitsubishi Electric Championship and last October when he won the Toshiba Classic for his first Champions Tour victory. When Martin reached out to Waldorf to congratulate him on his win at Toshiba, Waldorf told Martin he should feel like it was his win too.

The two started working together when Waldorf was in high school and Martin was the head pro at Saticoy Country Club. Martin saw the potential in Waldorf's game and offered to help him.

"He really worked on fundamentals, which set me up to improve basically as long as I continue to play," Waldorf said. "That is one of his great strengths -- setting up a foundation of fundamentals from which the student can then reach much greater heights with practice and competition."

"I've been lucky to have had the career I've had," the 77-year-old Martin said. "And to have a past or present student win anywhere is pretty special. They were all great athletes who have given lots of joy to me."

Martin's love for the game started as a young boy. He shagged golf balls for his father, Frank S. Martin, standing out in the grass with his baseball glove.

His father joined Saticoy Country Club, and having access to such a top-of-the-line facility allowed the younger Martin to hone his skills. As a junior in 1954, Martin was part of Oxnard High's first golf team.

After playing golf at Ventura College for two years, the coach at Los Angeles State (now Cal State Los Angeles) offered him a spot on his team.

While serving six years in the Marine Corp reserves, Martin landed his first golf job as an assistant at Bakersfield Country Club, where he met his wife JoAnne. From Bakersfield, Martin took a job back in Ventura County, joining Jim Blakely's staff at Olivas Park Golf Course (now Olivas Links). But after the flood of 1969 wiped the course out, Martin was out of a job.

Martin then went north, working four years as the head professional at Carmel Valley Golf and Country Club. It was there he met Clampett.

"His father died when he was 6, so I became a mentor of sorts for him," Martin said. "From the start, Bobby had the desire to be great. He would practice until his hands would bleed."

Clampett and Martin remain close. Now a renowned teacher himself, Clampett says he owes a lot to Martin.

"He's passionate about making a difference, helping others, always wanting to learn from the best, and being willing to go the extra mile, not for personal gain but for a much higher purpose," Clampett said. "Lee has been one of my cornerstone role models since I was 10."

While at Carmel Valley, Martin had his first and most memorable meeting with Palmer. The week before the U.S. Open, Palmer spent time at Carmel Valley and used Martin's club repair workshop. Palmer saw an old Tommy Armour putter and asked if Martin if he was using it.

"He told me he would trade me a driver for it," Martin said. "We went out to his car and there were about 30 drivers in his trunk. He told me he had played with all of them. I picked one he used at the Masters. He also gave me a putter that he had won several events with. I still have the driver but the putter got stolen."

Palmer played with Martin several times at Quail Lodge. Before the U.S. Open, Palmer found out it was Martin's birthday and asked him if he would like to join him for a practice round at Pebble Beach.

"It was a fantastic experience, playing with fans all over. I knew Pebble so I played pretty decent," Martin said. "After the round Arnie took us into Club 19 after and regaled us with stories.

"A few days later, he asked me if Joanne and I would like to go to dinner with Mark McCormack (IMG founder) and wife and he and Winnie. We had given our babysitter time off so Arnie's two daughters watched our kids. It was the greatest week in my golf life."