VIENNA -By tradition, the night before the start of the West Virginia Open is reserved for a dinner to honor the past champions.
Indeed, several of those who have captured titles in the previous 79 events gathered on Tuesday night at the Parkersburg Country Club, where the 80th annual event gets under way today.
But there was something different about this dinner.
In addition to honoring the past champions, golfers from around the state gathered to celebrate the life of long-time PCC professional Larry Martin, who passed away last year.
Martin is regarded as the founder of the state's youth golf program, as 29 years ago he started the 7-11 Tour which boasted 54 players in its initial year. Today, the Callaway Junior Tour has more than 400 players across the Mountain State.
"Larry was motivated to provide those who wanted to play the game of golf the opportunity to play competitively without sacrificing the family fortunes,'' said Philip A. Reale, whose two sons took advantage of what Martin offered.
Martin is perhaps the most-decorated golf professional in West Virginia history. He won the Tri State PGA Pro of the Year Award 10 times.
Martin was eulogized by PCC member Jim Hayhurst.
"Larry had a magical way of making you feel like you were his very best friend in the world when he actually had 100s of best friends,'' Hayhurst said.
Martin built a reputation as being a workaholic.
"He approached his job as if he were the owner,'' Hayhurst said. "He was totally involved in every detail. His fingerprints are all over the Parkersburg Country Club..''
Hayhurst said when Martin arrived at PCC, the club was operating at a deficit. Once Martin took over, he generated more than $5 million without incurring any debt.
With members of the Martin family looking on, officials unveiled a portrait of Martin. It not includes his dog Whiff but also appropriately features youth golfers in the background.
Martin immediately established a code of conduct for the youth who participated in his program as well as those who worked for him. He demanded respect, responsibility and made sure the words "please'' and "thank you'' were part of their everyday vocabulary.
Hayhurst described Martin as "the king of the one-liners.'' Martin invariably would serve as the MC for tournaments at PCC and he was merciless in handing out the awards.
In addition to the fitting tribute to Martin, other highlights of Tuesday's dinner included a brief history of the West Virginia Open presented by Ken Tackett, executive director of the West Virginia Golf Association. Tackett noted that not only is the his the 80th West Virginia Open but it also is the 100th year of the WVGA.
He said this marks the fourth time Parkersburg has conducted the West Virginia Open as amateur Bill Campbell won here in 1950 and 1953 and Vienna's Jim Fankhauser claimed the championship in 1983.
Tackett said the legendary Sam Snead participated in 20 West Virginia Opens, winning 17 times.
Past champions who attended Tuesday's ceremony included Barry Fleming (1977), Matt Cooke (1981), Harold Payne (1986, '87, '88 and '93), Scott Davis (1982. '90, '95 and '98), Brad Westfall (1992, '94, 2000, '02 and and '03), John Ross (1997, '99) and David Bradshaw (2006, '08, 09, '10 and '11).