Star Watertown Golfer Killed in WWII Will be Remembered, Again

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Watertown's Leo J. Martin was an outstanding amateur golfer in the 1930s and -40s, and died in World War II. A golf course in Weston was dedicated to him.

Watertown’s Leo J. Martin was an outstanding amateur golfer in the 1930s and -40s, and died in World War II. A golf course in Weston was dedicated to him.

In the late 1930s, a pair of twins from Watertown dominated amateur golf in Massachusetts, winning the state championship and other prestigious tournaments. The United States’ entry into World War II, however, put golf on pause and for one of the twins, Leo J. Martin, it was the end. He was killed in action.

Martin’s golf prowess was so well known that after his death, the state changed the name of the Riverside Golf Course in Weston to the Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course. While the name remains, the plaque explaining why the course bears his name disappeared. State Rep. John Lawn and one of Martin’s nephews, Leo G. Martin, plan to change that.

Leo G. Martin, a long time member of the Watertown Conservation Commission, did not meet his uncle but heard the stories. He also knew Leo’s twin, Ed, who passed away in 1990 at the age of 75.

Both twins excelled on the links, and both won state amateur titles.

“Leo was always a bit better,” Martin said.

Randolph and Catherine Martin also had another son, Randolph (Leo G.’s father), and a daughter, Kathleen. The Martins grew up most of their lives without a father, who died in the 1918 Influenza.

““He went to a Red Sox game and was dead within three days,” Martin said.

Talented Twosome

Leo and Ed learned to golf at an early age, and as teens became caddies, first at Waltham Country Club and then Oakley Country Club. In 1932, Leo won the Massachusetts Caddie Tournament with a tournament record score.

The success continued, with Leo finishing in the semifinals of the state junior tourney in 1933, and he captained the Watertown High School golf team to the Greater Boston Interscholastic Championship. The twins were also standouts on the WHS hockey team.

The 1934 Watertown High School graduates got their first win as a team at the Oakley Country Club 4-ball tournament when they were still students, Martin said. Their triumph came with a bit of a price.

“They skipped school to play in it and won it. They won against adults,” Martin said. “One of the teachers was there and told the principal who gave them a reprimand, and letter that said ‘Congratulations, but you skipped school.'”

Leo G. Martin tried to figure out how many tournaments the twins won, but he could not determine the exact number. Leo had a success at the state’s highest amateur event, being the medalist (the tourney’s top seed) twice, reached the finals three times, and won once.

In 1936, Leo was the runner-up in the state Amateur Championship, and then teamed with Joe Stein to win the final amateur-professional event of the New England PGA season, according to a story written when Leo was inducted into the Watertown High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

At the time, the Boston Herald said: “Since he won the state caddy championship at the age of 15, Matin has established himself as the most successful amateur in the Bay State from the viewpoint of championship competition.”

State, National Success & the Judge

The pair excelled in 1937, when they qualified for the U.S. Amateur Open, which was held in Portland, Ore. The twins drove themselves across country to participate in the tournament at Alderwood Country Club. (The course closed in 1953 to make way for a runway expansion at Portland International Airport).

As amateurs, the Martins did not collect any prize money or get expenses for playing in the tournament. They were assisted by members of their club, and by a friend and competitor, Joseph Monahan, according to Leo G. Martin. Monahan was the chief of Middlesex County Probate Court, and was seven time champion of the annual father-son tournament at Winchester Country Club, the oldest such tournament in the nation. Monahan’s grandson, Jay, is now the commissioner of the PGA Tour.

Leo beat Monahan in the Sandy Burr club championship, but Monahan went on to play an important role in the Martin’s lives.

“Monahan acted as surrogate father, spiritual leader, and financial backer for all their cross-country trips to compete in the U.S. Amateur,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Jim McCabe in an August 18, 2000, article about the twins when Leo was inducted into the WHS Athletic Hall of Fame.

In the 1940s, Leo built a rivalry with Waltham’s Ted Bishop, who he faced multiple times in big competitions. In the 1940 Mass. Amateur, Bishop beat Leo, but weeks later, Leo turned the tables and won the New England Amateur title over Bishop. After the win, Trapelo Golf Course in Weston held Leo J. Martin Field Day in honor of his title.

In 1941 Leo lost to Bishop in the final of The Country Club Cup in Brookline, but later that year Leo claimed the Mass. Amateur Championship. Bishop lost in the semifinals that year.

War Breaks Out

That was the final state amateur tournament until after World War II. As the defending champion, Leo was named the champion for the duration. Both twins joined the armed forces in 1942.

“Ed served (in the Army) in North Africa in the war,” Martin said. “Leo was in the Navy. He was a gunner aboard a merchant vessel that went back and forth to Belfast with supplies.”

Leo was stationed in Newport, R.I., and in 1942 he came home to announce he had gotten engaged to Elfreda Doggett of Watertown. It was his last trip home.

In 1943, his ship, the S.S. Henry Wynkoop set sail from New York in a convoy filled with small arms, ammunition, tractors and trucks, according to McCabe’s article. Early on the morning of March 11, 1943 the ship struck and “unidentified submerged object,” and an alarm went off. Other ships had been torpedoed during the trip, so some on board believed the alarm was calling for the crew to abandon ship. The ship was not damaged, but 33 men went overboard.

According to McCabe: “When morning broke, the rescue effort began, and 30 of the men were soon accounted for. Three remained missing, including Leo, in the icy waters as the Wynkoop regained its convoy position for the remainder of the trip to Belfast. The war had to go on.”

A year later, the U.S. Navy officially declared him missing and presumed killed in action. In 1945, Dick Furbush, who represented Watertown in the State Legislature, got the name of the Riverside Golf Course renamed in honor of Leo, Lawn said.

The state amateur trophy Leo won in 1941 remained at his mother’s house through the war.

“There was a big trophy and a small one they keep. The winner gets to keep the big one for a year,” Martin said. “They kept it on a the piano in their house for five years. When they came back to get it, my grandmother did not give it up easily. Ed said, ‘Ma, Don’t worry. I will get it back.'”

He came close to keeping his word in the first post-war tournament. Ed lost to a familiar foe, Bishop, in the final played at Charles River Country Club. In 1948, Ed won the state amateur championship at Worcester Country Club, and he won it again three years later.

The Golf Course

The Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course sits near the interchange of Rte. 128 and the Mass. Pike in an area where Weston, Newton and Wellesley meet. The public course is run by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

Leo’s mother attended the dedication ceremony at the golf course. A plaque was installed near the clubhouse, but at some point it disappeared. State Rep. John Lawn, of Watertown, wants to change that.

“I have been working with the DCR. I want to do something nice and have a rededication at the course,” Lawn said. “So many people don’t know Leo and his twin brother lived and played in town.”

Lawn got $25,000 set aside in this year’s state budget to pay for the plaque and possibly other improvements at the course.

The course opened in May 1930, and was designed by Donald Ross, who designed many other courses, including Oakley Country Club, Belmont Country Club and Fresh Pond. Leo G. Martin said the course is a nice one, but could use some work, including an irrigation system.

Lawn said he hopes to hold the rededication ceremony sometime this fall.

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