For many sports, the zenith is becoming a professional.
But then there’s golf. Many a good golfer – and a few great ones – from Polk County have gone professional. But there are others who have not only achieved great things in the sport, but have contributed to others through the sport.
Enter Brant C. Martin. Having grown up with the likes of future PGA Tour greats like Andy Bean, Gary Koch and Lee Janzen and played against future University of Florida golf team members Mike Estridge, Bruce Scamehorn and Fred Ridley. Martin used the game he not only exceled at but also loved as a tool for progress.
“What can I say for a game that’s been with me for 60 years of my life,” said Martin. “I’ve made lifelong friends through the game, went places I never thought I’d go because of golf, met people I never would have met otherwise through golf. And I’ve been able to give back through the game of golf. It is a great game I have loved my entire life.”
Born in Lakeland and raised near Cleveland Heights Golf Club, his father, H.O. Martin, would take him along to the golf course.
“I started out just fetching golf balls,” he said. “Later, when I could play, those of us in the neighborhood would play golf and many other sports, all the time. We were outside all the time, from daylight to dark.”
Playing for his high school golf team the Lakeland High Dreadnaughts, he found himself teammates with many very good young golfers including Andy Bean.
Andy and I became very close friends.
“At this point, of course, he wasn’t famous,” said Martin. “But he was still a great player. I guess the great ones keep going until they make the pros.”
Martin continued on to Polk Community College, where he made the golf team and played for two years.
“We were pretty successful,” he said. “I made it to the State Junior College Championships playing against Fuzzy Zoeller and many other fine young players.”
But by the time he made it to Florida Southern, golf transitioned into a hobby.
“I was already working for my father in the insurance business, and I really didn’t see any money in golf during that time,” said Martin. “It was time to move on.”
Martin turned the insurance business into a 50-plus year career.
“My greatest achievement in my life has been my marriage to Debbie in 1977 and my two daughters, Ansley and Hunter,” he said. “Debbie is an oncology nurse at Lakeland Regional Health. Ansley is an Employment Law Projects Manager for Publix Supermarkets, Inc., while Hunter is an Oral and maxillofacial surgeon in New York City.”
Martin went on to achieve just about everything possible in amateur golf in Polk County. A three-time Cleveland Heights 4-Ball Invitational champion with teammate Mike Schroeder, the pair won in 1972, 1976 and 1983. In 1978, his team from the Imperial Lakes Golf and Country Club was low qualifier for the State of Florida and participated in the National Championship in the Hertz World Golf Hall of Fame Pro-Am Team Championship at Pinehurst, North Carolina. One of Martin’s biggest achievements was qualifying in 1981 for the USGA’s inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship – played at the prestigious Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis – as the low qualifier for his Florida section he was given the USGA’s Silver medal. He was also the men’s club champion at Grasslands Golf and Country Club in 1992 and 1993, and the Member-Member Champion in 1992, 1993 and 2003.
“I also played with some of the greatest players to ever play the game of golf including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Nick Price, Greg Norman, Payne Stewart, Lee Janzen, David Frost, Paul Azinger, Andy Bean and Sam Snead,” he said. “Some of them even became clients of mine”
But Martin wasn’t spending all his time on the golf course. As his father had taught him, it is always important to give back to your community.
“Dad had been in the Florida Jaycees. I joined the Jaycees in college,” Martin said of the leadership training and civic organization. “And when I got into business, I became involved with the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and, ultimately, on the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Lakeland, Inc.”
He served as the club’s Chairman of the annual “Musso” Golf Tournament for 20 years and as the Chairman of the PGA Tour’s Nike Tour Event when it came to Grasslands – later to become the Buy.com event – from 1997-2000. The event benefitted the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lakeland.
“It helped everyone,” he said. “It helped put Grasslands on the map and helped the kids and the clubs grow into what they are today.”
At the same time, he helped to organize the Florida Southern College Diamond Club Pro-Celebrity Golf Tournament to benefit the Florida Southern baseball team.
“We had some great celebrity names over the years,” he said. “Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax, Al Kaline, Phil and Joe Niekro – they loved and supported our tournament and program. Joe was a neighbor and a longtime friend of mine.”
Today, while he’s dialed down the tournament play, Martin still works as an insurance executive at Acentria/Jefferson-Allsopp in Lakeland.
“It’s been a great life,” said Martin. “Angie and H.O. – mom and dad and my brother Mark and my sister Lisa – were all very supportive of me. I had the best in-laws in the world, Howard and Donna Bebber. And I’ve stayed in touch with the friends I made playing golf more than 60 years ago. How many people can say that?”