San Francisco Clubs Helped Trainer Progress
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in Global Golf Post after Martin Trainer captured the El Bosque Mexico Championship on the Web.com Tour in March 2018. Trainer won his first PGA Tour event last week at the Puerto Rico Open. We are reprising this story in recognition of that victory.
It warms the cockles when good things happen to good people in golf, and I could not help but delight in the news earlier this month of 26-year-old Martin Trainer winning his first Web.com Tour event, the El Bosque Mexico Championship. The French-born California transplant who learned to play the game on a municipal track in Palo Alto had made it into the tournament on a sponsor’s exemption after securing the last spot in a qualifier playoff. He then went on to shoot 14-under and win by two strokes, collecting in the process a first-place check for $117,000 that will it make it that much easier to afford the move he just made to the Haight district in San Francisco after living with parents once he finished college five years ago.
But what makes the story even better is the assistance he has been receiving from an entirely different source. And that would be the members of the California Golf Club of San Francisco, aka the Cal Club, in the form of a deeply discounted membership so he had a proper place to play and practice his craft. According to Al Jamieson, a past president of that historic retreat with the towering eucalyptus trees and the Alister MacKenzie bunkering, the inspiration for that move came rather indirectly from the late Ken Venturi.
A native of San Francisco and a formidable amateur golfer of very modest means in the early 1950s, Venturi was working in the Bay Area at the time at a car dealership owned by Eddie Lowery, who had toted Francis Ouimet’s bag during that golfer’s epic win in the 1913 U.S. Open. Lowery introduced Venturi to influential members of the club, and they let him play and practice at the Cal Club for a nominal fee. In time, the man whose 14 PGA Tour wins included the 1964 U.S. Open became an honorary member as well as a frequent visitor. And he was so beloved that after architect Kyle Phillips revamped the layout in the mid-2000s – and helped elevate it onto the lists of the top 100 courses in the country – Cal Club leaders decreed that the back markers should henceforth be called the Venturi Tees. Then in 2011, two years before the old pro passed, they initiated a program to support aspiring tour professionals by inviting the most worthy to become Venturi Members, making it possible for them to have the same sort of low-cost access to their facilities that he did. The first of those was none other than Martin Trainer, and since then the club has extended the offer to a half dozen other golfers.
As a young boy, Trainer could not have possibly imagined such success with competitive golf, or such an association with a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Born in Paris to a French mother and an American father, Trainer was 5 years old when he moved with them and his older brother to Palo Alto. “My dad was a casual golfer, and at a certain point I started tagging along when he went to the course,” he recalls. “I started playing when I was 10, and by the time I was 12 or 13, I had given up on other sports so I could focus on golf. I liked it that much.”
“… I did not feel I belonged in (the U.S. Amateur) field. The rough was 6 inches high. … But the experience turned out to be something of an inducement as it showed me how much better I needed to become.” – Martin Trainer
Trainer spent hours as a teenager playing and practicing on the Palo Alto muni. “I had friends who worked at the range, and they would slip me tokens so I could keep hitting balls,” he remembers. “My mother dropped me off there on weekend mornings and then picked me up at night.”
He improved so much and so quickly that he managed to qualify for both the U.S. Junior Amateur and the U.S. Amateur when he was only 16 years old. “What was really fun about the U.S. Am was its being held at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, just up the road from my home,” he recalls. “But I did not feel I belonged in that field. The rough was 6 inches high, and the course was set up to host an Open. Even though I was a scratch handicap, I had no idea what I was doing. But the experience turned out to be something of an inducement as it showed me how much better I needed to become.”
As a senior at Gunn High School in Palo Alto the following year, Trainer won the 2008 San Francisco City Golf Championship, a tournament, by the way, that Venturi had captured three times in the 1950s. That raised the teenager’s profile to such a degree that colleges began recruiting him, and in the fall of 2009 Trainer started attending the University of Southern California on a golf scholarship. He says he had a good but not great college career, the highlight being his taking the individual title in 2011 of the Pac-10 Championship (a couple of months before the conference expanded to become the Pac-12). “I had a lot of my high school friends in the gallery, and it was the first time they really got to watch me play,” he says. “It was also when they first started to understand what I was trying to do with golf.”
One person who understood his quest was Cal Club board member Henry Bullock. “Henry knew about Martin and was the one who proposed creating the Venturi Memberships,” says Jamieson. “The idea was for it to be a very select program at almost no cost for young golfers who hoped to play professionally.”
Trainer was a junior at USC when he became the first Venturi member. And once he graduated from that school in 2013 with a degree in business administration, he turned professional and began competing. He joined the PGA Tour Latinoamérica in 2014 and played on that circuit for three years, even winning the Mazatlan Open in Mexico in 2016. The next season was a bit of a downer, as he was unable to earn more than conditional status on the Web.com Tour and was only able to get into a handful of events. But Trainer never gave up, and he never stopped working on his game. Even when putts didn’t fall and money got tight.
“I’d go to the Cal Club every day I was in town,” he says. “I’d practice. I’d play with members whenever I could, too, as I wanted to get to know as many of them as possible. If not for the Cal Club, I would have had to move to some place like Texas or Arizona or Florida where other tour professionals were, and where I could play all the time. And I am not sure how it would have worked.”
“But it worked for me at the Cal Club, and they gave me a unique opportunity to work on my game and be able to live at home,” Trainer adds. “They treated me like one of their own and made me feel so welcome. I owe them so much.”
Members at the Cal Club are grateful to Trainer, whose caddie at El Bosque carried a Venturi Member bag the entire tournament. They like that he is such an upstanding young man. And they appreciate how he has taken advantage of the extraordinary opportunities they have given him and worked so hard to get better.
His first Web.com Tour win – and now his first PGA Tour win at the Puerto Rico Open on Sunday – gives them something they can celebrate together.
Martin Trainer celebrates following his birdie putt on the 18th green to win the Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach Golf and Country Club. Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
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