Two Ohio golf legends have overcome the odds

By John Eckberg, Contributor

CINCINNATI -- Like many, if not most people who took up the country club game eight long decades ago, Percy Marshall taught himself how to play golf. But unlike most, Marshall did not whack at the ball with a worn-out seven iron or a beat-up fairway wood. Instead, he had his own approach, something that only a kid from the bottom economic rung of a small North Carolina town could create.

Because there was no money in the family, Marshall fashioned a homemade club from an old steel wash tub. The steel wire spine in the top rim of the tub was the shaft. The blade was from a portion of the tub itself, cut from the tub with a pair of metal snips. He was proud of that homemade golf and Percy kept it for many years. For golf balls, Marshall knocked around hickory nuts, paw apples and walnuts.

For Percy Marshall, it's been a long, interesting journey from those lean, Depression-era years, to his recent, ceremonious induction into the National Black Golf Hall of Fame based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Overcoming Discrimination and Helping the Poor

Nobody taught Percy Marshall Sr. how to play golf, though to this day Marshall links his life long passion for the sport to a caddying experience in 1928. He carried for English cotton salesman Willie E. Taylor. A good player with a beautiful swing. It was the first time Marshall had seen a swing that good and the first time he had truly heard the solid sound of a good movement making its way through the ball. But more importantly, Percy learned not all white men were prone to discrimination.

"He was the first person to call me Black and talk to me about Black Americans, the first person I ever heard who used that term. I'm not Afro-nothing," said Marshall.

Caddying for Taylor sparked for Percy a never ending interest in the game and it gave him a new sense of pride in himself.

Marshall, now 91, still gets up to his favorite Greater Cincinnati course, Avon Fields, from time to time, but no longer plays. He will still spend afternoons sitting on the iron bench outside the pro shop for the chatter and camaraderie.

Even after all these years, Marshall still has that washtub club he made as a young boy and it still holds a strong grip on his heart. He's kept the club all these years as a reminder of who he was and from where he came. Marshall has pledged in his will to donate the club to the National Black Golf Hall of Fame. He believes it will work as an inspiration and will help to keep golf vital among a younger generation.

"You've got to take care of the kids. Golf can bring them a lifetime of rewards, " Marshall said.

It's that belief that drove Marshall on a personal crusade. He began convincing people to donate clubs, not cash, to recreation centers in the inner city. Since it's start, his initiative has collected thousands of used golf club. Although there's been no official count, some believe Marshall is responsible for collecting some 2500 golf clubs for children.

It Takes Two

Marshall was not the only inductee from Greater Cincinnati and Avon Fields. Wilson Stone, 86, was also honored and was entered into the Hall. Stone was praised for his life-long efforts to bring more minorities into the game. A contingent of friends and family made the trip south with him for the celebration last spring.

Stone does more than just play Avon Fields in central Cincinnati. He still walks all 18 holes and does it with plenty of spirit. In fact, he wouldn't think of renting a cart. And what's more, he carries his clubs up and down the layout's rolling hills.

Stone doesn't need to worry about a lot of extra steps when he plays, either. Observers say his shots are almost always straight and true, mostly because his compact swing has never been prone to fades and hooks.

Around the clubhouse, Stone has a reputation for tenacious putting. Something he credits to his younger days when he could shoot pool with the best Cincinnati had to offer. He also credits practice. Rarely a day goes by in the spring when Stone is not at Avon at some point during the day practicing on the steep green behind the clubhouse.

"Putting and shooting pool are a lot alike," says Stone. "You have to worry about the roll, about the speed. It's about those fine hand-eye skills. You have to look and size it up."

Both men know the limits to this sport and are keenly aware of the barriers for far too many minority children. Both men have seen the worst of discrimination and know the game has come a long way, but neither is willing to give up the good fight. That's something the National Black Golf Hall Fame has acknowledged and is one of the reasons why Percy Marshall and Wilson Stone of Cincinnati, Ohio should not be forgotten.

John Eckberg, Contributor

John Eckberg has been a life-long bogey golfer, whose addiction to the sport began with nine-iron pitches to and from neighbor Frank Haines's back yard and on the golf courses in and around Akron, Ohio. His fondest golf memories date to his teenaged-years when he and his brother would annually sneak into PGA events at Firestone Country Club, then spend the day eluding marshals as part of the army that trailed Arnold Palmer.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Percy Marshall

    smith wrote on: Oct 7, 2004

    Beautiful story, recommend anyone to read.


    • RE: Percy Marshall

      John Eckberg wrote on: Jul 1, 2005

      Thanks much. Percy is quite a fellow.


  • Used golf clubs for donation to your organization

    Katherine Candee wrote on: Jul 31, 2004

    I think your message is heartwarming, at best! I have 4 sons who play golf and are always getting better and up-grading their equiptment. I have a lot of clubs and bags that I would love to give to those who cannot afford to buy them. I have been desperate to find an organization willing to accept them, I will box them and ship anywhere. Do you have an interest, or a place to direct me to donate this equiptment?
    Sincerely, Katherine Candee


    • RE: Used golf clubs for donation to your organization

      Patti wrote on: May 4, 2005

      I too have a set of golf clubs I'd love to donate and ship to any organization that would like them. I've looked and can't find anywhere who'd except them.


    • RE: Used golf clubs for donation to your organization

      Sylvia wrote on: Sep 27, 2004

      I have met Mr. Percy and he is true genteleman. He is still driving and enjoying life to the fullest. He gave my husband and I golf clubs, hopefully we will put them to good use. We need more men like Mr. Percy.