Local Pro Was a Cherished Staple In the Golfing Community
After 57 years of marriage, Marty Owen knew her husband Carl quite well. For 37 years he worked as a golf professional at Charlie Vettiner Golf Course, where he developed a junior program that was the largest in the metro area. While Marty was certainly aware of Carl’s passion both for golf and for instructing teens in the sport, it wasn’t until he passed away in March 2019 that she learned of the profound impact Carl had on a legion of students through the years.
“I knew he loved kids, but I had no idea the influence he had on so many of them,” Marty says.
When Carl died, accolades poured in from all around the golfing community, including Becca Jones, who penned a five-page letter detailing how much her golf mentor meant to her, both on and off the course.
“Carl gave me my first job,” Becca says. “He taught me so much about the game of golf. He took me under his wing and treated me like a daughter. Carl taught us all how to laugh. He loved everything about life. I don’t think I ever saw him mad. The jokes he told were always interrupted by the sound of his full belly laugh either before or during the punchline.”
She mentions how Carl cared about people with his whole heart, and how that feeling of love was reciprocated by all who met him – especially junior golfers, as he recognized the potential in each and every one of them.
After Becca was grown and married, she would stop by the golf course to show off her kids and give Carl a hug.
“His hugs always made me feel better,” says Becca, who, each time they parted ways, uttered the words, “I love you, pro.”
Marty fell in love with Carl nearly six decades ago when they met at a bank where Marty worked as a teller. At the time Carl was working at a distillery and would bring deposits into the bank. He couldn’t work up the nerve to talk to Marty, so he approached one of her co-workers instead.
“He told my friend that he wanted to ask me out, and I said, ‘I don’t know anything about him,’” Marty recalls.
But word on the street was that Carl was a good guy, and that proved to be true. He won her over, and on their first date, they went to the movies to see Spartacus.
Carl was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1962, and he served two years of active duty and four years in the Army Reserve. Then he returned to the place he called home – the golf course.
Carl had a real zest for life, and he shared that vivacity with those around him. As for the young golfers he mentored, he made sure they understood that school and grades come first. Leading by example, he inspired a great work ethic. Some of his junior golfers went on to play collegiate golf on scholarships and won some of Kentucky’s major tournaments. Others became head golf professionals in Kentucky and other states. All became devoted fans of Carl Owen.
“He truly enjoyed what he did with those kids,” Marty says. “That’s where the passion came from. “Through Carl’s eyes, the glass was always half full – never half empty.”
And he lit up a room with his mega-watt smile.
“You literally can’t find a photo where he’s not smiling,” Marty says.
Carl’s longtime golfing buddy Larry Jones says he was the perfect golf instructor because he was even-keeled and slow to anger.
“He had the patience like no other I’ve ever seen,” Larry says. “I never heard him raise his voice or say a crossword with the kids. He had a way with kids. With the shy ones, he brought out their personalities.”
Carl’s golf students have countless memories of their beloved instructor – many of which revolve around ice cream. Carl was especially partial to peach ice cream and banana splits.
“He’d have ice cream three meals a day if he could,” Marty says with a laugh.
Carl owned a blue Mustang convertible. As you might imagine, teens gravitated to the cool car, and Carl didn’t mind letting his students drive it. His favorite phrase was, “I’ll buy, you fly,” and off they’d go to Graeter’s, Baskin-Robbins, or Dairy Queen for treats.
Six months after Carl purchased the vehicle, one of the kids wanted to put the top down. Something malfunctioned and the front window cracked. The student was scared to death to tell his coach what had happened, but when Carl heard the news, he just patted the teen on the back and said, “That’s alright. That’s what I’ve got insurance for.”
Becca’s brother Tim got married in 2006 when Carl was 67. He had also been one of Carl’s long-time students, and the two had bonded so much that Tim asked Carl to be in his wedding. Initially, Carl declined, thinking he’d look out of place standing beside a bunch of 20-something groomsmen. However, Tim explained how much it would mean to him and Carl agreed.
Carl, a lifelong member of the PGA, was a dynamite golfer. It’s no wonder, as he practiced almost daily.
“Carl played golf all winter long,” Larry says. “In fact, the month before he died, the winds were blowing 45 miles per hour. He had just turned 80 and he could hit the ball as far off that tee at 80 as he could at 50.”
Carl organized a men’s golf club called Pro Z, where guys played five days a week. People came from all around to compete, and the club attracted as many as 42 players on any given Thursday.
“It was a competitive game, but everybody had so much respect for Carl,” says Larry, who usually played golf with Carl a couple days a week.
For 35 years Carl played with three other retired golf pros, Gene Fawbush, Kenny Hall and Gary Feldman.
“It’s amazing they kept that group together for so long,” Larry says. “They were the best of friends.”
Larry once asked Carl, “If you had a dollar for every person you met through golf, how much money would you have?” Carl smiled and replied, “I’d be a rich man dollar-wise, but honestly I’m already rich with the friendships I’ve made in golf. You can’t put a price on something like that. Friends are priceless.”
During his eulogy, Carl’s son C.J. shared a touching story about his dad. They were golfing one Sunday afternoon when the subject somehow turned to Steve Irwin, the late Crocodile Hunter.
Carl asked his son, “Wasn’t that guy your hero?”
C.J. shook his head and replied, “Well, when I was young he was, but dad, you’re my hero now.”
Many would agree with C.J.’s assessment. As Becca says about her favorite father-figure golf pro, “Carl was the good in this world. He was caring, compassionate, loving, kind, funny and carefree. If there were more Carls in the world, the world would be a much better place.”