Philadelphia Golf Legends: Berkshire's John Markel
Imagine being a budding 18 year-old golfer who’s playing in a tournament among the likes of Billy Burke, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead.
It’s a stargazing thought for most. It’s a reality for Berkshire CC’s John Markel, the latest player to be featured in the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s “Legends” video series.
Golf was — and still is — a way of life for Markel. His father Harry served as Berkshire’s head professional for 37 years, and the Markel family lived on the course. Naturally, John became immersed in the sport and quickly developed into a spectacular junior golfer. He won back-to-back GAP Junior Boys’ Championships in 1940 and 1941. He qualified for match play in the 1940 U.S. Amateur at Winged Foot GC. And elaborating on the aforementioned, John Markel, then a wide-eyed teenager with an impressive amateur record to boot, competed in the 1941 Henry A. Hurst Invitational at Torresdale-Frankford CC, the PGA Tour’s Philadelphia debut.
An excerpt from Berkshire Country Club’s centennial publication outlines just how exceptional Markel was as a junior.
“Probably the most perfect model of Harry’s teaching ability is his son, John, who was winning golf tournaments at thirteen years of age, taking all the junior competitions and many events for all ages before he reached 15. Included in these victories were three consecutive PIAA State High School Championships, a feat never equaled even by fellow Pennsylvanians Arnold Palmer and Jay Sigel.”
Markel is a four-time Berks County Junior Champion and seven-time Amateur Champion, first earning that distinction in 1938 at the age of 16. He perhaps ascended to the peak of golf folklore in 1946. Markel defeated perennial legend and GAP Hall of Fame inductee William Hyndman, III of Huntingdon Valley CC, 3&2, to capture the Association’s Amateur Championship at Philadelphia Cricket Club. He again reached the Finals in 1949, but fell to a new teenage upstart in Lincoln Roden, III of Huntingdon Valley CC.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Markel pursued the golf profession. He joined Berkshire as an assistant in 1964 and assumed the head professional role upon his father’s retirement in 1968. John Markel carried his golf success into the professional circuit, winning the Philadelphia Section of the PGA’s Assistant Championship and the Philadelphia PGA Senior Championship in 1983, to name a few. Over an active six-decade career, he captured 117 amateur and professional tournaments.
Since retiring in 1986, Markel remains active in golf. He plays three times a week at Berkshire, where Markel is an honorary member. In 1994, at age 72, Markel tied the course record by firing a 64. The mark matches records set by A.W. “Sandy” Heron in 1930 and Hogan in 1948 during the Reading Open.
Launched in 2010, the Legends video series features prominent local players recalling their experiences and accomplishments both on and off the golf course. This is the sixth installment in the series overall. O. Gordon Brewer, Jr. of Pine Valley GC, Herman J. Fry of Reading CC, Blaise Giroso of Fieldstone GC, John Guenther, Jr. of Heidelberg CC and Lincoln Roden, III of Huntingdon Valley CC were also featured.