Prineville Golf Club this holiday season is dealing with the loss of one of its own.
Mark Payne, a PGA professional known and loved by many in the Central Oregon golf community, passed away earlier this month with heart complications at the age of 65.
Payne had a long history with golf in the region and had a special connection to the club just east of Prineville, where he was the head golf professional three different times and did everything from teaching kids to taking care of the course to running the Prineville Invitational.
Talking with his friends in Prineville and area golf professionals who knew him well, I came away with an image of a man who truly loved golf and conveyed that passion to everyone he met.
Teacher, player and tinkerer, storyteller, ambassador to the game — all words and phrases used by those I talked with to describe Payne.
Coming from the Rocky Mountain Section of the PGA, Payne (nicknamed “Propayne” by his fellow professionals) started in Oregon as the head pro at La Grande Country Club in 1977. He began his first stint at Prineville Golf Club in the 1980s and retired from the club about 10 years ago, with stops at Eagle Crest, Juniper, Running Y Ranch in Klamath Falls and River’s Edge in Bend in between.
His support of junior golf in Prineville made an impression on many young players he taught and worked with, both at Prineville Golf Club and Meadow Lakes Golf Course, also in Prineville.
“He was always very good with the kids,” said Grant Patterson, a former boys and girls golf coach at Crook County High School. “He knew how important it was to work with them, because they were the ones that would be paying the bills later.”
Zach Lampert, now the head golf professional at Meadow Lakes, was a junior golfer when he first met Payne.
“I grew up in Prineville, played golf at Crook County and knew him from my days playing there,” Lampert recalled. “He was involved heavily with the kids and was always looking to help with junior programs.”
Payne’s desire to get kids involved led him to help with the formation of the Central Oregon Junior Golf Association, a summer tour for juniors in the area that originated in the mid-1990s and is still going strong today.
“That was one of his biggest passions, to teach kids and get kids involved in golf,” said his wife, Carol Ann Payne. “He initiated the whole COJGA program, and all my children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, all became golfers because of Mark.”
His influence on Lampert and other junior golfers in Prineville extended into their adult years.
“Myself and another pro, Brad Hunter, became golf professionals … and Brad always attributed his becoming a pro to Mark,” Lampert said. “When I was the coach (at Crook County High) he (Payne) was very selfless and always wanted to help.”
Beyond teaching, Payne was a consummate promoter of golf and a fixture at tournaments and events throughout the region.
“Mark’s name is immersed with everything to do with golf in Central Oregon,” said Brian Whitcomb, who grew up in Prineville and is the owner of Lost Tracks Golf Club in Bend. “It seemed like he was at every golf event in the area and volunteered to do a lot of the things associated with the tournaments. He was all about golf his entire life.”
His connection to the nine-hole Prineville course was evident to all who knew him.
“Mark played golf in different countries and all over the country, and Prineville was still his favorite golf course,” Carol Ann Payne said. “It wasn’t just the people, it was the place. He loved it there.”
Payne continued to help out at the club even after his retirement.
“One of my visions is of Mark out there with a weed eater,” Whitcomb said. “He was not getting paid a dime, but was out there to make it a better experience for everyone.”
“Mark had a great affection for the course and the condition of the course,” said Tom MacDonald, a member at Prineville GC and longtime friend of Payne’s. “He worked at bigger clubs, but I think the intimacy of the small club suited him better.”
Payne had a long history of running the Prineville Invitational Pro-Am which celebrated its 60th year in 2015.
“Mark was always a fun and challenging person to work with. He always had some unique idea for the (tournament) format and it usually would be at the last minute,” MacDonald laughed. “I think he did it to kind of mess with me.”
An accomplished player, Payne had a silky smooth swing that transitioned well into his senior years.
“Mark was great ball striker and had a really good golf swing,” MacDonald said. “Putting was more of challenge for him, so like a lot of people I think he sought relief in new purchases.
“He played with as many as three putters and every putter had a history or story. Short ones, long ones, old ones, new ones, any kind of putter … he had it.”
Lampert said his tinkering with his game and clubs extended beyond just the putter.
“It was broader than that. Sometimes he would go through our lost clubs and put them in his bag,” Lampert laughed. “He built a room in his house that had to have hundreds of clubs in there.
“We would joke about him, because every time he came out to play he would have different clubs in his bag.”
Always looking for that extra edge, Payne would go as far as using different putting grips — from hole to hole or even from putt to putt.
“I played against him and he would use 10 different putter grips, the claw, left hand low, whatever, he tried them all,” Lampert continued. “He was lovably quirky with his clubs. He had one putter that he seemed to always kill us with and I never understood why he didn’t just stick with that one.”
Even with the different putters and grips, Lampert said Payne remained a great putter through the last tournament they played together, the Oregon Open at Crosswater in Sunriver last summer.
“I knew he loved Crosswater, so I invited him to play with me,” Lampert recalled. “It didn’t matter how he would hold the club … he made every putt inside of 10 feet in two days.”
Per Payne’s request, no memorial will be held. Instead, a golf tournament to celebrate his life and contributions to golf in Central Oregon is planned for sometime in the spring at Prineville Golf Club.
“He’ll be missed from an ambassadors standpoint,” Whitcomb said. “He was always around to promote the game of golf, which is what a PGA professional is supposed to do.”
—Reporter: 541-617-7868, firstname.lastname@example.org