Congratulations to Huntingdon Valley CC head pro Jack Connelly and author James W. Finegan, two of the bright
lights and true characters on the local golf scene, both of whom have been honored by
Association of Philadelphia.
80, best known for his 1997 tome A Centennial Tribute to Golf in Philadelphia,
has been given GAP’s Distinguished Service Award.
63, head pro at Huntingdon Valley
for 35 years and former president of the PGA of America, was selected as only the seventh recipient of GAP’s highest award, the Arnold Palmer Lifetime Achievement Award.
Both men took a bow before a
packed room Wednesday night at GAP’s
Annual Meeting at Meadowlands CC.
I first met Jim Finegan in the fall of 1996, not
long after I began covering golf for the Philadelphia
Inquirer, when we played in the same golf outing and ended up seated next
to each other that night at the dinner. I had heard of Jim,
who had retired after a career in advertising, but I didn’t know much about
him, other than he had turned his attention to writing about golf and golf
As I learned that night, Jim is one of the most amazing
conversationalists you’ll ever meet.
He is full of tales and he enjoys nothing more than regaling an audience
of one or a full banquet hall, with story after story, in his inimitable style.
It was that same night that Jim told me about a book he had spent
the previous five years researching and writing -- the aforementioned history
of the first 100 years of golf in Philadelphia. Five years?
I get bored working on a story that takes more than a week. I wondered how anybody could spend
five years working on a book?
When A Centennial Tribute to Golf in Philadelphia was published the next
year, it was a 500-page beast that I could barely lift. The more I read and the deeper I dug
into the book, the more I became amazed that Finegan was able to produce it in only five years.
Ever since then, A Centennial Tribute has remained
perhaps the single most invaluable resource I’ve had writing about golf in
Philadelphia. It is never far from
my reach and only rarely does it fail to include a chapter or a passage telling
me exactly what I need to know. On
those few occasions when it doesn’t, I pick up the phone and call Jim, whereupon he proceeds to recall in
detail precisely what I’m looking for.
While Jim regards A Centennial
Tribute as his most important book, it is hardly his only one. He wrote a history of Pine Valley GC, where he is a longtime member, he wrote separate
books on golf in Scotland and Ireland, where he has spent much time. And then there is his most recent
effort, a coffee table behemoth called Where
Golf is Great: The Finest Courses of Scotland and Ireland.
If there is anything more
fun than listening to Jim’s stories
over lunch, it is playing a round
of golf with him. He moves
slower these days, thanks to chronic pain in his legs, but when he steps up to
the ball it is not hard to appreciate that you are watching a four-time club
champion at Philadelphia CC.
a quick, whippy swing, and he complains constantly that he can’t hit the ball
out of his shadow any more, but he hits it dead straight again and again. On the green, Jim’s "circle of friendship" is as large as his circle of friends
in life, which is to say he will rake in a 4- or 5-footer rather than have to
bend over to pick it up out of the cup.
is a treasure.
As for Jack Connelly, all you need to know is that the man has survived 37
years at one country club – 35 as head pro.
For anybody who knows
anything about the life of a club pro – they are subject to being fired
on a whim -- it speaks volumes about Jack’s
work ethic, his smarts, above all, his masterful skills as a politician. What makes Jack’s longevity at Huntingdon
Valley all the more impressive is that the man is, at heart, a full-fledged
smart-aleck and wisenheimer.
Two stories, both of which
he told Wednesday night:
In 1975, when Jack had been at Huntingdon Valley two years as an assistant, the club informed him
that they were going make a change at the head pro job. Would he be interested in applying?
Jack thought about it and
said, "No, I don’t think I would."
After two years, he told the club, he had either proved himself or he
hadn’t. They gave him the job.
Not long into his tenure as
head pro, Jack looked out on the
golf course and spotted a fivesome making its way up the fairway. Among Huntingdon Valley’s most rigid, unbreakable rules, championed by the
club’s Golf Chairman, O. Gordon Brewer, was "No Fivesomes,"
Immediately, Jack hopped in a golf cart and went off
in pursuit of the offending fivesome.
When he pulled up to the group, who should among the fivesome but Golf
Chairman O. Gordon Brewer himself.
Undeterred, Jack pulled out a pad and pencil, and
said to Brewer and the others, "Can
you gentlemen give me your names so I can report them to my Golf Chairman."
For the rest of that day and
the next, Jack sat in his office
waiting to be fired. He never was. To this day, Brewer, who was sitting front and center Wednesday night, remains
one of his best friends.
Over the years, Jack got involved in the politics and
administration of golf. He started
small, after he was unhappy with the way the Philadelphia
PGA Section was running its
tournaments and he began to complain.
To shut him, the Section put
him on the tournament committee.
By 1983, Jack was the
president of the Section.
That led to his interest in
national office with the PGA of America, the 28,000-strong association of club pros. Jack climbed
through those ranks as well, culminating with a two-year term as president, beginning
At the end of this year, Jack will retire as head pro at Huntingdon Valley, transitioning into a
new role at the club described as "ambassador." "Basically, I’ll be running the outings," he says, laughing,
like he’ll be stealing money.
be blunt. If you don’t want an
honest answer, don’t ask him the question. But he is also a friendly, funny
guy, a fact I had forgotten until Wednesday night, when he gave an acceptance
speech that ran the gamut from tears to giggles.
and Jack Connelly are both special
people. Congrats to both of them.