McKenna, John J. (Johnnie)

Born c. 1881 (Dublin) was married but his wife, Kate Qualley from Lahinch died in 1906, only two years after their wedding. He was recorded in 1911 census as a widower living at 43 Burrow North, Malahide with his older brother James, the Portmarnock/Carrickmines professional but both described themselves as golf club makers. Another brother, Patrick, four years his junior was resident professional at Rathfarnham between 1907-1932.

Johnnie had some notable matches against George Coburn, the Portmarnock professional, in 1900 but was comprehensively defeated over 72 holes by 12 & 11. Later, in 1904, he would be matched against the legendary J.H. Taylor in the News of the World Professional Matchplay Championship at Royal Mid-Surrey only to be defeated by 9 & 8. Johnnie was only one of a handful of Irish born professionals who had a crack at the Open Championship when in 1906 he played in the qualifying rounds at Muirfield but without any success.

Irish International team who played Scotland for Springvale Bowl in 1907 prior to the inaugural Irish Professional Championship.

Johnnie was professional at Malahide from 1900-1908 before reportedly moving to Germany and then on to the USA although the trail goes temporarily cold after his time at Malahide. He arrived in America on 27 April 1913 (26 April 1913 Ellis Island records) travelling on a ship name the Celtic out of Liverpool.

[Note: First steamship to exceed 20,000 tons. Maiden voyage: Liverpool-New York, July 26, 1901. Passengers: 347 first, 160 second, 2,350 third. Converted to cabin class liner in 1928. Went aground in a dense fog at entrance to Queenstown harbor, December 10, 1928 and became a total loss. Dismantled by shipbreakers in 1933, as she was a danger to navigation.] These liners were noted for their steadiness in bad weather.]

He re-surfaced as the soon-to-be appointed professional at Howth Golf Club in 1914 after having laid out the course with Mr. Butson, but after WW I he next surfaces in America as resident professional of the Belleclaire Golf and Country Club in Bayside, Long Island where he jointly held the course record (75) until 1920 albeit only a year after it was instituted.

The Belleclaire had eighteen holes, 6,300 yards, a par 73; it was thirteen miles from New York City and was reached by Long Island railway. Presumably Johnnie was engaged by the owner as his address was given as 146 Central Park West, New York City which may have been a hotel address (Hotel San Remo).

San Remo hotel: 145 Central Park West.

Johnnie’s name didn’t appear in the American Annual Golf Guide until 1922 as the professional at Belleclaire. Belleclaire Country Club was originally a hundred and seventeen acre farm purchased by the owner of a hotel in Manhattan of the same name. By 1929 it was known as the Queensboro Golf and Country Club and was a semi-public course probably due to the crash of 1929 but within two years was renamed Old Belleclaire Golf Club. In the mid-30s it became a property development and Bayside Hills is currently sited on the old golf course.

Early photo of Belleclaire Golf and Country Club

Johnnie fell on hard times during the Great Depression of 1929 and eventually returned to Ireland in 1933 and was appointed resident professional in Kilcroney in 1934 where he took on an assistant, Harry Bradshaw. Bradshaw would eventually be appointed professional in 1941 in his place and a now sixty-year old golfer would spend the rest of his time at the Island Golf Club.

It has been suggested he played the US Open in Skokie in 1922 under the name Ned McKenna although this is unlikely. However, Johnnie was in the qualifying draw the following year at Inwood but the records show he withdrew, as to whether he played in the qualifying rounds it is uncertain.

In the magazine “Irish Golf” in 1934 Johnnie appears in a photograph, teaching children at the New York Golf Club.

John McKenna – Giving Lessons in the United States