Burke, Sean (John or Jack)

Sean (John or Jack) Burke (1899 – 29 March 1974)

  • Irish Open Amateur Champion – 1947
  • Irish Close Champion – 1930-33, 1936, 1940 and 1947-48
  • South of Ireland Champion – 1928-1931, 1939 and 1941-46
  • West of Ireland Champion – 1933-34, 1936,1938 and 1940-41
  • Walker Cup player – 1932
  • Irish Open – 1933 (Leading Amateur)
  • Irish International – 1929-1938 and 1947-1949 (13x)
  • Texaco (Caltex) Sportstars – Hall of Fame – 1962 presented by Sean Lemass

John Burke’s Irish Amateur Championship Record: 1928-1950

John Burke was born to Patrick and Mary Burke who, according to the 1911 Census, had ten children eight (Thomas, John, Patrick, Mary, Joseph, Edward, Anthony and William) of which were still surviving. At the time of the 1901 Census they were living in Caherrush and his father described himself as a Railway Miles Man presumably working for the West Clare Railway checking a distance of railway track. By 1911 John’s father held the position of railway porter at Lahinch.

A larger than life character with a mischievous nature and a deep abiding love for Ireland which he was prepared to fight for on and off the golf course. Burke was to become one of Ireland’s leading amateur golfers for over twenty years between 1928 to 1949 but in 1951 he would be struck down by a debilitating form of arthritis which would end his playing days.

Freedom Fighter

Burke grew up near Lahinch and first swung a golf club at nine or ten years of age before giving it up at the age of 14 for Gaelic only to return fifteen years later with an incredible victory in the South of Ireland championship. In the intervening years Burke had joined the fight for freedom before he left school at 17 years of age. Burke was promoted quickly to the rank of first lieutenant and after the Rineen Ambush (22 September 1970) was made Adjutant of the Fourth Battalion of the republican army which operated in North Clare in 1919-20.

Burke, who was writing articles for the Connacht Tribune, ranked being asked to deliver the oration at the unveiling a memorial in remembrance of the Rineen Ambush as one of the proudest moments in his life.

This Memorial has been erected by the officers and men of the 4th Battalion Mid-Clare Brigade to commemorate the gallant stand made at this spot against the forces of British oppression on the 22nd Day of Sept. 1920 and to honour the memory of comrades who paid the supreme sacrifice during the period 1917-1923.

The articles for the Connacht Tribune provide a frank insight into the Anglo Irish War in North Clare and the articles included:

The Battalion Meeting; Attack on Miltown Malbay; Rescue of Prisoner from Ennistymon; Ascension Thursday, 5th of May, 1921; Ambush at Moananagh; Captor’s Boots; The Taking Over of Ennistymon Barracks; Taking Over Corofin 8/2/22; In Memory of the Battle of Rineen; The Fourth Battalion (North West-Clare); F.C.A. Take Charge of Rineen Memorial; Strange Story of the Captured; Hoisting of National Flag, September 1920; and Ambush at Rineen.

One of the stories, Hoisting the National Flag, was recalled in the story of Captain Ernest Carter but all provide great insights into the struggle for independence in Clare (ambushes, reprisals, covert actions, local comraderie in the face of opression, the retaking of barracks following the truce etc.) and the very active role he and his brother Tom, played in trying to thwart the Crown forces and the Black and Tans by every means available. How Burke could end up with such a sunny disposition or not have nerves of steel when faced with a four foot putt are a mystery.

While the Anglo Irish negotiations proceeded he was employed as a rate collector but shortly afterwards was captured and imprisoned in Limerick. General Eoin O’Duffy, who was, together with Michael Collins, party to the negotiations for the Anglo Irish Treaty visited him in prison and offered him a position of chief superintendent in the Gardai which he refused. In the early 1930s he would take up a position with McMullan Bros where he would remain until his retirement on 31 December 1964.

Golf – The Early Years

Burke started his golfing exploits late but this was the era of the game’s legendary amateurs in Jimmy Bruen, Cecil Ewing, Joe Brown and as he headed into the forties a new threat in the form of Joe Carr. Between 1928 to 1950 these four amateurs would share almost 60% of the Irish amateur titles between them, without necessarily playing in all off them and in the case of the South of Ireland championship Burke had been asked to step aside for a number of years such was his stranglehold on that championship.

Burke’s became a member of Lahinch in April 1928 and his impact was immediate to the extent he was given a scratch handicap from the outset after returning two 77s on, what one reporter (L.H.) considered to be, the toughest golf course in Ireland following recent renovations. Burke immediately justified the handicapping by winning three competitions in the week following Whitsunday and this made him an immediate favourite for the South of Ireland later that year. Clearly his potential had been apparent before joining the club as William O’Dwyer, the club’s captain, conferred on him, in the words of Arthur Quinlan, ‘ a fairly unique distinction of one who was not only a local but who had also been a caddie at the club’. Presumably he roamed Lahinch honing his skills using the ‘Aberdeen Gate’ with Mick O’ Loughlin and Dan Sexton, the local schoolteacher, as he worked in Linnane’s timber yard in Ennistymon.

So in 1928 Burke’s golfing odyssey began with the South of Ireland Championship, the oldest of the provincial championships, and he did not disappoint. By the time the championship came round he was red hot favourite having won the strokeplay event in atrocious conditions, with scoring to match it. There was little to impede his progress as he wasn’t taken beyond the sixteenth even in his match against Redmond Simcox, the Douglas player, in the semifinals who he beat by 5 and 4 to set up a match with Daniel .F. Sweeney, another scratch player from Galway. In the 36-hole final Sweeney was 6 down as they played the final round and slipped further adrift to 9 down by the 7th, and a quixotic fight back was in vain, as Burke closed the match out by a margin of 6 and 5. There was a victory dinner to celebrate Burke’s achievement and a tar barrel was lit, a custom in Clare, in his honour. For the next four years he would be King of Lahinch as his golf and local knowledge of the great links course where every nook, cranny and dell seem to be complicit in his strife for victory. When Lahinch hosted the Irish Close in 1930 it came as little surprise to anyone who would take the laurels and Burke was in devastating form as he dispatched F.P. McConnell by 6 and 5 in the final. McConnell was level par after the first eighteen but went into the clubhouse two down and was pummeled into submission as Burke covered the next 13 holes in forty-eight strokes (four under fours).

Lahinch mastered, the question was hanging how would he manage outside his own backyard and while there was little in the way of success until 1931 when the Irish Close was played at Rosses Point the early indications were that it was just a matter of when than if as his golf tee to green was a masterclass his putting was a little more unpredictable. In the 1929 Irish Amateur Open at Royal Portrush there was little doubt he would have beaten the eventual winner, Charles Hezlet, if it weren’t for his putting and the local knowledge of his opponent. The question was finally answered at Rosses Point in 1931 when a scare from W.J. Gill as he went dormy two down was recovered with some sublime golf, and the next round saw Burke’s complete decimation of Ewing, plagued with a hook, in his own backyard by 9 and 8 left only McConnell in the way to another native title, which he duly did by 6 and 4. In 1932 the venue for the Irish Close was Portrush and Burke made it three in a row beating Michael Crowley the Portmarnock player by 6 and 5. On to Little Island for the 1933 Irish Close and again Burke was in devastating form and by beating Clifford McMullan (Knock) by 3 and 2 he had matched Lionel Munn’s four titles but Burke’s were consecutive and this victory was done in style as he covered the ground in 68 (33+35) strokes while hitting the ball colossal distances.

The Walker Cup

In 1932 he became the Republic of Ireland’s first representative on the Walker Cup team (Charles Hezlet having the distinction of being the first Irish player) which played in Brookline Country Club in 1932 despite questions over his eligibility being from a ‘British Dominion’ rather than Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Fortunately the governing body didn’t distinguish between the North and the South of Ireland. In the first day’s matches Burke partnered J.A Stout in the foursomes against the legendary Francis Ouimet and G.T. Dunlap jr., the following year’s US Amateur champion but they went down to a 7 and 6 defeat. The singles match the next day saw him play Jack Westland the previous year’s runner-up in the US Amateur and despite being four down after nine and three down after eighteen he managed to secure a halve. The halve meant zero points for either side and the lost the Walker Cup by 8 to 1.

An entirely new and striking personality is John Burke a typical Irish man from County Clare, who has won his native championship on serveral occasions. He is 30 years of age and among other activities is a rates collector…A slashing hitter with the wooden clubs and a beautiful short-game player, Burke is liable to do anything. Posessing the Irish fighing temperament, he is the most dangerous of opponents in the crisis of a match. I entertain most sanguine hopes of Burke.

George Greenwood: Golf Illustrated 1932

Burke chose not to play in the US Amateur and instead opted for exhibition matches in New York, Niagara Falls, Toronto and Quebec.

The Amateur Championship

Presumably he now had a taste for big time competition and would enter the Amateur Championship in the three years from 1933 to 1935 at Hoylake, Prestwick and Lytham & St. Annes respectively and each time his attempts were thwarted. In 1933 it was a fourth round match against J B Nash at the 19th hole, and the following year it was Johnny Goodman from Omaha Field (the last amateur to win the US Open Championship – 1933) in a third round match. Of his match with Goodman all that would journalist could say that Goodman putted “like the very devil”. In 1935 he lost to Eric Fiddian by one hole in the fourth round and presumably at 36 years of age the fruitless journey from the West of Ireland was taking its toll and he didn’t play in the championship again although there were a limited number of opportunities as it was cancelled during the war years (1940-1945) but not even when Portmarnock hosted the championship in May 1949.

Bruen Vs Burke

In 1937 at Ballybunion Burke played Jimmy Bruen, the “Wonder Boy”, in the Irish Amateur Close Championship and was beaten by 3 and 2 making Bruen the youngest ever winner of the championship. The match was by all accounts won on the greens and while Burke was three down after fifteen he managed to reign Bruen in to all square in the morning round. They had met the previous year during which Burke got the better of him presumably Bruen’s inexperience at sixteen was a factor. Burke exacted some revenge in the Irish Senior Cup – Munster Section by winning the match against Bruen by 2 up but despite this Lahinch still lost to Cork who took the pennant.

The Provincials

The story of the provincial titles is one of great rivalries and in the case of Burke that meant Cecil Ewing, his great friend Joe Brown, Jimmy Bruen and Joe Carr. The North hadn’t entered the fray with the East only joining the circuit in 1941 and the luster of the South was beginning to dwindle from its pre-WWI heydays when it attracted the celebrity that was the envy of any national championship. By the 1940s the disbanding of the South was on the agenda but it continued to limp on. The war years probably helped as leading players sought competitive matches during ‘The Emergency’ and with the two national championships shelved Lahinch once again began to see many of the leading players converge on its village and it was the shot in the arm it needed. The 1946 South of Ireland proved to be a titanic struggle between Carr, the interloper trying to muscle into hallowed ground, and the local hero. The previous year Carr was beaten five and four for the sheer audacity of thinking he could face-off against Burke in his home patch where every blade of grass whispered his name in reverence. The match between the two went to the thirty ninth hole before Carr finally succumbed and Burke had exacted some retribution for defeat in the East the previous month. Carr recalled this in Dermot Gilleece’s biography of him, Breaking 80, when a young Paddy Skerritt was on his bag: “..a typical piece of Burke roguery brought his victory on the third tie hole…He (Burke) hit towards the back of the green knowing they’d (the spectators) stop the ball, which they did.” Burke’s eleven victories in the South is so far ahead of everyone else (4) that’s the achievement is unlikely to ever equalled.

The East of Ireland alluded Burke but as the inaugural event only took place in 1941 there were only a few opportunities for him to bag the prize and the 1945 championship probably cut him deeper than any of them and may have resigned himself to serial bridesmaid. At the time there were only three titles to play for as the national titles ended during the war years and the North of Ireland championship hadn’t yet been brought into existence. Even the most reckless plunger with bet against John Burke with a seven stroke lead going into the final of the championship but on the tenth hole Burke pulls a muscle and chomping at the bit his the legendary Joe Carr and both events conspired against him as they drew level by the end of the fourth round and a play-off was arranged for the following month. Carr won the thirty six hole play off by 152-154 with only one shot in it at the final Burke had never taken the lead at any stage during the play-off.

The West of Ireland was, for the most part, a Cecil Ewing/Burke and later Carr affair as all but four of the championships between 1928 – 1950 going to one of these three players; Ewing (10), Burke (6) and Carr (3). In the finals of these years Ewing had denied Burke three times and Burke had denied Ewing twice but this was Ewing’s backyard. The North of Ireland championship had come too late for Burke to make any impact.

A Year to Remember – 1947

The year started ominously enough: firstly the question of the eligibility for players in the republic playing on the Walker Cup team was brought into the open and was awaiting the Royal and Ancient’s (R&A) formal decision; and Burke failed to impress the selectors on the first day of the trials being held in St. Andrews in May and didn’t have the opportunity for redemption as he pulled a muscle and had to withdraw from the second day’s play. Bruen had already pulled out following an arm injury but Carr and Ewing made the team with McCready as a reserve so the R&A made it clear what the status of players in the republic was with regard to selection in the Walker Cup team.

In June he would take his third Irish close title in a row as it returned to Lahinch but it was hard fought and as Burke had the East title all but sown in in forty five John Fitzsimmons looked a shoo-in for this title at four up with ten to play and only a dead stymie has saved him from being five down. When playing the King of Lahinch on his home patch you can take little for granted and so it transpired six holes later the match was back to all square and Burke had taken the lead on the thirty fifth hole of regular play. Burke closed out the match on the final hole with another win and victory in six of the last ten holes secured him a treble in his native championship and all this while still nursing the leg injury he had sustained at the Walker Cup trials.

Despite his glorious achievements this year his “banker” the South alluded him as “Brud” Slattery took the title after having beaten Carr on the 19th in their semifinal match despite Carr being four under bogey which was an indication of the form he was in when he faced Burke in the final. The South held few surprises in its final acts since Burke was beaten by Dr. Murray, an ex-Irish International Rugby player, but the margin of victory (6 and 5) by Slattery was mind boggling until you realise Slattery was just on a streak that week that made him virtually invincible. Burke’s play during the final in no way discredited him but Slattery play was borderline paranormal.

The Irish Open Amateur Golf Championship continued to allude Burke in the thirties and the war years 1939-1945 meant he had even fewer opportunities to take the title. He took many scalps en-route but his game never seem to peak as the end of season neared its end and although reaching a number of semi-finals this as far as he would go. Even in the first event after the war he was again stopped in his semi-final match by A. T. Kyle (Sandmoor) assisted by stymies and poor putting by Burke and Kyle joined Hector Thomas and Joe Brown in knocking him out at the semi-final rounds in earlier years the only difference being that Kyle wouldn’t go on to win the championship.

In September Burke would face off against Carr in the final of the Irish Open Amateur championship at Royal Dublin Golf Club which was charging 2/6- for admission. Burke had beaten Herlihy (Portmarnock) and Rice, the “Giant Killer” from earlier rounds by two up but Carr was favourite as he was dishing out summary justice in a more emphatic manner. In Burke’s favour was the fact that he had taken Carr at the last three meetings. Unlike the Irish close the shoe was on the other foot as Carr was five down with twelve to go and endanger of relinquishing a reputation on never been beaten until the final hole in any championship final. Burke played like a man possessed covering the first eighteen in 69 strokes just one stroke off the course record and not part of his game failed him as he went into the clubhouse five up. It was ‘Brer Rabbit’ who was reporting for the Irish Press that relayed the action of the first round when he said: “Over and over again during the round and frequently when it was most needed, he “canned” his ball from six to twelve yards away from the hole making the pace such a nightmare one that even the imperturbable Carr cracked under the strain.” In the second eighteen Burke was showing his age and the effects of playing thirty six holes of golf over five consecutive days and he was a golfer holding on to the blistering lead he had amassed in the first round from the Walker Cup captain. Carr chipped away at the lead as Burke tried to hold on and relied on Carr’s lapses as much as his own play to hang in there, but hang in he did. On the final hole a long but mid-directed drive meant Carr, who was one down, needed to lay up at the Garden hole and a five gave him no chance of taking the championship to a play-off.

It was no doubt a year to remember for Burke as the previous year the limelight was on Jimmy Bruen, Joe Carr, Fred Daly and Philomena Garvey it was now Burke, Daly and Carr who were been lauded for the golfing achievements.


As one of the great exponents of the game Burke would play exhibition matches for charity and these included:

  • 1938 John Burke and Jimmy Bruen (lost by 1 hole) Vs Willie Nolan (the Portmarnock “Golf Doctor”) and P. J. Mahon (Irish Professional champion) – Woodbrook Golf Club
  • 1938 Syd Easterbrook and Max Faulkner Vs John Burke and Mr J. C. Brown – Waterford Golf Club – honours shared over 36 holes
  • 1941 John Burke (72) and Eddie Hackett (75) ( all square) Vs Cecil Ewing (75) and P.J. Mahon (74) – Ennis Golf Club – 18 holes
  • 1941 John Burke and P.J. Mahon (won 5 and 4) Vs Cecil Ewing and Eddie Hackett – Ballyclough Golf Club – 18 holes
  • 1937 John Burke and Stanley Martyn (Won 63 to 65 strokes) Vs Walter Hagen and Joe Kirkwood – Limerick Golf Club
  • 1939 Redmond Simcox and Willie Nolan Vs John Burke and J C Brown (lost by 1 hole) – Tramore Golf Club
  • 1945 John Burke and Fred Daly (won 2 and 1) Vs Harry Bradshaw and Joe Carr – Royal Dublin Golf Club (for dependents of the late P.J. Mahon)
  • 1946 John Burke and Harry Bradshaw (won by one hole) Vs John Fitzsimmons and Fred Daly – Holywood Golf Club – 36 holes
  • 1946 John Burke and Cecil Ewing (won by one hole) Vs Bobby Locke and Norman von Nida – County Sligo Golf Club – 36 holes
  • 1948 (29 August) Joe Carr and John Carroll (Sutton) Vs John Burke and Dr. W. M. O’Sullivan – Clonmel Golf Club (Entry 2/6 – for Cottage Hospital)

Twilight Years

In 1948 a now forty-nine year old Burke’s light was beginning to wane but capable of short bursts of brilliance. An unheard of second round dispatch of Burke from the South by P. Malone from Rathdowney, a three handicapper, may have ushered it in as Carr and Ewing shared the spoils for the year with Fitzsimmons stepping in to take the his second title in the North which was inaugurated the previous year.

Burke remains the most prolific winner of Ireland’s native close championship (eight times) just ahead of Joe Carr (6) but still only managed one Irish Open Amateur Championship. In the West and East, Carr remains supreme with 12 victories in each with Burke third in the West on 6 and a no show for victories in the East .

Burke maintained his interest in golf offering coaching to players and keeping an eye on the matches being played near him and especially at Castletroy and Lahinch where he will forever be known as the King of Lahinch.

A big, strong man, bred among the Lahinch sandhills, he had a wide and handsome arc to his swing, and although he had a complete command of every shot it was his length with wood out of thick clinging rough that was phenomenal. He was a tigerish match player whose pleasant character both on an off the course concealed a strong competitive spirit.

Shell International Encyclopedia of Golf

John Burke was married with three children; Kitty, Myra and Bernard and he died on 29 March 1974 at St. John’s hospital and was buried at Mount St. Lawrence cemetry.

No account of John Burke would be complete without Ivan Morris’ (author of Only Golf Spoken Here) insights into Burke whose golfing days had come to an end when they first met and from Charles Anderson who played with him and recounted his story in, A personal Account of Golfing Experiences, 1926-1986.

The King of Lahinch by Ivan Morris
John Burke (1899-1974)

As an 8-time Irish Close champion, John Burke is guaranteed legendary status in Irish amateur golf into perpetuity. He also won the South of Ireland 11-times between 1928 and 1946 but that doesn’t tell the full story either. John’s success was threatening the economic viability of Lahinch village at a vulnerable time. He was requested not to take part for the five years between 1932 and 1937 because he was scaring away too many likely contestants at a time when the village badly needed the influx of visiting golfers to take part in Ireland’s oldest and most popular amateur championship. As an 8-time Irish Close champion, John Burke is guaranteed legendary status in Irish amateur golf into perpetuity. He also won the South of Ireland 11-times between 1928 and 1946 but that doesn’t tell the full story either. John’s success was threatening the economic viability of Lahinch village at a vulnerable time. He was requested not to take part for the five years between 1932 and 1937 because he was scaring away too many likely contestants at a time when the village badly needed the influx of visiting golfers to take part in Ireland’s oldest and most popular amateur championship.

John also won the Irish Open Amateur at Royal Dublin in 1947 as well as winning the West of Ireland on six occasions. He never won the ‘East’ but finished runner-up four times between its inaugural year in 1941 and 1946. He never played in the ‘North of Ireland’ championship.

Long before I ever took up golf, I often overheard stories told by my elders about a man whom they reverentially referred to as “John Burke, the King of Lahinch.” As soon as I took up the game, this mystery man’s reputation seemed to grow and grow and I could never have anticipated that Burke would become such a strong influence on my golfing technique and philosophy, or that it would last an entire lifetime.

For John Burke to be called a ‘king’ was ironic because he was a proud Old Irish Republican Army man who had volunteered during the difficult times of the 1920s, when Ireland was struggling to secure its independence. As a result, he had little time for royalty of any sort. In fact, John’s association with the IRA cost him his place on the Walker Cup team.

John played in the era of such titans as Eric Fiddian and Cyril Tolley but he was at least their equal and arguably the best player in these islands. It was a travesty that the Walker Cup selectors ignored him, apart from his single appearance at Brookline in 1932, due to being perceived as a ‘terrorist.’ How the British found out about John’s politics and IRA past was interesting. During a raid on a British Army Encampment in County Cork, John’s brigade “purloined” a fine pair of brown military boots belonging to an enemy officer, amongst other goodies. The boots had the initials “JB” displayed prominently on them, so they were handed to John as ‘spoils of war.’

Some weeks later John and a few colleagues were detained for questioning in County Clare. Gradually it dawned on him that the Interrogating Officer was the likely owner of the very boots he was wearing. It could have been disastrous if it had been discovered. Fortunately for John, a most uncomfortable few hours passed by without the boots being noticed.

Exactly ten years later John played for Ireland against England at Sandwich, south of London. During one of his rounds, he became aware of a familiar face in the crowd but could not place it. After the game he approached the gentleman who had aroused his curiosity. It emerged that he was the same officer who had questioned him about his IRA membership. When the secret of the boots was revealed, the officer fell about laughing and “forgave” John with alacrity.

Soon afterward, John was selected to play for Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup matches in America. It was arranged that the team would set sail on the “Queen Mary” from Southampton, with the Irish contingent joining the boat at Cobh, County Cork en route. John’s new friend, not realizing this, drove to Southampton to wish him bon voyage. But of course, John was not there. Instead, the former officer told one of the GB&I officials about his and John’s unusual friendship and gave him a handwritten “best of luck” note. When the note was being handed over, John was told in no uncertain terms that it would be his last Walker Cup because there was “no place on a British team for IRA terrorists.”

As a young man, John had spent some time as a caddie. But when he began showing an exceptional talent for the game, a far-seeing member who had observed his magnificent, flowing action when playing illegally on the links in the evenings with his pal, local butcher Mick O’Loughlin, a campaign to have them both invited to join the club was initiated. The first locals to be so honoured, the two set about taking full advantage and were determined to master the game.

A master of improvisation, John learned the game by experimentation. When he eventually thought that he might be ready to begin competing he applied for a handicap. Straight off he was given scratch, and he maintained that standard for his entire life. Even after he acquired a full set of clubs, John continued to play a game that featured all sorts of made-up shots.

John was a loveable rogue. He carried what he termed a “soft” ball for use at short holes to confuse the opposition. If he had the honour, he would select a stronger club than would have been required and deliberately show it to his opponent after putting on a show of throwing grass in the air to gauge the wind!

He intimidated opponents by throwing his golf ball down onto the ground and spurning the use of a peg. If the ball sat up nicely, he’d fire away with a brassie, as he called it, but if the ball rolled into a poor lie, he was never too proud to pick it up and tee the ball properly. In tight situations, John was known to walk to the shorter ball and apparently claim it, in the hope that his opponent would go to the longer ball only to have the humbling experience of having to walk back. John was full of such devilment. For him, it was part of the fun.

In later life, John was confined to a wheelchair. But, his status was such that he was allowed to drive his motorcar onto the golf course, so he could follow the golfers playing in the ‘South’ or Castletroy Scratch Cup. There was always a wave of expectation when Burke’s car loomed into view and it was considered a signal honour if he followed you for a few holes and spoke to you in the process.

To maintain his interest in the game, John had a small wooden hut built at the side of his house on Lelia Street in Limerick where he rigged up a net and began giving golf lessons. It was his way of keeping in touch with the game, current players, and events. He was more interested in the chat than any money he earned. John was an exceptional teacher and he had a solid and consistent clientele. His philosophy revolved around balance and making sure that everything worked in the proper sequence. Rhythm and timing were at the core.

Here is a short summary of John Burke’s dictums:

1. Grip the club very lightly with both palms facing each other. (He was not fussy how you might interlock the fingers, if you did it at all.)

2. Try to build a flowing, relaxed action through practice, maintaining the same even-paced swing speed back and forward.

3. Concentrate on being able to hold a balanced finish after each shot. Never stumble or recoil. On reaching the finish of the swing he would poke you in the ribs with his walking stick to see if you could maintain balance.

4. The start of the backswing and downswing should never be hurried.

5. Never sway. Imagine the right leg is a pole and swing around it.

6. Never stretch at address or during the swing. (He scoffed at the idea of a stiff, straight left arm.)

7. Never hit blindly. Always take careful aim at something. (Legendary instructor Harvey Penick said something similar: “Take a dead aim!”)

8. If you decide to play safe, make sure you do play safe! Select a club to stay short of the trouble and swing normally.

His pupils were taught to address the ball with their backs practically touching the wall of that little hut, which gave new meaning to the phrase “grooving the swing.” It certainly eliminated any possibility of “laying off” at the top.

Article reproduced courtesy of Ivan Morris
John Burke by C. E. Anderson - Extracts from A Personal
Account of Golfing Experiences

My first game with John Burke was when he drove me from Limerick to Lahinch in 1935. On the way he regailed me with tales of the troubled times and pointed out ambush positions, he having been a big wheel in that area for the “Movement”. At Enystymon we stopped outside the butcher’s shop where John put his hand on the horn and held it there. At last a young boy came out and said his father was busy. “Tell him Burke wants him immediately”, John replied. After a few minutes the famous Mick O’Loughlin (1937 -38 South of Ireland champion) appeared and said “I am busy Burke, I am knocking cattle”. Burke replied get into the car immediately, you are going to play golf”. So Mick turned around, took off the bloody apron, wiped his hands in it and threw it back to the young lad and, with his sleeves rolled up, that’s the way we arrived at Lahinch where I was entertained to an exhibition of wonderful golf and humerous (sic) banter.

I had the pleasure of playing with him and Joe Brown and Jack McLoughlin at Baltray for thirty six holes…At another hole he topped his tee shot into heavy rough, His caddy had gone down about two hundred yards so he just kept his driver and smashed at it again in the rough only to put it about another one hundred and fifty yards , still in the rough. Sill carrying the driver he struck it a thrid time and left it about six feet from the pin and sank the put and turning to the crowd he said: “Sure anyone can get a four the other way.”

Video Sources: Pathe News

Reading Sources:

  • Ivan Morris : Only Golf Spoken Here
  • The Shell International Encyclopedia of Golf
  • Clare Library <click here>
  • Arthur J. Quinlan: ‘South of Ireland’ Centennial Memories