Your relationship with James Finegan probably started like mine. Back from a first trip to Ireland, talking with friends about the experience and chomping at the bit to get back for more, someone who had been to the British Isles a second time says, “Then you got to read Finegan”.
What ensued was typical…off to Barnes and Noble, fingering through a copy of “Emerald Fairways and Foam Flecked Seas-A Golfer’s Pilgrimage to the Courses of Ireland” I am drawn in by personal accounts of places I had played-Ballybunion, Rosses Point, and Royal County Down. Finegan’s visual of RCD is typical, “What strikes us-in truth, assaults us-are the massive sand hills, the profusion of gorse (overpoweringly golden in spring, impenetrable at any time) and the heady views”.
Once owned the romance with his writing accelerated as he described courses large and small, quaint hotels and B & B’s, town histories and antiquities, and his experiences with the locals. He captured the lure of Ireland through this descriptive of a chance encounter with an Irish immigrant-that is to say a Philadelphian who had moved to Dublin.
“This free spirit fascinated us. The very notion of simply picking up and going to Ireland to live because the golf was ideal-well, this was so preposterously at variance with such things as discipline and roots….it was dizzying to contemplate….Think of it: a golf expatriate, an expatriate not because of taxes or career or love but for golf. I had to concede that it was not a noble rationale for self-exile. Nor was it ignoble.”
Whether it was this one or “Blasted Heaths and Blessed Greens” about Scotland or a third about England and Wales, or his seminal collection “Scotland-Where Golf Is Great” becoming a James Finegan fan just happens. The rapture of his prose, his unique voice on links golf, makes recalling your last trip or planning your next one a vibrant and exhilarating experience.
James W. Finegan passed away this week in his hometown of Philadelphia at the age of 85. You can read Michael Bamberger’s stirring tribute to “another member of golf’s greatest generation…an extraordinary voice in the game, both as a speaker and writer”. Bamberger says, “Alongside Herbert Warren Wind, no other American writer captured the windblown, rugged beauty of golf in the British Isles with such wild enthusiasm”.
The true fans of the game have lost a chronicler, a scribe of all that is good and great about links golf. Thankfully Finegan’s links voice will continue to influence the itineraries of golfing pilgrims for generations to come through the cherished impressions he has left with us.