In May 1965 Joe McCartney suffered a stroke at Cliftonville Golf Club in Belfast. He died afterwards at the Royal Victoria Hospital, just a few weeks before his 58th birthday. McCartney had been professional at Cliftonville for many years but before that he had been one of Ireland’s most successful young golfers. Fifty years after his premature death we look back at his career.
Joe McCartney lived all his life in Belfast. He was born on 10 June 1907 in Greencastle, in the north of the city, the eighth child of William John McCartney and his wife Margaret McAdam. His father was a fireman or stoker on a steam ship. The family home was walking distance from Fortwilliam Golf Club and it appears that this is where Joe began work as an assistant, under the guidance of the 1914 Irish Professional champion, Charley Pope.
McCartney first made his mark in 1927, when he was one of the four competitors in the Ulster Championship to qualify for the match-play semi-finals, which was how this tournament was normally structured for decades. He won his first match to reach the final before succumbing to the 1926 Irish champion, Syd Fairweather. At that time the Ulster Championship was confined to members of the Irish Region of the PGA within its Northern Branch, which covered all nine counties of Ulster. Nevertheless, it was an important event in which all members of the branch competed.
In 1929, as professional at Ormeau, Joe McCartney had his first taste of success, winning the Ulster Championship at Royal Belfast, and beating Fairweather in the final. The following year he retained the title at Belvoir Park. Also in 1930 he took the Irish Professional title at the Castle in Dublin. On this occasion he had six shots to spare over the rest of the field. The young champion was hailed by the Irish Times as a ‘discovery’, with the observation that he was ‘a master of every golfing stroke’.
The Irish Championship was held at Portstewart the following year and McCartney successfully defended, but not without a struggle. Finishing on 283, he was in a tie with the veteran Hughie McNeill, a former winner. They had to endure a 36-hole play-off before McCartney won by three shots with a score of 143. By the end of 1931 the twenty-four year old McCartney was a double Irish and a double Ulster champion.
1932 brought new experiences. He won his third Ulster title and finished in third place in the Irish Professional Championship. In the Irish Open at Cork he became the first Irish player to finish in the top-four in the event’s six years of competition. His score of 287 was four shots behind the winner, Alf Padgham of England. During that Irish Open meeting McCartney was one of twelve members on the second ever international team of Irish professionals. The first international had taken place in 1907, three weeks before McCartney’s birth. This second match was against England on 22 August 1932. Six weeks later a third international was played. This was against Scotland at Belvoir Park, and McCartney was again on the team.
International matches were played against Scotland annually up to 1938. There was another match against England in 1933 and a first encounter with Wales in 1937. The first time all four home countries played against one another was at Llandudno in September 1938. Joe McCartney was a member of the Irish team on every occasion throughout the 1930s. The outbreak of the Second World War put paid to any plans of continuing a ‘Home Internationals’ event for professionals.
Back in 1933, McCartney claimed his fourth Ulster championship and repeated his top-four finish in the Irish Open at Malone, again being the leading Irish player. Three years later, as professional at Holywood, he won his third and last Irish Professional championship, aged 29. Also in 1936 he was joint runner-up in the Dunlop Irish Tournament at Royal Belfast. This was for decades one of the most important domestic events for Irish professionals.
By the time Joe McCartney was aged 30 he had three Irish and four Ulster championship wins to his name. Though he continued to compete to a high standard in Irish events up to the 1950s, his career never reached the same level of success as he experienced in his early 20s. 1947 was the Indian summer of his career, when he claimed both the Willie Nolan Memorial Cup and his fifth Ulster title. While Joe McCartney never made his mark outside of Ireland like his contemporary, Paddy Mahon, and the slightly younger Fred Daly and Harry Bradshaw, he was for a time the great new hope in Irish professional golf.
JOE McCARTNEY’s CAREER RECORD
Irish Open (Top-10 finishes)
4th 1932, 1933
Irish Professional Championship
champion 1930, 1931, 1936, runner-up 1937 (tied), 1943, 3rd 1932, 4th 1933, 1935, 1944 (tied)
champion 1929, 1930, 1932, 1933, 1947
Dunlop Irish Tournament
runner-up 1936 (tied)
Willie Nolan Memorial Cup
Ireland v England 1932, 1933, 1938
Ireland v Scotland 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938
Ireland v Wales 1937, 1938
[First published in the Irish Clubhouse, Spring, 2015]