John James O'Donnell, 86, pro golfer

November 18, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

John James O'Donnell, former professional player at the Mount Pleasant golf course, died Monday from complications of a heart ailment at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. He was 86 and lived in Towson.

One of the city's best known golf professionals, he played in numerous golf exhibitions and competed against Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. In 1957, a year after then-Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. made him Mount Pleasant's pro, he was named the Mid-Atlantic Player of the Year.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Roland Avenue in Hampden, he graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas Parochial School.

As a boy, he caddied at the old Baltimore Country Club in Roland Park.

By 1930 -- when he was 17 -- he became assistant pro at the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club in Baltimore County.

"I was fortunate to caddy for good players," he recalled in 1981, when he was honored for 25 years of service at Mount Pleasant in Northeast Baltimore. " I became fascinated by golf, obsessed by it."

Mr. O'Donnell was a friend of golfing legend Walter Hagen, with whom he shook hands as a teen-ager in 1928 and played with as a professional in the 1940s. Hagen once made him a special golf club -- a type of six wood -- used for making long shots out of the rough.

In 1934, Mr. O'Donnell was named head pro and groundskeeper at the Edgewood Arsenal Golf Course in Harford County.

In 1939, he won the first of his two Maryland Open golf championships.

Just before World War II, he moved to Virginia and became the assistant to pro Bobby Cruickshank at the Country Club of Virginia in Richmond. He left that post and became a pro at the West Point Country Club in West Point, Va., before joining the Navy.

As a chief petty officer, he was stationed in Norfolk, Va., where he helped train Naval personnel in the Gene Tunney physical fitness program.

After World War II, he became head pro at the Sewells Point Golf Club in Norfolk and won five Virginia State Open championships between 1948 and 1955. He was the host of an early golf television show, "Par in the Parlor," which ran in Norfolk.

Mr. O'Donnell played in seven U.S. Open championships and five PGA championships. He finished in the money many times. In the 1950s, he played in the Winter Caribbean Tour.

He retired from Mount Pleasant in 1983, and was inducted into the Mid-Atlantic PGA Hall of Fame in 1994.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9: 30 a.m. tomorrow at St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church, 6428 York Road, Rodgers Forge.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, the former Michelle Ambrose; two sons, John O'Donnell of Timonium and William O'Donnell of Towson; a brother, Thomas J. O'Donnell of Wittman; five grandsons; and a great-grandson.

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