James W. Finegan, 85, of Villanova, an advertising executive, golf authority, and author of books about the world's best links, died Friday, March 13, at home of complications from a fall several years ago.

Widely regarded as the foremost authority on golfing in the United Kingdom and also as a careful chronicler of golf in the Philadelphia area, Mr. Finegan was the "go-to guy" for any arcane point about the sport's past.

"He was probably the greatest Philadelphia golf historian ever," said Peter Trenham, a fellow golf historian and friend. "He had a passion for it unequaled by anyone - that's what made him good."

Mr. Finegan spent 11 summers on the links at St. Andrews in Scotland and logged 50 golf trips to the United Kingdom. He had teed up 11,000 times at his home course, the Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne, said son Jim Jr.

When interviewed about his playing habits by the Wall Street Journal in 2006, Mr. Finegan said he played "only on days ending with the letter y."

For 40 years, Mr. Finegan's articles, written with two fingers on a typewriter, appeared in magazines such as Golf Digest, GOLF, Golf for Women, Travel and Leisure Golf, and Links.

In the last 16 years, he wrote seven books: one each on golf in Scotland, Ireland, and England and Wales; a history of the game in the Philadelphia area; a history of Pine Valley in South Jersey; a coffee table volume called Where Golf Is Great - The Finest Courses of Scotland and Ireland; and an authorized history of the Aronimink Golf Club.

In April 2007, Where Golf Is Great was selected by the U.S. Golf Association to receive its Herbert Warren Wind Award for the outstanding golf book of 2006.

Born in Glenolden to Winifred Barrett and William Finegan, Mr. Finegan caddied from ages 11 to 21, when he entered the Navy. A summa cum laude graduate of La Salle University in 1951, he remains the only golfer in La Salle's Hall of Athletes. In 1953, he won the Northeastern U.S. Navy Championship at Bethpage, N.Y.

A member of the Philadelphia Country Club for 49 years, he won the club championship four times. For 33 years he was a member of Pine Valley, where he won the Senior Club Championship in 1986. He also was an honorary member of Llanerch Country Club and Stonewall Golf Club in Elverson.

An advertising agency employee from 1955 to 1990, he worked his way up from junior copywriter to chairman and chief executive officer of Gray & Rogers Inc. After work at 1234 Market St., he would change from his suit into golf clothes while driving on I-76 en route to the Philadelphia Country Club.

"When he hopped out, he was ready to play," his son said.

Surviving, besides his son, are his wife of 62 years, Harriet Burke Finegan; another son, John; daughter Megwin (Margaret Winifred); seven grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; a sister; and a brother.

A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Wednesday, March 18, at St. John Vianney Church, 350 Conshohocken State Rd., Gladwyne. Friends may call from 9 to 10:45 a.m. Burial is private.

Donations may be made to La Salle University, 1900 W. Olney Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19141.

bcook@phillynews.com

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