f all the Philadelphians who have worked to nurture and grow the
game of golf, especially among young people, few have done so for as long,
with more dedication and success, and with less fanfare, than John MacDonald.
As the head golf coach at Temple University for 30 years, from 1971 to 2001,
MacDonald elevated the program from obscurity to national respectability, in
the process producing 11 players who earned All-America honors 22 times.
As one of the founders of the Greater Philadelphia Scholastic Golf Association (GPSGA) in the early 1970s, MacDonald helped introduce thousands of
often-disadvantaged city kids to golf, also providing equipment, instruction and
competition to hone their skills.
As executive director of The First Tee Philadelphia, which absorbed the
GPSGA, MacDonald continues that mission at facilities at the city-owned FDR
Golf Club in South Philadelphia and at Walnut Lane Golf Club in Roxborough,
which he took over when its future looked bleak.
MacDonald, who stands 6-foot- 6, has done all this quietly, efficiently and
tirelessly – and most always with the hint of a smile on his face.
“John is a doer, not a talker – and he is always doing for others,” said
Philadelphia golfing legend Jay Sigel, who founded the GPSGA with MacDonald and has served for years as president of the First Tee Philadelphia. “If there
is anybody I know who is going straight to heaven when they die, it’s this guy.”
Frank Rutan, the new President of GAP, and Mark Peterson, the Association’s
Executive Director, both hailed MacDonald as a deserving and obvious choice for the Distinguished
MacDonald joins past recipients James Finegan
Sr., Philadelphia Country Club (2010); Bruce Parkinson, St. Davids Golf Club (2009); William T. Walsh,
Philadelphia Country Club (2008); Stan Friedman,
Bala Golf Club (2007) and Victor Mauck Jr., St.
Davids Golf Club (2006).
If MacDonald, 68, has been a giver when it
comes to golf, it is merely an extension life and career as longtime president and CEO of Impact Services Corporation, a Philadelphia-based non-profit he
founded 38 years ago. There, he also serves his
hometown and its needy residents.
“They take drug addicts, fugitives and thieves and
rehabilitate them and teach them a trade,” said Sigel,
in a succinct, if incomplete, description of Impact,
whose annual budget has grown to $20 million.
MacDonald also finds time to sit on the boards
of six non-profits, to remain an active member and a
leader in Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, and to
maintain a high single-digit handicap.
“This is a guy who literally would give you the
shirt off his back,” said Brain Quinn, a former player of MacDonald’s at Temple
and now in his fifth year as the Owls golf coach.
Perhaps MacDonald’s most telling legacy at Temple was not the number of
All-Americans, or his won-loss record, but rather the respect and lifelong devotion he commands from most every player he touched.
More than 50 of his former players are golf professionals, many of them club
pros in the area. But whether they remained amateurs or went on to pro careers,
those players still refer to MacDonald as “Coach” and describe a man who is a
fierce competitor and a champion of the underdog, be it an underprivileged kid
from the neighborhood, a prospective player, a team or a university. They say
nothing gave MacDonald more satisfaction that having his team of underdogs
from Temple take down a high-profile national golfing power. Finally, MacDon-
ald’s former players describe him as more of a “life coach” than a “golf coach.”
“He is the one of the three most influential people in my life, other than my
parents,” said Quinn.
Not surprisingly, Quinn finds himself employing many of the coaching techniques he learned first-hand from MacDonald.
“He would just let us play; he wouldn’t tell us what to do,” said Quinn. “But
what he would do is pull you aside and put his arm around you say, ‘Now
yesterday, on that 6th hole, what were you thinking?’ I did that yesterday to a
couple of my kids.”
MacDonald developed his affection for the underdog growing up in North
Philadelphia, where his dad worked as an inspector for the old Budd Co. By the
time MacDonald was eight, his family had moved to Lawncrest, then to
Melrose, up the street from Melrose Country Club. That’s where he first learned
the game, thanks to what he calls a “fence membership.” “I’d sneak over the
fence,” he said, laughing. “I played 4, 5, 6 and 7; that was my golf course.”
MacDonald also began caddying at Melrose, often lugging two bags that