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Edinburgh last resting place of Arnaud Massy

French golfer Arnaud Massy. Picture: Getty

French golfer Arnaud Massy. Picture: Getty

  • by MARTIN DEMPSTER
 

HE WAS the first non-Briton to win the Open Championship, the only Continental European to get his hands on the Claret Jug and win a major until Seve Ballesteros in 1979.

Yet, for more than 60 years and totally unbeknown to the golfing world, Frenchman Arnaud Massy has been lying in a grave in an Edinburgh cemetery that was once like “a jungle”.

His burial ground in Newington Cemetery, formerly a private site but now under the Edinburgh City Council umbrella, was discovered by Douglas Seaton, a North Berwick-based golf historian. Thanks to him, a homage ceremony for Massy, who was also the first winner of both the French and Spanish Opens, is set to be held later this month.

It will be attended by members of the French Golf Federation (FFG), including Francois Illouz, who won the Scottish Open Stroke Play Championship at Blairgowrie in 1989 during his amateur days and is now in the professional ranks.

Also due to attend the graveside ceremony on 23 February is the French Consul as well as representatives of the European Association of Golf Historians & Collectors, chief among them being Jean-Barnard Kazmierczak, the founder of that organisation and its first president.

Representing the Massy family will be Hugh Henderson, whose great aunt was Janet Punton Henderson, wife of Massy. The couple met after Biarritz-born Massy, the son of a sheep farmer, first visited North Berwick as a 21-year-old in a bid to develop his golfing skills and was subsequently granted a professional licence on the town’s West Links.

They are buried beside each other along with one of their three daughters, Margot Hoylake Massy, who was partially named in celebration of Massy’s Open Championship victory at Royal Liverpool in 1907. That was the first Open to require a qualifying round due to the size of the entry and Massy was joined on his victory parade after arriving back in the East Lothian town by Ben Sayers, one of North Berwick’s favourite golfing sons.

It had been thought that Massy was buried in Normandy, where he died in Étretat, Seine-Maritime, in 1950, but after Kazmierczak had been told the location may, in fact, have been somewhere in Edinburgh – it was initially suggested his grave was in Portobello – he got in touch with Seaton.

“I contacted Jamie Reece at the Edinburgh City Council offices at Mortonhall to request a search of Portobello Cemetery,” Seaton told The Scotsman of an exhaustive search that was ultimately rewarded. “The reply I received was there was no record of a Massy grave in Portobello but there was a record of an Arnaud Massy buried in Newington Cemetery.

“Over many years of neglect Newington Cemetery was badly overgrown with trees and bushes, making it impossible to access the headstones. Originally Newington was a private cemetery but due to its appalling condition Edinburgh City Council were persuaded to take over the maintenance and today more than half of the graveyard has been reinstated. The area were Massy is buried was a jungle.

“The Newington Cemetery internment records are missing and a search of the graveyard failed to find the Massy headstone. Fortunately, the helpful staff at Mortonhall were able to inform me that a survey of the headstones was carried out by the Scottish Genealogy Society in the 1980s.

“From this archive the exact position of the Massy burial ground was located and the wording on the headstone revealed that the wife of Arnaud Massy and his daughter, Margot ‘Hoylake’ Massy, were also buried in the same lair.”

Overjoyed to track down the exact whereabouts of the man widely regarded as France’s greatest-ever golfer, Kazmierczak began to raise funds for a headstone, which is now in place, and in a fortnight’s time Massy’s life will be remembered at the reconsecration service.

“The burial place was in a very poor condition and the EAGHC decided last year to launch a subscription to help us restore Massy’s burial stone,” said Kazmierczak of his mission. “As a result of that, we were able to order the re-erection of a new stone. Of course, we kept the initial words just adding ‘re-erected by the European Association of Golf Historians & Collectors’.

“The board of the French Golf Federation, especially Georges Barbaret (président), Pierre Massie (secrétaire général), François Illouz and Christoph Muniesa were strong supporters. We would not have achieved what we did without their help and support – both moral and financial. Also this help and support to the EAGHC was constant since the very beginning of the creation of our association.”

The R&A’s Heritage Committee made a contribution to the new gravestone. A spokesman said: “Arnaud Massy had a great influence on the development of golf in his home country. He had an affinity with links golf and Scotland as a whole. It is fitting that his achievements are being commemorated.”

o Massy won the first-ever French Open in Paris in 1906

o He retained that title the following year, when he also won the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool

o In 1911, he just missed out on a second Claret Jug, finishing second to Harry Vardon

o He won the first Spanish Open in 1912, having also achieved the same feat in the Belgian Open the previous year

o At the age of 48, Massy claimed a fourth French Open title in 1925 then won back-to-back Spanish Opens in 1927 and 1928

o He recorded a total of 13 professional victories

o In Scotland, he won both the Turnberry Open and Pitlochry Open in 1908

 

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