Obituary: Matt Lygate, talented Scottish amateur golfer and official

Matt Lygate
Matt Lygate
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Matthew Hamish Lygate, leading amateur golfer. Born: 20 June 1936 in Glasgow. 
Died: 19 February 2019 in Troon, aged 82.

Matt Lygate, who has died aged 82, was for many years a stalwart of the Scottish golf scene: an internationalist as a player, but, perhaps more prominently as a leading official in the amateur game.

Associated with golf in Troon, he was a long-time member and former Captain of Troon Portland GC, having that honour in their centenary year of 1994. Troon Portland GC shares the Royal Troon GC’s second course with Troon Ladies.

Matt was actually born in Glasgow, moving to the Golf Coast at three, after his father obtained a post at the Barassie railway works.

He went to Troon Primary School, then onto Marr College, where at the time you had two choices of sport – rugby or golf. Matt opted for golf and was soon playing regularly on the Troon municipal courses, next to the school, where he joined St Meddan’s GC, prior to starting his long association with Portland.

On leaving school he got a job as an apprentice draughtsman at Troon shipyard, where he quickly noticed one of the young tracers, Mary Stewart. They would go on to marry and spend 60 years as husband and wife.

National Service with the RAF was to separate the young couple in 1958. Mary waved Matt off to basic training in England on the Thursday, assured he would not get leave for eight weeks. However, as she alighted from her bus outside the shipyard on the Saturday morning, there was Matt waiting for her.

During the formalities of turning him into Aircraftsman Lygate, he had mentioned that he played golf, off a handicap of one – whereupon he was handed a travel warrant and £5 for expenses, and told to get back to Troon, collect his clubs and report for duty on the Monday morning.

As Matt admitted, his national service consisted largely of playing golf for the station, his command and the Royal Air Force. This entailed spending a lot of time in the company of officers, to the extent that the possibility of a commission and remaining in the RAF was put to him towards the end of his two years.

He won a Combined Services tournament over the championship links at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s, much to the delight of the Air Vice Marshal who was captaining the RAF team, and a certain Group Captain Douglas Bader, who was presenting the trophies.

The legendary legless air ace handed Matt his trophy, and a brown envelope: “Your share of the sweep, Lygate”. Later, opening the envelope, Matt discovered £15, a considerable sum for those days, and said to his CO: “There must be a mistake, I wasn’t in the sweep.” He was, however, advised to shut up and put the cash to good use.

After national service, and marriage to Mary in January 1959, he settled down to married life, quitting the shipyard to work for Marley Roof Tiles, with whom he rose to the position of Scottish sales manager.

He also began to make waves in amateur golf, gaining selection for the Ayrshire County side, and winning the Ayrshire Strokeplay Championship in 1967. He was first selected for the Scotland national golf team in 1970 and was a regular member of the side for the next five years, regularly competing in the Home Internationals.

In the European Team Championships in Switzerland in 1971, when Scotland lost to England in the final, Matt was the only Scot to win his singles – justifying what some saw as his controversial selection. In 1985, in Sweden, he would captain a Scotland team, including Colin Montgomerie, to overall victory in the Europeans.

Matt was a regular competitor in the major amateur competitions, but victory always eluded him. He was the bronze medal winner in the Scottish Championship in 1967, while his best performance in the Amateur Championship came in 1975, when he reached the fourth round, where he lost at the first extra hole to a young Anglo-Scot named Sandy Lyle.

He was never selected for the Walker Cup team, but he would spend some years as a selector for this prestigious event. This role suited him as he was always a keen encourager of young talent, with the aforementioned Montgomerie, Lyle, and Barclay Howard among the many young players he encouraged.

His service to golf in Ayrshire was legendary. He was Honorary Life President of the ­Ayrshire Golf Association, having been President between 1975 and 1977; and for many years he was the ­county’s representative on the Scottish Golf Union executive.

In 1988, he donated the Matt Lygate Trophy to Ayrshire as the prize for their Junior Team Championship. His commitment to the amateur game saw him elected to membership of the Royal & Ancient GC.

His passion for golf has been handed on to grandson Matt Skeoch – golf and family were the important items in Matt Lygate’s long life.

A few days before his passing, Matt Lygate attended the Ayrshire Golf Association dinner, where he received a heartfelt tribute from professional Alan Tait, one of the many young players he had encouraged.

Matt Lygate’s golfing hero was Ben Hogan – he and a couple of friends from Troon even hitching a lift in a van up to Carnoustie to see ­Hogan win the 1953 Open. Hogan was still hitting golf balls two days before his death, as was Matt Lygate.

Matt had had health issues in his later years, but his passing, in his sleep, came as a shock to all who knew him. He is survived by Mary, daughter Jane and grandchildren Matt and Hannah.

Matt Lygate’s funeral will be held at Holmsford Bridge Crematorium at 11.30am on Friday 8 March. He will be sorely missed.

MATT VALLANCE