May Hezlet, Early Irish Golf Champion

Irish golfer May Hezlet
May Hezlet was an Irish golfer who came to prominence as a teenager in the last years of the 1800s, then became a star in the first years of the 1900s. She came from a golfing family and her siblings were accomplished tournament players, too.

Full name: Mary Elizabeth Linzee Hezlet

Date of birth: April 29, 1882

Place of birth: Gibraltar

Date and place of death: December 27, 1978, in Sandwich, Kent, England

Known as: May Hezlet, or "Miss May." After she married, she was typically referred to in print at Mrs. A.E. Ross.

Hezlet's Key Wins

  • 1899 Irish Women's Close Championship
  • 1899 British Women's Amateur Championship
  • 1902 British Women's Amateur Championship
  • 1904 Irish Women's Close Championship
  • 1905 Irish Women's Close Championship
  • 1906 Irish Women's Close Championship
  • 1907 British Women's Amateur Championship
  • 1908 Irish Women's Close Championship

The Hezlet Family's Other Golf Successes

May Hezlet was the best of the Hezlet family of golfers, but her siblings were quite accomplished, too. In fact, her sisters might have won the same tournaments May did, had May not been standing in their way.

The Hezlet siblings' father was captain of Royal Portrush in 1900. Their mother was a member of the Ladies Club at Royal Portrush, and eventually had the title "Lady President of Portrush." May had three sisters who were almost as good as she was, and the four sisters plus their mother sometimes played 5-on-5 challenge matches against other members at Portrush.

May's sisters were Emmie, Violet and Florence. Emmie was runner-up in the Irish Close in 1900, Violet in 1903 and 1909. Florence lost to May in championship matches four times: in the 1907 British Am, and in the Irish Close in 1905, 1906 and 1908. Florence also twice lost to the great Dorothy Campbell in the British Women's Amateur final, in 1909 and 1911.

Then there was the brother. Charles Hezlet was runner-up in the 1914 British Amateur and played on the Great Britain team in the Walker Cups of 1924, 1926 and 1928.

More About May Hezlet

May Hezlet was born in Gibraltar, where her father, a military man, was stationed, but she grew up near Portrush in Northern Ireland. She started playing golf at age 9 and by 11 was already a tournament winner.

To play golf on the Royal Portrush course, she had to ride her bicycle on a 24-mile round trip. She was never known for her power on the course, but those bike rides helped build her stamina to the point she was known as someone who would outlast any opponent. Hezlet's game was noted more for her accuracy, particularly on approach shots into the green.

When she was 15, Hezlet was runner-up at the 1898 Irish Close. The following year came her impressive two-fer, the Irish Close and British Women's Amateur.

And they came back-to-back. Both tournaments were played that year at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. First, at age 16, she won the 1899 Irish Close. Then she had a birthday, and the next week, age 17, she won the 1899 British Amateur. She was the youngest winner of both at the time, and to this day Hezlet remains the youngest-ever winner of the British Women's Amateur. (Her Irish Close record stood until 2008.)

Irish golfer May Hezlet

Her first Irish Close championship in 1899 came in a 5-and-4 victory over Rhona Adair, who had been the reigning Irish (and Portrush) golfer before May Hezlet came along.

In addition to her victories in the British Am, Hezlet was also runner-up in 1904 to Lottie Dod.

In 1905, a group of American women traveled to Royal Cromer Golf Club in England for a series of matches against British counterparts. May and Florence Hezlet were on the British team, the Curtis sisters (Margaret and Harriot) were on the American side. The British team won, 6-1, and May defeated Margaret Curtis.

One year later, Margaret Curtis and May Hezlet were the leaders in a stroke play tournament at Walton Heath, in England, with Curtis holding a five-stroke edge as they played the final hole. But Curtis' drive found a gorse bush, and by the time it was over Curtis had taken 13 strokes and Hezlet was the winner.

Although the Curtis Cup, named after the Curtis sisters, did not begin until 1932, the 1905 match at Royal Cromer is often cited as an inspiration for it.

Hezlet also played for Ireland in the Women's Home Internationals (a team tournament still played today under the auspices of the R&A, with squads representing England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland). The Irish team, which usually included one or more of May's sisters, as well, won in 1901, 1903 and 1907. After the 1907 victory, Ireland didn't win again until 1980.

Hezlet married in 1909 to a Church of Ireland minister named A.E. Ross, and her career as a competitive golfer wound down after that. She last represented Ireland in the Home Internationals in 1912.

After her husband died in 1923 — May was only 41 at the time — she decided to leave Portrush. Hezlet moved to England, although she retained the title of president of the Portrush Ladies Club until 1951. All her golf trophies and memorabilia stayed behind in Northern Ireland, and during World War II were moved to a warehouse in Belfast. A fire there destroyed them all.

During her life, particularly during her playing days, Hezlet championed women's golf and sought better playing conditions and greater respect from golf clubs for women. She was one of the first women to write a golf book, Ladies Golf, published in 1904.

Hezlet also hated the clothing women had to wear in those days to play golf (look again at the photos above). She once wrote, "Nothing looks more untidy or unsuitable for games than a long skirt — the hem gets drabbled in mud. In wet weather, the long skirt hampers every movement; it gets soaked with the moisture off the grass and in consequence become a considerable weight. A short skirt ... looks infinitely nicer ... and makes an inestimable difference in comfort." (By "short" skirt, she meant a foot or so off the ground — it was the early 1900s, after all.)

In 1999, The Irish Times newspaper named Hezlet the greatest-ever female Irish golfer.

Photo credits: Public domain. Bottom image via the Coleraine Museum/Northern Ireland Community Archive.

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