Newtonmore Golf Club juniors welcomed a group of European Challenge Tour dignitaries to celebrate an historic visit by Arnaud Massy in 1909, only two years after the Frenchman became the first non-British player to win The Open Championship.
Also helping to mark the 25th anniversary of the European Challenge Tour, Director Alain De Soultrait and French professionals François Calmels and Edouard Dubois visited the Highland club to learn an account of Massy’s connection with Newtonmore and remember his importance to the game.
Indeed, Massy is widely thought to have helped with the proliferation of golf throughout mainland Europe and his victory at Royal Liverpool remained the only win by a continental until Seve Ballesteros’ Royal Lytham & St Annes success in 1979.
During his pomp, Massy made the journey to Newtonmore GC to play an exhibition match against fellow professional Charles Mayo, both men breaking the, then, course record, Massy with a 69 to Mayo’s 68.
The match drew huge crowds to Newtonmore’s fairways and is still a celebrated occasion at the club, and one of which it is proud to have as part of its long history.
To celebrate that occasion, and the visit of the Challenge Tour to the Highlands for the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley, the afternoon began with pupils from Newtonmore Primary School introducing themselves in French to their visitors before Mark Foster, Junior Convener, gave an overview of Massy’s connection with the club and his golfing achievements.
As well as success in the Open Championship, these included victories in the very first editions of the French, Belgian and Spanish Opens in the early years of the 20th century.
“Newtonmore really appreciate the European Challenge Tour coming to our golf club,” said Foster.
“The players really motivated the juniors, who also took a trip to see them play at Spey Valley with their classmates. The coaching tips they got from the chipping sessions were really useful as the juniors knew these were top Challenge Tour players.”
Calmels and Dubois, both of whom began their Scottish Hydro Challenge campaigns the next day, gave a demonstration of short game and bunker technique, before challenging the schoolchildren to have a go themselves.
To finish the skilful exhibition, the professionals then wowed their young crowd by performing a display of long driving, while the youngsters – many of whom are talented in shinty – showed their own ability with the ‘Happy Gilmore’ style of shot.
Club vice-captain Graham Spinks then presented each of the professionals with a commemorative shinty caman and a bottle of whisky to remember their visit to Newtonmore.
Jan Felshie, headteacher at Newtonmore Primary School, was delighted that the school was invited to take part in such an exciting activity.
She said: “It was a great afternoon. The children had fun and really enjoyed the challenge of chipping and the running drive.
“They were excited at talking to the professionals and I felt that it was a great opportunity for the school to make closer links with the golf club and, if we can get members from the club to take the children for the ClubGolf tuition, then we can encourage more children to take up the sport of golf.”
Willie MacKay, ClubGolf Regional Manager, commented: “It was a tremendous afternoon with the players totally relaxed and the children had prepared interesting questions to ask them.
“The pros even had a go at using a Shinty caman and firing a shot down the first fairway but, when they took out their drivers and boomed a ball right past the first green and bouncing on towards the second green, that was very impressive!
“All in all, a very enjoyable day that showed that golf is not all about the score but also the traditions, the mixing of nations and the sharing of company.”
De Soultrait, whose Tour makes a concerted effort in connecting with local communities as it travels around Europe and often further afield, said: “Arnaud Massy is widely recognised as the greatest golfer France has ever produced, so the chance to find out more about his links to Scotland was too good an opportunity for Edouard and Francois to miss last week.
“They both enjoyed learning about Arnaud during their visit to Newtonmore Golf Club, just as the schoolchildren who attended the clinic enjoyed learning tips from the two players. One of the aims of the Challenge Tour is to help encourage youngsters to take up the game, so hopefully it was an educational, and inspirational, experience for everyone.”