BALLYMENA 1914-1918

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The Reverend Ross’s Remarkable Golfing Wife

The Reverend Arthur Edwin Ross, one time incumbent of St Patrick’s Church, Castle Street, Ballymena, married Mary Elizabeth Linzee Hezlet, always known as ‘Miss May’ or May, and thereby linked Ballymena for a short time with one of the most remarkable women of her age, one of the best female golfers Ireland has ever produced.

1901 Irish Census - Hazlet, Seabank, Portrush
Mary Elizabeth Linzee Hezlet was one of the eight children (six were still alive at the time of the 1911 Irish census) of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Jackson Hezlet and Emily Mary Heslet, nee Linzee. Though some children were born in Gibraltar (the 1901 census return says ‘Spain’) the family was brought up in Ireland.  They are associated with Bovagh House, Aghadowey, Co Londonderry, and both Richard and Emily are buried in Aghadowey Parish Church graveyard - the headstone reads,

‘In memory of Richard Jackson Heslet, Lt. Col, Royal Artillery, of Bovagh, Aghadowey, born 31 October 1840, entered into rest 15 April 1925 and his wife, Emily Mary Linzee, born 12 December 1852, died 19 January 1944.’

but the 1901 (Hazlet sic) and 1911 (Hezlet sic) census returns show them living in Portrush, at Seabank and Mount Royal respectively. They were members of Royal Portrush Golf Club.

May was part of a golfing family. Mrs Emily Hezlet (Hazlet or Heslet) and four of her daughters played a challenge match in April 1901 against a side picked from the other lady members of the Royal Portrush Golf Club, this side including the famous Rhona Adair. The Hezlets won by the generous margin of 4 ½ to ½; Mum dropped the 1/2 in a match against a Miss Knox!

May Hezlet started playing at the Royal Portrush GC when she was just nine years old, and she won her first competition when she was but eleven. Her skill as golfer developed rapidly and as a 15-year-old May Hezlet was runner up at Malone G C in the Irish Women's Close Championship of 1898. At 16 she defeated the talented Rhona Adair by 5 and 4 to capture the Irish Close at Newcastle, Co Down in 1899; with hallmark modesty she apparently said Miss Adair was not quite up to form. One week later and after her 17th birthday, she won the British Ladies Amateur title, the youngest ever winner and her age record remains unbroken to this day. Both trophies went for display at her beloved Royal Portrush G C. In an unbelievable scene, not repeated since, May had been presented with the winner's medal while her mother, Lady President of Portrush GC, received the trophy on behalf their club. The delighted club commissioned the artist Harry Douglas to paint a portrait of their young champion with her trophies, and it still hangs in the Royal Portrush Ladies Club.

Mary Elizabeth Linzee Hezlet won further Irish Close titles in 1904, 1905, 1906 and 1908 and she was British champion in 1899, 1902 and 1907. The Belfast Newsletter of the 6th May 1907 rejoiced in the women’s achievement in the Ladies’ Home Internationals and had the headline ‘Irish Ladies Secure Triple Crown at Newcastle’.  Such recognition of women’s golf was indeed appropriate. May’s rival, Rhona Adair, also of Royal Portrush GC, won the British title in 1900 and 1903 and took four successive Irish Close titles between 1900 and 1903. Adair and May were indeed the "Golden Girls" of early twentieth century golfing.

One of the highlights of May Hazlet’s golfing career, one that had ramifications for golf generally, was undoubtedly a friendly match played in 1905. May and sister Florence played on a British and Irish team that met a visiting US side at Royal Cromer G C, Norfolk. Significantly, Harriot and Margaret Curtis were on the US team and they thoroughly enjoyed the competition despite the fact that the match resulted in a 6–1 win for the British team - Margaret Curtis lost to May Hezlet while Harriot Curtis lost to Elinor Neville. The Curtis sisters loved the experience and eventually donated a trophy in 1927; in 1931 the USGA and LGU agreed to co-sponsor an event - the Curtis Cup was born! It is still played at two years intervals.

May, by then Mary Elizabeth Linzee Ross, played her last match under her husband’s name in 1912. However, she held various positions in Royal Portrush Golf Club and was the first president after 1922, a post she held until 1951.  She was also made a life vice-president of the Irish Ladies Golf Union.

The premature death of her husband in 1923 led this 41 year old widow to go eventually to England and there she worked for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. She was also to become president of the Mothers’ Union, though she had herself no children. She spent many years living in the house of her sister Violent but ended her days in a nursing home near Deal in Kent. She died in winter 1978.

The Reverend Ross’s sisters-in-law were overshadowed but were notable golfers too. Florence was runner-up in the British Ladies’ in 1907 and 1909, and was five times the beaten finalist in the Irish Close. Her sister May denied her the British title in 1907 and the Irish title in 1905, 1906 and 1908. However, she had the distinction of participating with her sister in that famous GB&I team friendly game of 1905 that defeated a visiting American team and which, years later, led to the creation of the Curtis Cup. Violet Hezlet was runner-up in the British Ladies’ in 1911 and in the Irish Close in 1903 and 1909. All three sisters played on the Irish team that won the Ladies’ Home Internationals in 1907, a victory not replicated for 72 years. Therefore, though neither Florence (Florence Eugenia Hezlet married Captain Robert Alexander Cramsie on 4 November 1939 and played under his name thereafter.) nor Violet won a championship, they were superb golfers. Even daughter Emily, Emmy, was finalist in the Irish Close.

Charles Owen Hezlett's DSO

Worthy of note also is their younger brother Charles Owen Hezlet (16th May 1891 - 22nd November 1965). He was to become a Major (T/Lieutenant Colonel) in the Royal Artillery, was three times mentioned in despatches and won  a D.S.O. at Cambrai in 1917.  He married a daughter of Mr. and Mrs James Stuart, of Somerset. The Leeds Mercury of the 5th March 1920 had announced his engagement and noted that Miss Anne Maitland (Nancy) Stuart had spent her early years in Australia. Sadly, she died on the 10 March 1931, at Cannes, France, aged just 30 years. The headstone in Aghadowey Parish Church graveyard reads:

Rest in peace, to the memory of Nan, beloved wife of Maj. C. O. Hazlet, darling daughter of Mr. and Mrs James Stuart, of Somerset, who died 10 March 1931, Cannes France, aged 30 years and of her husband, Charles Owen Hazlett, Lt. Col., D.S.O., R.A., 16th  May 1891-22nd November 1965.

Charles Owen Hezlet was an amateur international golfer, also playing also for the Royal Portrush Golf Club. In 1920 he won the Irish Close title, in 1926 and 1929 the Irish Open Amateur title. He represented Ireland on thirteen occasions at international matches between 1923 and 1931 and was Ireland’s first player to win Walker Cup honours. In 1927 he played for Ireland against South Africa and in 1952 he captained a British team to Africa. He was ten times the Irish team captain before 1932 and was to be captain six times more after 1948. From 1947 to 1953 he was a selector for Ireland.

The last of the six surviving children of Lt Col Richard Jackson Heslet (sic), Royal Artillery, of Bovagh, Aghadowey was Lieutenant Colonel Robert Knox Haslet, D.S.O., R.F.A. He was the older brother of Charles and had retired from Army before WWII. His son was Vice-Admiral Sir Arthur Richard Hezlet, KBE, CB, DSO, DSC, Legion of Merit (United States) (1914-2007), a distinguished Royal Navy officer and submariner. He retired to the house at Aghadowey. See the following: