1906: Creation of the “Grand Championnat Omnium” (Open Championship of France)
The idea of creating a great international competition comes to birth in the minds of the leaders of the “Golf de Paris” at the turn of the 20th Century. Already played in France for five decades -the Pau Golf Club dating back to 1856- golf undergoes a slow but sure development thanks to the many British residents in the country. Under the leadership of chairman Pierre Deschamps, the first edition of the “Grand Championnat Omnium” takes place on 30 June and 1 July 1906 at La Boulie, a golf course near Paris opened four years earlier. Inspired by the British Open championship, its prestigious elder created back in 1860, the tournament bears the mention “Open championship of France”. Despite the absences of the three best players of the time -Harry Vardon, John H. Taylor and James Braid- the inaugural event is a success, especially it crowns French professional Arnaud Massy.
Pre-war years: British invasion, French resistance
Since the turn of the century, this Basque country native has been a strong challenger for the best British players with three top 10s at the Open championship in 1902 (10th), 1905 (5th) and 1906 (6th). The following year, Massy becomes the first golfer to win both British and French titles, triumphing at Hoylake on 21 June and successfully defending his title at La Boulie nine days later. Upset by the Frenchman's accomplishment, the best players from across the Channel make it a duty to conquer the French Open, soon regarded as the second most prestigious trophy in Europe. In 1908, Englishman Taylor is the first foreigner to win. A champion again in 1909, he is awarded the privilege of being the first to lift the official trophy, a massive silver cup donated by the widow of Edward George Stoïber, a rich American who played a role in the creation of the “Golf de Paris”. Other past of future Open champions emulate Taylor: Scotsmen James Braid (1910) and George Duncan (1913, 1927). Second in 1908 and 1910, Massy wins at home for a third time in 1911. The next edition sees the surprise victory of fellow countryman Jean Gassiat, who beats among others American John McDermott, the first U.S.-born winner of the U.S. Open in 1911-12.
The 20s: France under British domination
After World War I, golf -as other sports- is back. The first post-war edition in 1920 crowns American superstar Walter Hagen. Twice a U.S. Open champion, 28-year-old Hagen crosses the Atlantic Ocean for the first time bidding to become the first American to lift the Claret Jug. Although he fails at Royal Cinque Ports, “the Haig” takes the consolation prize at La Boulie a few days later. He will come back to France on several occasions, most notably finishing runner-up in 1924. The 20s and the first half of the 30s an era of strong British domination: Aubrey Boomer, a English professional living in France, wins five times (1921-22, 1926, 1929 et 1931), beating Massy's record of four titles, the latter coming in 1925. Crowned in 1924 and 1928, Englishman Cyril Tolley is the first amateur, and still the only one, to clinch the French Open title.
30s-70s: The internationalization of the “Open de France”
Over the few years preceding World War II, the roll of honour finally takes a more international flavour: South African Sid Brews wins in 1934 and 1935, while in 1939 Martin Pose of Argentina becomes the first-ever South American golfer to win in Europe. Between these two, a Frenchman manages the only hat trick in the event's history: not Auguste Boyer, a three-time runner-up in 1930, 1933 and 1934; but Marcel Dallemagne, victorious at Saint-Germain in 1936, Chantilly in 1937 and Fourqueux in 1938. After the conflict, the globalisation process continues with champions from Italy (Ugo Grappasonni, 1949), Argentina (Roberto de Vicenzo, 1950, 1960 and 1964), Egypt (Hassan Hassanein, 1951), South Africa (Bobby Locke, 1952-53; Denis Hutchinson, 1966), Belgium (Flory Van Donck, 1954, 1957-58), the United States (Byron Nelson, 1955), Spain (Ángel Miguel, 1956; Ramón Sota, 1965), Wales (Dave Thomas, 1959), Australia (Kel Nagle, 1961; Alan Murray, 1962; Bruce Devlin, 1963; David Graham, 1970) and even Taiwan (Lu Liang-Huan, 1971). In 1967, Bernard Hunt is the first English winner of the tournament since the great Henry Cotton's double in 1946-47, while on the French side Jean Garaïalde succeeds in 1969 to Firmin Cavalo, the 1948 champion.
Ballesteros, Norman, Lyle, Faldo, Langer & Co.
When the European Tour, as we know of today, comes to birth in 1972, the French Open naturally features on the schedule. It continues to crown great champions of that time, such as Englishmen Peter Oosterhuis (1973-74) and Brian Barnes (1975). At Le Touquet in 1977, young Spaniard Severiano Ballesteros claims the second of his 50 European Tour titles, and the first of his four French opens. This edition if the first of 15 years of unrivalled prestige for the tournament's roll of honour: Dale Hayes, Bernard Gallacher, Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer have their names engraved on one or several occasions on the Stoïber Cup. During the late 90s and the beginning of the current century, other legends such as Robert Allenby, Retief Goosen, Sam Torrance, Colin Montgomerie and José Maria Olazábal join the illustrious list of French Open champions.
The 21st Century: a tradition of grandeur well maintained
After a short period of transition from 2002 to 2008 highlighted by the historical double of France's Jean-François Remésy in 2004-05 and the surprise win of Spanish qualifier Pablo Larrazábal in 2008, German Martin Kaymer in 2009, Spaniard Miguel Ángel Jiménez in 2010, local hero Thomas Levet in 2011, German Marcel Siem in 2012, Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell in 2013 and 2014, Austrian Bernd Wiesberger in 2015 and Thai Thongchai Jaidee in 2016 add their names to the champions list.