Tributes are being paid from throughout the sporting and broadcasting world to legendary golf commentator Peter Alliss, who passed away last night at the age of 89.
Known to generations of sport fans as the ‘voice of golf’, Alliss commentated on major championships over many years having first taken up the microphone for the BBC at The Open at Royal Birkdale in 1961, a Championship in which he also played.
Alliss won 31 times in his professional career and played in the Ryder Cup on eight occasions between 1953 and 1969.
He competed in The Open on 24 occasions finishing in the top ten five times in 1953, 1954, 1961, 1962 and 1969.
Alliss was introduced to the sport by his father Percy, who also played in the Ryder Cup, and at the age of 16 became assistant professional to his father at Ferndown Golf Club. In 1949, he undertook two years’ national service in the RAF but a career in golf beckoned and he won his first title in 1952 – the PGA Assistant Professionals Championship, the Gor-Ray Cup.
A tied ninth place finish in The Open at Carnoustie in 1953, behind the legendary Ben Hogan who lifted the Claret Jug for the first and only time that year, was a springboard for Alliss and he secured his place in that year’s Ryder Cup team.
Among his many achievements as a professional was to win three national opens in a row in October 1958 – the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese opens.
Alliss’ playing career was coming to an end as the European Tour commenced in 1972 and he retired from professional golf in 1974.
The commentary booth was increasingly becoming a home from home for Alliss and in 1978 he became the BBC’s Chief Golf Commentator, following the death of his co-host and great friend Henry Longhurst.
A long and successful broadcasting career blossomed for Alliss and he become renowned not only for his deep knowledge and insight into golf but also his dry wit and humorous, often self-deprecating anecdotes from his many years in the game.
His commentary on some of the great and most dramatic moments in the history of The Open, in particular, from Seve’s dramatic fist pump at St Andrews in 1984 to Jean Van De Velde wading in to the burn at Carnoustie in 1999 and Jack Nicklaus’ emotional farewell on the Swilcan Bridge at St Andrews in 2005, Alliss’ voice became part of the fabric of the Championship for millions of fans.
In 2004, Alliss became an Honorary Member of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and gave a memorable speech at one of a number of dinners celebrating the Club’s 250th anniversary that year. In 2012, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame for his services to golf.
As recently as last month, Alliss commentated on Dustin Johnson’s victory at the Masters Tournament in what was to be his final event.
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A and Secretary of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, said, “Golf commentary will never be the same again after the passing of Peter Alliss. He was a tremendous supporter of golf and his experience, understanding and love of the game shone through in all that he did. Peter made a huge contribution to golf as a player and commentator and his voice was part of so many of the great moments in the sport’s history. On behalf of the organisation and the Club, I would like to send my sincere condolences to Jackie and his family. Our thoughts are with them at this sad time.”
Sir Michael Bonallack OBE, a former Captain and Secretary of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, fondly recalled a memorable piece of Alliss commentary.
“Peter was a marvellous commentator who combined his knowledge and love of the game with his incredible powers of observation and interest in everything going on in the world, with a wonderful sense of humour,” he said.
“I remember in particular, The Open at Royal St George’s in 1985 when a streaker ran onto the 18th green chased by heavily booted policemen. He was eventually tackled by Peter Jacobsen and a policeman removed his helmet and placed it over the streaker’s equipment
“As he did so, Peter came out with ‘Well, what a lot of fuss about such a little thing.’
“I am told no one in the commentary box was able to speak for some time!
“He will be sadly missed by everyone.”