Of the four golfing “majors,” the Open Championship is my favourite. The Masters is right behind, but I favour the Open, as it features a rotation of golf’s most historic courses, including The Old Course at St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Muirfield, Carnoustie, and this year, Royal St. George’s. These are links courses, almost guaranteeing wind to be a factor; with wind at the players’ backs for nine holes, and in their faces for the other nine. Or it may be coming across for all 18. Then there are fescue and gorse, and woe is the golfer who strays from the fairway. Bunkers? Rarely punitive on this side of the pond, but often costing a stroke in the old country. Rain? Just adds to the fun. As Peter Alliss said, “One of the good things about rain in Scotland is that most of it ends up as scotch.”
And that brings me to Peter Alliss, remarkably never knighted. “Sir” Peter Alliss has a much better sound to it than does “Sir” Nick Faldo. The Open Championship is missing Peter Alliss this year, Peter having passed away in December of 2020 at the age of 89.
Regarded by many as the “Voice of Golf,” Peter was first an accomplished golfing professional. Over a 17 year period he won 20 pro tournaments, including three British PGA championships, and had five top ten finishes in the Open. He played on eight Ryder Cup teams; one with his father Percy.
He smoothly transitioned to the broadcasting booth and for more than 50 years provided commentary for major professional tournaments around the world. He was known for his fairness and frankness, occasional political incorrectness, and undeniable wit. Here are some of his broadcasting gems:
• “It’s like turning up to hear Pavarotti sing and finding out he has laryngitis,” commenting on Tiger Woods shooting an 81 during the third round of the 2002 Open Championship.
• “The most skilful players, by far, to have played the game were those who played between 1900 and 1930. You’ve only got to look at the tools they had. The balls weren’t round, the courses weren’t in the best condition, and they were going round championship courses, with bunkers that were never raked and before cylindrical mowers came in, and they were shooting 73 or 74 with hickory-shafted clubs. They were geniuses.”
• “Too many people bugger about and it’s pathetic to watch. I mean, how can you possibly take a minute-and-a-half to line up a putt from 18 inches?”
• “Looks a bit like Jurassic Park in there,” commenting on the rough at the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. And it looks just like Jurassic Park this year.
• At the 2001 Open at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s, while dropping in at the ABC broadcast booth, and with David Duval taking the lead after the sixth hole of the final round, all Peter had to say was “Well done.” (Often in sports commentary, less is better.) And then followed up with, “Twenty-seven times he’s played in a major championship, still looking for his first victory. But his bank manager’s happy.”
• “The game lends itself to fantasies about our abilities.”
• Commenting on the kind of money coming to young professional golfers, “I’m not too sure that they all appreciate it. My old grandmother would have said, ‘They’ve never had to save up to buy a bicycle.”
• As Rory McIlroy came into view down the fairway in the 2011 Open Championship, Peter had this to say: “Just keep playing nicely, gently, m’boy … keep finding the fairways, keep finding the greens … You can’t force this game … some people think you can … some players think they can … but you can’t … Golf is all about patience … Good old-fashioned word ‘patience’ … ask kids today about ‘patience’ and they pull out their iPhones, whatever they are, and say it don’t [sic] say anything here about ‘patience’ but I can tell you the population of Madagascar … ” (I wonder if there are golf courses in Madagascar?)
• Of Bernard Langer: “There’s a famous series of small books you can buy, like ‘Famous Jewish Cricketers,’ and that sort of thing. I think Langer will have a small book on ‘Shots I Have Hit in Haste.’ It would only be half a page, and it might be blank. I’ve never seen him do anything without giving it 100% concentration.”
• In 2012, Peter was inducted into golf’s Hall of Fame. I quote from his acceptance speech: “So it’s time to – I could waffle on for another four or five hours. I just want to say this: I think of it often because I did leave school early. I was quite bright, but I remember my last report which was sent home. We had a headmistress that my modest school … She was a Mrs.Violet Weymouth, and she was a short Welsh woman. She always had a cigarette dangling out of her mouth and the smoke used to trickle up here, and you could see where the smoke went. There was sort of a brown line up there. But she was — you didn’t mess about with Mrs. Weymouth, I can tell you that … I remember the last report she sent back to my parents, and it went something like this: Peter does have a brain, but he’s rather loathe to use it. His only interests appear to be the game of golf and Violet Pretty, a girl I liked. She never knew about Iris Baker, but they were the two that introduced me to some of the ways of the world, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. And although we were very young, I wish to God we could do it today. And Mrs. Weymouth, if you’re there,” pointing to the heavens, he flipped her off.
To finish, here are some tidbits of information about Peter:
• At birth, he weighed 14 pounds, 11 ounces — then a European record.
• He was born just outside of Berlin, Germany, where his father was the golf professional at the Wannsee Golf Club.
• He opposed the opening up of Muirfield Golf Club to female members.
• Peter and his partner Dave Thomas designed two of the three courses at the Belfry, (with Thomas designing the third). The Belfry has hosted the Ryder Cup four times. The Alliss-Thomas partnership designed 50 courses in total.
• “Hit it Alice” is an exclamation often used by male golfers when leaving putts short of the hole. Self-derogatory, but also derogatory to women, don’t you think? As legend would have it, the correct version is “Hit it Alliss.” During the 1963 Ryder Cup, Peter left a three foot putt short, causing a member of the gallery to shout, “Nice putt Alliss!” And it went from there.
• In preparing for his golf game in the movie, “Goldfinger,” Sean Connery sought out Peter for lessons, cementing Sir Sean’s lifelong love for the game. Goldfinger and James Bond in the following, with Oddjob standing by …