The achievements of Sir Michael Bonallack – both on and off the course – will surely never be bettered
Five times an Amateur Champion. Five times an English Amateur Champion. Four times a Brabazon Trophy winner. Can there be any question that Sir Michael Bonallack is Britain’s greatest post-war amateur golfer?
It’s worth listing in full the phenomenal achievements of Sir Michael, who has died at the age of 88.
Twice the Silver Medal winner at The Open, in 1968 and 1971, he was a member of nine consecutive Walker Cup teams – a spell spanning from 1957 until 1973.
He captained the GB&I side on two occasions, most memorably to win at the Home of Golf in 1971. It was the first time they had lifted the trophy for 33 years and an achievement he felt could not be matched.
“It does not get, cannot get, any better than that,” he said.
GB&I would not win again until 1989.
But Sir Michael’s influence in golf extended far beyond the confines of the course. Chairman of the European Tour from 1976 to 1982, he was also president of the English Golf Union in 1982 and, the following year, became Secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews – a role he would hold for 16 years. He was R&A Captain in 2000 and received an Honorary Membership in 2013.
“I’m extremely proud,” he said. “I feel privileged to have been so closely involved with the club for so much of my life and both it and the town of St Andrews are incredibly dear to me. It has been an honour to serve the club.”
Sir Michael was President of the Golf Club Managers’ Association for a decade from 1974 to 1984 and Chairman of the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland from 1976 until 1981.
The list goes on: President of the British & International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association, Chairman of the Golf Foundation, and Chairman of the advisory committee for the Official World Golf Rankings. There doesn’t seem to be a golf organisation he did not in some way touch.
Sir Michael Bonallack was a fearsome match play competitor
Meeting Sir Michael in golfer-to-golfer combat must have been a frightening, and sobering, experience for opponents, such was his skill, stature, and reputation.
If there was one moment that could sum up his dominance, it came in the English Amateur in 1968. Blackwell’s David Kelley had set out to play par golf, presumably to limit his opponent, and managed to perform as planned.
He still went into lunch 11 down! Sir Michael had gone out in 32 and came home in an incredible 29. It was an historic round, still remembered fondly by those at the grand Yorkshire layout. He cruised to a 12&11 win.
But blowout victories were par for the course. James Walker was dispatched 6&4 for his first Amateur success in 1961. Joe Carr was seen off 7&6 in 1968 and Bill Hyndman, who had lost to him in 1969, was humbled 8&7 12 months later in Sir Michael’s final victory.
He was awarded an OBE in 1971 for services to golf and was knighted in 1998.
Having suffered from recent ill health, Sir Michael was able to attend the opening ceremony for the Walker Cup at St Andrews earlier this month and was given a standing ovation by spectators.
Martin Slumbers, R&A chief executive and secretary of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear of Sir Michael’s passing.
“He made a huge contribution to golf not only as one of the finest amateur golfers in the history of the sport but also as an extremely effective leader and administrator.
“Sir Michael was the outstanding amateur golfer of his era and his achievements in The Amateur Championship and the Walker Cup will truly stand the test of time. He led The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at a time of change and did so with great courage, enterprise and foresight.
“In recent years he continued to serve the sport through his work on Committees and I personally am extremely grateful for his gracious guidance and support.
“He will be a huge loss to all of us in golf but particularly here in St Andrews. On behalf of all at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club and The R&A I would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to the Bonallack family.”
Peter Dawson, who succeeded Sir Michael as secretary of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, said: “Golf has lost one of its very finest.
“Respected all around the world, Michael was a wonderful player, administrator and ambassador for our sport and he will be sorely missed by so many. His contribution to the game he loved was simply unparalleled.
“Speaking personally, I will be forever grateful for his help and advice over so many years and my world seems a much lesser place without him.
“My thoughts are with Michael’s entire family who have given him such great support since he lost Angela last year.”
At BIGGA, CEO Jim Croxton, said: “Sir Michael was a great friend to the association and I am incredibly proud that he gave so much of his time to serve as an association official for so long.
“He was hugely supportive of the role greenkeepers play in the health of the sport and had an appreciation for the role BIGGA played in trying to promote greenkeeping around the world.
“He was also one of life’s great guys, a lovely man who was passionate about the game. It was poignant that on the day we concluded our annual championship, that we lost one of the sports greatest-ever amateur players.
“He will be sorely missed and our thoughts are with his friends and family at this time.”
“The world of golf has lost a unique talent,” said PGA chief executive Robert Maxfield. “Sir Michael combined excellence on the course with a peerless ability off it to shape the game’s future. He was a loyal and steadfast supporter of the PGA, and we are indebted to him for his wisdom and guidance.”
Sir Michael Bonallack’s roll of honour
Here is a list at some of the principal amateur tournaments won by Sir Michael Bonallack
1952: Boys’ Amateur Championship
1957: Berkshire Trophy
1959: Sunningdale Foursomes
1961: Amateur Championship
1962: English Amateur
1963: English Amateur
1964: Brabazon Trophy
1965: Amateur Championship, English Amateur, Lytham Trophy, Berkshire Trophy
1967: English Amateur
1968: Amateur Championship, English Amateur, Brabazon Trophy, Berkshire Trophy
1969: Amateur Championship, Brabazon Trophy (tied for 1st)
1970: Amateur Championship, Berkshire Trophy
1971: Brabazon Trophy, Berkshire Trophy
1972: Lytham Trophy
Pic: The R&A
What are your memories of Sir Michael? Let us know by leaving a comment on X.
We dive deep into the golf ball roll back plans!